Sunscreen yes, iPad screen no

Image of Tyler Brûlé

Have you noticed any peculiar behaviour around the beach or pool this summer? I’m not talking about the usual mid-July tableaux: the 70-year-old man travelling with a Thai girl who could be his teenage daughter, for example, or the fiftysomething lady you’ve been seeing at the same resort for years who’s suddenly walking around with the breasts of a sporty 21-year-old Bavarian. I’m focusing on something a bit more subtle. If you happen to be reading this paper in a somewhat public pool or seaside setting (or will be taking time off in such an environment in the coming weeks), lower the page and study your fellow sunseekers.

Notice anything odd? It may not hit you at first but give it a moment. Still nothing? It might be easier if you pay attention to the media they’re using – is there anything different about the behaviour of the lady who’s reading the German magazine Bunte and the man who’s reading Svenska Dagbladet, the Swedish daily?

What about the young couple parked near the edge the pool? That’s right, the two who have contorted themselves into such bizarre shapes that they look like they’re auditioning for Cirque de Soleil. What is going on there? Are they doing lounger lunges? Have they purchased a special weekend yoga package that wasn’t offered to you when you booked? Perhaps you need to get up and wander over their way for closer inspection.

As you close the gap between your patch of sun and theirs, the scene becomes even more outlandish, as you can now see there are props involved and they’ve changed their positions twice in the past two minutes. The lady is sporting a broad-brimmed visor and has created a shelter with a towel over her head. She also has her knees up; they too are covered with a towel. The only bits of her you can see are splayed fingers flaring out from atop her knees. What the hell is she doing?

Her boyfriend/fiancé/husband is lying next to her on his side and is cradling something (also in a towel). He, too, has a big brimmed hat on and seems to be doing his best to avoid the sun. Is he looking after the baby? If he is, it’s so small (and flat) that it really ought to be in an incubator at a world-renowned children’s hospital.

It’s not until you almost brush past them that all is revealed and the human pretzel shapes are explained. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this young couple other than the fact they chose the wrong media format to venture down to the beach with – they’re trying to read iPads.

Over the past few weeks I’ve witnessed this scene play out at several hotels and beach clubs and each time it’s the same. While the sensible majority get on with flipping through their magazines, studying journals, whizzing through paperbacks and neatly folding their newspapers, there are usually four or five souls around the pool who are determined to show everyone else that a) they’re at the forefront of modern technology; b) they’re super-duper connected and everyone else around them are fire-fearing cave-folk and c) they look like complete twits.

So far I’ve seen a couple almost kill each other because the sun cream in its plastic tube heated up and exploded when the lady went to reapply and shot all over his screen. I don’t think anyone was quick enough to capture it on camera but had the scene wound up on YouTube it would be in the millions of views territory by now.

“Look what you just did! It’s f***ing everywhere! How are we going to get this off?” screamed the victim of the attack.

“It’s just a bit of Clinique sun cream, honey. It’ll all be fine. Just rub it in,” she said, trying to attract as little attention as possible.

At this point hell properly broke loose as the iPad tumbled screen first into a puddle of water and pool attendants raced to the scene with towels and window cleaner.

Had he been sensible and just settled for a stack of magazines and his smartphone, all would have been fine. But the commotion revealed that for many men and women using an iPad pool or beachside, the device can attract attention for all the wrong reasons. (For the record, I’ve yet to see anyone hot using an iPad in a sunny setting. Though I have seen many people get burned by leaving it face down in the sun and then resting it on a bare thigh.)

The good news for hoteliers, doctors and various practitioners of alternative medicines is that all the twisting and rearranging users need to do in order to read off tablet devices in sun-drenched settings means a boom in spa bookings for 90-minute massage treatments and an autumn’s worth of appointments to see physios, osteopaths and rolfing specialists. Then again, all of these people could just settle for practical, portable and low-risk paper – though it would mean life around the pool would lack a bit of high drama.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

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