My wife and I just got back from vacation in south Florida, where we enjoyed the warm weather, sunshine, and a pool to swim laps in. Plus my old friend, the Atlantic Ocean.

When we go there in the winter, we try to get out before the spring breakers hit town, when they crowd onto the beach during the day and into the bars at night, clogging up the sand, streets, and sidewalks. We can always tell when they’re coming, because signs go up on every ocean-bound route reading “No Alcohol On Beach” and the police erect barricades outside the party places to keep attendees from spilling into the busy roadway.

Miami Beach, a few miles away, publicly announced this year it doesn’t want to be the top spring break destination anymore (a title it inherited from Daytona Beach when authorities there cracked down several years ago). The tactics to discourage the horde include raising parking garage fees (to $100!) and kicking people off the beach at 6pm. Unwelcome there, we knew the college crowd would move north to Ft. Lauderdale, which is where we stayed.

The picture above (which you can click on to enlarge) shows several spring breaking young women about ten yards from where we’d set up. They were getting some sun and loudly making plans for the evening, which consisted entirely of, “we’re gonna get fucked up tonight,” thanks to one of them procuring fake IDs for the group. At one point, they took a break from lying in the sun in tiny bikini tops and thongs to step into the shallowest part of the ocean, where they stood around in a circle, passing around a couple of cans of beer (signs be damned). But they never got annoying, so we didn’t mind.

Speaking of thongs, later that day when we went for pizza, another foursome of young women sat at the table next to us. Glancing over, my wife was grossed out by seeing them sit their practically bare rear ends on the vinyl chairs — which had probably been in contact with others in thongs earlier that day.

I went out to play poker early one afternoon, and as I headed back around dusk, I got caught in a major rainstorm. That raised havoc with traffic, particularly the stretch of Ft. Lauderdale Boulevard I had to drive along. At a red light, I glanced over at one of the party bars, which was packed even more than usual because all the college kids on the beach had run for shelter. At that age, where better to go than a place with a roof, loud music, alcohol, and plenty of other people to possibly hit on?

Except I noticed something odd. In this cluster of mostly-naked partiers in their late teens and early twenties — women still in their bikinis and thongs, men shirtless — none of them were paying attention to anyone else. They were all looking down at their phones.


As I was writing this piece, a notification from CNN popped up on my laptop with this headline: More than a third of teens say they spend too much time on their phones, new study finds. Written by Clare Duffy, the story, based on Pew research, adds this: a larger portion of the teen respondents (42%), however, said they believed smartphones make it harder to learn good social skills.

Magdalene Taylor, who has written about how fewer Americans are having sex, across every demographic, knows where to lay the blame:

The problem is obviously our phones.

In February, The Atlantic published a feature about the decline of hanging out. Within it was a particularly damning graph sharing the percentage of teens who report hanging out with friends two or more times per week since 1976. Rates were steady around 80 percent up until the mid-90s, when a subtle decrease began to occur. Then, in 2008 — one year after the release of the first iPhone — the decrease became much more dramatic. It has continued falling sharply since, hovering now at just under 60 percent of teens who spend ample time with friends each week.

Has spring break changed so much that hooking up with someone is no longer the primary mission? I’d bet that before they left home to head south, many of these college students had bragged to their peers about how they would make this a spring break with benefits. But here they all were — in a target-rich environment, bouncing up and down to the music, libidos loosened by liquor — and all they could think to do was doom-scroll through social media, likely looking at what their friends had posted earlier that day on Instagram and TikTok.

The irony is that, later that night, more than a few of them probably went back to a hotel room and watched some spring break porn on their phones.