Could you imagine handing over your phone and laptop to a stranger? If the idea fills you with horror, maybe a digital detox weekend is what you need…
Far be it from us to state that technology is the new gluten – we love having access to all kinds of information and people around the globe. Yet, numerous studies suggest we are becoming overly attached to our screens and devices. According to stats published by Time to Log Off, (ironically, most digital detox advice is online), UK adults spend an average of eight hours 41 minutes per day on screens – over half our waking life. For UK children, the average is six hours 30 minutes, which is no mean feat considering they are at school all day, rarely working at computers.
A study in Budapest found that we form the same attachment to our phones as to our childhood teddy bears, transitional objects acting as replacements for parents. There’s even a word for phone-loss anxiety – nomophobia.
It’s not just attachment issues, either: in one survey, seven million people admitted feeling depressed by their friends ‘perfect’ online posts, while those of us with weaker filtering systems may experience information overload. This can trigger burnout symptoms: stress, anxiety, anger, depression and an inability to function. So what can we do about it?
In 2015, Vinaya, a research company which explores the relationship between humans and technology, sent 35 CEOs, entrepreneurs and influencers to a five-day digital detox in Morocco, along with five undercover neuroscientists to observe them, first with their gadgets and then without. Among the results noted were improved posture, eye contact and empathy, plus enhanced memory when it came to details of conversations.
The neuroscientists believed it was because people were more present, so their brains were more able to process and store new information without distractions. They also noted that Google was a conversation killer. When they returned, the test subjects declared the break had given them new perspectives on their relationship with technology.
We’re not advocating going back to the dark ages of messengers on horseback and town criers – just a weekend away where you can reconnect with nature and have proper, flowing conversations (perhaps even experience an uninterrupted thought). Then you can return with (hopefully) a more balanced and creative attitude to the way you interact with the world.
Run for the hills
Going offline for any amount of time is harder when you are at home; hence the popularity of digital detox breaks, where someone locks away your gadgets for you. Normally, the surroundings are picturesque and there are activities to distract you. You are also far from the kinds of stresses and strains that would have you reaching for your transitional object.
The point about digital detox holidays, says Richard Graham, a consultant psychiatrist at the Nightingale Hospital in London, is that they give people 'permission' to switch off. “There’s often a demanding figure in the background – it might be a boss, a family member or a friend – who you feel may be hostile to you switching off,” he says. The ritual of handing over your smartphone takes away some of that guilt.
Where can I do a Digital Detox?
Reclaim Yourselfholds regular digital detox retreats at venues chosen for their peaceful natural surroundings. These include a Suffolk farmhouse, an eco-friendly estate in Norfolk and a 17th Century manor house in Bedfordshire. Yoga, breathwork and meditation are Reclaim Yourself specialities and are designed to enhance your experience. There are also workshops around managing your online and digital life.
The Grand Hotel Kronenhofin Pontresina, Switzerland, is a stunning setting for a digital detox, although not being able to 'insta-brag' the breathtaking mountain scenery is a tough one here. The four-day itinerary includes yoga on skis (not as difficult as it sounds), a meditative walk in the mountains, Haki treatments designed specifically for people who work all day at their desks, and nutritious gourmet food.
The Tree offers yoga and relaxation weekends in the remotely beautiful North York Moors National Park. Enjoy spa facilities, classes and workshops and vegetarian meals, but there's no WiFi or phone reception to tempt you to switch on: there is an old fashioned payphone should you need it.
The Fazenda Catuçaba is a super-stylish digital detox retreat in Brazil set on a coffee plantation, with no TVs, internet access or phone reception. Gorgeous designer villas face the lake where you can swim, and there are waterfalls nearby.
Time to Log Off run four digital detox retreats in 2017: choose from breaks in Italy, Somerset and Hawaii. The Hawaii retreat (November) is at a traditional ranch near Oahu’s North Shore – home to some of the most famous surfing breaks in the world. The package includes seven nights’ accommodation and breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as yoga, mindfulness and hiking activities.