As the world runs out of surface area that is not covered by cellular carriers and Wi-Fi routers, Angela Waters takes us to the places where people go for a digital detox.
Vacation used to be a time to recharge and get away from the office, but now that you can get Wi-Fi at cruising altitude, 4G-cell service on Mt. Everest and international data plans for just about every country in the world, it's trickier than ever to leave work behind. This has people going out of their way to spend time without tech in order to truly relax.
It is no secret that our devices can be taxing on our physical and emotional well-being. The bright screens can undermine a good night’s rest, constant social media use is linked to depression, and waking up to a string of 3 a.m. e-mails from your boss could leave anyone stressed.
“I can feel my bag buzzing even when I’m out for a nice dinner,” Bernadette H., 25, who works at an ad agency in San Francisco, told Highsnobiety. “It’s a huge distraction because I know its work. The last refuge for having time to yourself is tech-free vacations.”
For many like Bernadette, being constantly online is an expectation from bosses, colleagues and clients. Wi-Fi may be a non-negotiable point for most people planning a vacation, but companies are starting to cater to those who want to escape their notifications.
Large hotel chains like the Westin offer a “Digital Detox Package,” starting at €458 per night in Dublin, where they babysit your phone at the front desk for the weekend while you spend your time with print newspapers, massages, walking maps and a take-home tree planting kit.
“We have seen a high level of demand, particularly at times of high stress e.g. post budget planning periods,” the Irish hotel’s press office said. “The fact that the guest hands over their phone at the beginning of the stay also takes away from the guilt of disconnecting, allowing them to truly enjoy their stay.”
While hotel packages offer a short breather from digital communication, other programs have a more immersive method of reconnecting people with IRL activities. Retreats such as Digital Detox, which works with different U.S. campgrounds, takes a Wet Hot American Summer approach to helping people recover from technology. It replaces Instagram, email and Facebook with yoga, meditation, typewriters and arts and crafts. A three-day session costs nearly $700.
Laws Against Emailing Employees During off Hours
While companies are cashing in on those trying to escape their inboxes, some countries have already taken a stand against overbearing employers. A French law came into effect this year mandating that businesses larger than 50 people outline when staff should and should not be sending or answering e-mails to avoid burnouts and underpaying employees for working around the clock.
Being constantly available does not always mean doing more or better work. Before moving to San Francisco, Bernadette worked at a Parisian ad agency where the workload was comparable, but the culture radically different.
“I would work longer hours in the office — until 8 or 9 p.m. – but I had peace on the weekend,” she said. “Here I feel like it is always a rat race. If you finished at 3:30 p.m. in Paris, but your work was good, you were doing well. In the US we make it a competition to see who is working on Sunday, staying till 9 p.m., taking flights on Sundays or coming straight to work after a red-eye. That type of one-upping isn’t a good metric for producing quality work.”
Other governments like Germany are also trying to lead by example; the country's Ministry of Employment banned non-urgent e-mailing outside of business hours back in 2013 and many companies have followed suit, including car manufacturers BMW and Volkswagen.
Although work texts and e-mails may be the main problem for some people, there are those whose reason for leaving their gadgets behind is private tech use. Whether it is social media or overwhelming group chats, technology has maybe given our friends too much access to us. One of the top New Year’s resolutions for 2017 was to cut down on social media use.
Clare H., 25, works for a publishing house in Berkley and while her boss is insistent upon halting e-mails during off hours, she finds that her notifications are still too distracting for her to completely relax.
“I’ve been trying to work on regulating my social media use over the past few years because I feel an insane amount of guilt if I don’t respond to people immediately,” Clare told Highsnobiety. “Over the past few years I have been forcing myself to take a minute if I don’t feel like I’m in a headspace to talk to people and tell myself that it is ok to wait 'till the next day to respond.”
Notifications set off the chemical rewards system in our brains, which can make it hard to put down the phone. And even if you do, it may not be pleasant. The addictive nature can cause withdrawal symptoms among heavy users, similar to that of drug or alcohol.
Part of the problem is that we are not getting the same type of satisfaction form virtually corresponding with people we care about that we get when they are in the same room. “The research is pretty clear that we need face-to-face relationships to be well-regulated emotionally,” Hilarie Cash of the U.S. technology rehab center reStart told Highsnobiety. “Limbic resonance happens when you are physically in the presence of people you love and are attached to, which serves as the basis for regulating our whole existence. So if we don’t have those interactions enough we become deregulated, depressed and anxious.”
Still, Cash says that once patients start taking care of themselves, sleeping better, eating well and strengthening offline interactions, a lot of these symptoms disappear. So it might just be worth it to forgo the Gram updates this summer and focus on getting some rest instead.
Next up; here's how to prevent your smartphone from ruining your mental health.