With the chatter of keyboards becoming all too much for so many in the business world (and indeed the world in general), retreats offering silence, relaxation and an enforced digital detox have been popping up everywhere. To escape technology, flocks of predominantly American addicts have marooned themselves on exotic islands in the Caribbean, some have fled to the American wilderness while some have taken baby steps and checked into a tech-free mid city hotel.
We know very well how difficult it is to ‘detox solo’ and use self control to keep creeping fingers and eyes away from buttons and screens so the trend to opt for a structured intervention is understandable and logical. Experiences which promise to assist in controlling your relationship with your gadgets range from the lavish and luxurious detox (where one can trade up digital items for spa treatments), to the ‘roughing it in the wilderness’ rehab style.
Here are a few of the most interesting programs and locations:
St Vincent and the Grenadines
No doubt, there would be no better place to forget about gadgets than on the white sanded shores of the Caribbean islands. St Vincent and the Grenadines are a group of 32 islands committed to de-teching the lives of visitors. Phones are frowned upon on the beach, and most hotels enforce a technology ban requesting that all technology be surrendered upon check in, but in an exotic land where the water is transparent, the hibiscus flowers are always in bloom and there is always a chance you might see Johnny Depp ( many Pirates of the Caribbean scenes were shot on these islands), life without technology would not be all that hard. The islands also offer a pre-departure session with a life coach who offers their advice on managing and balancing digital habits when you return home.
Wilderness and rehab retreats
Those who want to rough it a little, turn off their digital comforts and get in touch with their roots for four days can check into the digital detox retreat among the Californian trees. At this retreat the same tech ban applies but five star hotels , spas and restaurants are traded for rustic share rooms, hiking and organic food. The philosophy behind these kinds of retreats is that, good company, a few chirping birds, meditation and stargazing will exorcise the digital demon out of you and apparently it works; the retreat in CA is frequented by many big wigs in the digital media industry. Some places however, like the Mockcheon rehab/boot camp in South Korea don’t take such a gentle approach. Fearing very real and rising cases of internet addiction in Korean young people, the boot camp aims at fixing the problem military style: drills, constant surveillance and counseling.
Tech-free hotel trend
The ‘digital detox package’ seems to be the in vogue offering among hotels and resorts everywhere, from Ireland to Costa Rica . Secluded resorts like Teton lodge and spa in Wyoming US have been encouraging guests to embrace their disconnection and capitalise on their digital detox packages. Most hotels offer perks to brave detoxers: VIA Yoga retreats, (like many other hotels) gives a discount if you unplug and The Renaissance Hotel in Pittsburgh offers some consolation for taking your devices and television: old school books and a kayak lessons.
But with most of these retreats created for and targeted at Americans the question begs: where can Aussies, serious about controlling their technology dependence, participate in a detox program that won’t cost thousands in air fares? University of Sydney Union president Astha Rajvanshi knows of just the place…
Vipassana Meditation Retreat, Blackheath, NSW
Nestled in the upper ridges of the Blue Mountains, two hours drive from Sydney, the Vipassana Meditation Retreat offers 10 day courses in the art of Buddhist Vipassana meditation: a technique, conducted in silence, designed to rid the mind of mental impurities and achieve “self-transformation through self-observation”.
The anxiety of being constantly switched-on for work and university drove Rajvanshi into the mountains to seek some time out.
“I wanted to start meditating,” she says, “but I also wanted to take a break from everything, take a break from normal life: calling, texting, Facebook, living my life on the internet. Take a break from general routine and have some self-reflection time.”
Upon arrival she and her fellow meditators were stripped of their technological devices. Phones, laptops, and iPods are all seen to disturb the ten days of total silence participants are trying to achieve.
Every day you have such a fast paced daily routine that you are always stressed about little things … ‘what am I doing in the next hour?’ or ‘how am I performing according to my schedule?’, but and all these little things make your forget about the bigger picture.
It’s also part of the philosophy of the meditation technique, explains Rajvanshi. Every day you have such a fast paced daily routine that you are always stressed about little things … ‘what am I doing in the next hour?’ or ‘how am I performing according to my schedule?’, but and all these little things make your forget about the bigger picture.”
“You are here to have sensations that make you who you are, [and] things like technology take away from that experience of sensations.”
While the retreat is in the upper reaches of the spectacular Blue Mountains, it is hardly the luxury of other retreats in the Western hemisphere, with dorm-style accommodation and shared bathrooms.
The grueling routine of meditation, silence and lack of interaction makes for a difficult digital detox experience. “Many people weren’t able to handle it,” says Rajvanshi, noting that in every retreat there is a drop-out rate of half the men, a quarter of the women.
While the lack of Australian getaways dedicated solely to digital detoxes has meant Rajvanshi and others have been forced to look elsewhere, her experiences appear not dissimilar to her overseas counterparts.
“The hardest part was wondering, ‘is anyone texting me at the moment?’, and ‘am I missing out on something really great on Facebook?’” she says.
Ultimately though, “that anxiety goes away because there is nothing to look for or to expect and there is no race against time … that stress is alleviated and you find you have so much more time to dedicate to other things.”
Rajvanshi found the return to digital technology less of a relief than expected, and was even able to consciously decide not to get ‘back in the habit’ again.
“You realise that all the technology you are using has so much less meaning behind it than you thought once you have taken a break from it. You see that you can technically function without it… so it puts less importance on it.”