LIFESTYLE

What Made Two Women Set Up A Digital Detox Weekend For Stressed Out Urbanites?

17/09/2014 14:37 BST | Updated 17/09/2014 14:59 BST

As far as zeitgeist goes, digital detox is a biggie. We're fast approaching a tipping point of being increasingly dependent on our technology yet at the same time recognising that this is neither healthy nor sustainable.

Two women looking to cut the umbilical cord between us and our smartphone are Vikki Bates, 28, and Lucy Pearson, 26, who set up a digital detox retreat with a festival next year in the offing. The pair met on a wellbeing retreat in the Sahara, and both of them found that not having their mobile phones to hand made such a difference.

Vikki says: "There was no signal in the desert! It allowed us to fully relax and helped us to spend time rediscovering and learning about ourselves. We realised that there was nothing already out there providing an accessible solution for addressing our relationship with technology, so that’s when we came up with Unplugged Weekend."

vikki and lucy

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Vikki has a point - do a swift Google search and you won't come up with much the UK. But are people seriously interested in switching off? Take a look at your fellow commuters in the morning and you'll find most of them have heads bowed, happily engrossed in their phone.

"Many people are becoming frustrated with constantly having to be switched on," Lucy says. "There’s a lot of pressure to always be available and guilt attached to not being immediately responsive.

"The problem is that constant use of smartphones, tablets and laptops is habitual so it takes a certain amount of effort to break the cycle. Most people don’t even realise how much time they spend looking at screens, once they overcome this hurdle it’s easier to start making small changes to limit technology use and get the balance back in their lives."

While the robots of the world may not have gone sentient and started enslaving us, we're willingly giving our free time to technology and allowing it to determine how we interact with one another.

"Technology has advanced so much over the last 10 years that the way we communicate has completely changed," says Vikki. "It has allowed us to be doing, or thinking we are doing, a million things at once which doesn’t give us the capacity to focus properly. People like instant gratification which which is what technology, especially social media, delivers on.

"The irony is that because we are now able to be constantly in touch, we are forgetting to spend uninterrupted quality time with each other."

We may not realise it, because it has become so natural to check our phones for our calendars, the time, where we're going, social media and news, we don't notice how it's affecting our relationships.

"Constant notifications and the urge to ‘check’ interrupts social interaction and can prevent friends and families from fully connecting with each other," says Vikki. "Because we now spend less time looking at one another children are gradually losing the ability to read facial expressions. Couples are having less sex because they take their ipads to bed with them. What’s the point of going to dinner with friends if everyone is just going to be staring at their own phones?"

retreat

How many of us sneakily check our phones and think that no one has noticed? Recently, HuffPost UK Lifestyle ran a story about how children think their parents are addicted to technology, which means that this is clearly becoming an endemic problem in society.

It's clearly not as simple as putting your phone down or vowing not to check social media. These are patterns that have built up over years, which is why a weekend away may help to reset our attitude towards technology.

Talking about why people would pay for a digital detox, Lucy says: "People want to relax and let go of stresses associated with emails, social media and other demands delivered via their devices. Some people want to rediscover forgotten passions, allow time for self reflection and spend time doing quality thinking.

"When not constantly looking at a screen you start to be stimulated by other things around you, your brain is able to function more creatively and you have a better focus on what you are doing from moment to moment."

But is it actually effective? What is to prevent people from going back to their old habits?

"People have had very powerful experiences after coming on an Unplugged Weekend and some have made big changes such as switching careers," says Vikki.

"When people take a minute to asses how much time they actually spend looking at screens most are shocked and want to take steps to limit it. We give our guests tips for how to get the balance back in their lives- using devices most efficiently while allowing themselves time for other things too."

The first Unplugged Weekend took place in August. Everyone has to hand over their devices when they arrive and then they immerse themselves in a range of programmes and workshops around relaxation, mindfulness and creativity.

The programme includes things like outdoor yoga, meditation, life drawing, country walks, laughter therapy, live music and a digital detoxing session where people get the opportunity to assess their own relationships with technology.

What people tend to find is that without their phones to hide behind, they are a lot more sociable than they realise.

With the next event taking place on 18 October in London, we wonder if this is something our kids will require when they are adults. Or hopefully, will be more mindful of.

"Unfortunately babies born today won’t know what it’s like to be disconnected from technology," says Lucy. "They will grow up fighting against devices for their parents’ attention, think that looking at a screen is natural and learn that using a handheld device to do practically everything is normal. Although technology undeniably helps us in many practical ways,

"I think it would be nice to preserve a little bit of ‘real life’ so that we don’t all end up turning into robots in computer simulations of our own lives."

For more information on Unplugged Weekend, visit the website.