The Digital Detox
In my current ‘work from home’ environment, I’m constantly glued to screens through almost all of my waking hours.
First thing I do when I wake up? Check my phone. Then, if I’m not on my laptop writing blogs, editing videos or on Zoom calls, I’m on my phone, scrolling and posting on Instagram. It’s constant notifications, emails, endless scrolling, pings, rings and dings.
After the working day, I’m catching the evening news on the TV, then watching Netflix for a couple of hours… So, more screens and constant brain engagement. I’m sure many of you reading this will be in a similar situation.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the graft, challenge, and excitement of starting up my own tourist accommodation business, but I know sometimes it’s important to disconnect… to just switch off for a bit.
Perhaps a detox from my digital way of life is on the cards.
For this one, we’ve teamed up with Unplugged who run off-grid digital detox cabins in the countryside, 1 hour north of London.
Let’s jump right into 10 Questions with Hector from Unplugged who sure knows a lot more about digital detoxing than I do.
The Digital Detox: 10 Questions with @Unplugged.rest
DJ: Firstly Hector, thanks for taking the time to talk about all things Digital Detox. What is ‘Unplugged’ and what is your story?
HH: Thank you for having me. At Unplugged we provide a digital detox at beautiful cabins in the countryside as an antidote to hectic city life.
My co-founder, Ben, and I, used to work together for a tech startup. He was employee number one and I joined a year later. It was a fantastic experience- we grew to 70 people, and opened offices in the US and Australia. Ben left in 2018 and whilst I stayed on. Then, in 2019 I got burnt out.
Seeing this, a friend recommended I went to a Silent Retreat he’d been to in the Himalayas. I initially laughed this off, but after weeks of pondering, I decided to do it. It was incredible. Exactly what I needed. The best thing about it was the fact that on day one you check in your phone and all connection with the outside world and spend the next ten days offline. I came back completely recharged.
Ben and I had stayed friends and we caught up once I was back. He’s not the kind of person you’ll find at a silent retreat any time soon and we spoke about how much stigma there is around traditional remedies such as retreats and detoxes. So much of the benefit is simply from getting offline and into nature. We pondered an accessible experience that didn’t involve flying around the world. That was all I needed and I quit my job the following day.
The basic concept is that we put cabins in the countryside an hour from city life. On arrival guests padlock their phones in a box, we give them a map and a nokia and leave them to it.
DJ: What’s your take on a digital detox, and why do you think it’s important to ‘unplug’ every now and then?
HH: We hear a lot of digital detox critics saying You can’t change your habits in three days.
That’s true, but misses the point. The real value comes from the change in perception. When guests come and stay we’ve found that it changes the way they look at their devices. They see the world doesn’t end if we go offline for a few days.
Another big one we hear is why can’t I just leave my phone in a drawer?
Again, nice idea. But much harder in practice! We depend on our phones for so much these days that it’s really about giving people the tools they need to spend true time offline. Without all the pieces we make excuses and get back to scrolling instagram.
We see unplugging as vital and increasingly so as more of our life moves online. 85% of us check our phone within 15 minutes of waking up and as a result we spend the rest of the day in a constant state of overstimulation. Trying the experience you really feel the changes in the brain. It takes about a day for the mind to calm down and then reach a natural calm that we simply never find in our daily lives.
DJ: Your website says that at Unplugged, you’ve to “Lock your phone away for 3 days to switch-off & completely recharge at a beautiful off-grid cabin”. What is your personal experiences of locking your phones away, switching off, and recharging?
HH: The silent retreat was my first experience of this. We handed in our phones on day one and got them back ten days later. That was perhaps the highlight of the whole trip. Both Ben and I have tried the three-day digital experience, and the advantage of launching this business is that we are both thinking about our own relationships with technologies. I’ve taken to going offline for 12-15 hours each night, ideally from 6pm in the evening to 9am the next morning but it doesn’t always work out like that.
DJ: What are the absolute essentials for a long weekend digital detox, in your opinion?
HH: Nothing’s essential. That’s the beauty of it. We were initially worried that guests would get bored but they keep it simple. Lot’s of walking, talking, cooking, reading, and perhaps some things they don’t tell us about. Nothing needs to happen to get the benefits.
DJ: What kind of feedback do your guests give you after they’ve had a digital detox at Unplugged?
HH: We were checking people in and out for the first six months and they looked visibly different after three days. Visibly rested. We’ve had some wonderful feedback about the changes people made to their daily lives. One couple told us they now do one day a week when they’ll go to a restaurant (pre-lockdown!) and leave their phones at home. Another couple went out and bought a map of their local area because they enjoyed the navigation at the cabin.
DJ: So you’re located 1 hour away from London. It’s almost the perfect solution to escaping the hectic city life and embracing the great outdoors of the English countryside. How did you end up in that particular location?
HH: 1 hour from London was a deliberate choice. One of the key problems we’re trying to solve is to make this accessible. You really don’t need to go far out of London before it feels super remote. As for the specific site, we spent a couple of months going all over the home counties and both really loved that pocket of the countryside. More sites on the way soon!
DJ: What’s your thoughts on Summer 2021. Are we looking at a ‘staycation boom’?
HH: We are indeed. People are desperate to get out of the city after this lockdown and international travel is looking difficult. I do think staycations are here to stay. People are realising the British countryside is really quite wonderful. On top of that there’s a definite move towards a simpler way of living- jetting off around the world is hard to reconcile with that.
DJ: Let’s take a turn to your ‘Eco factor’. How are your off-grid cabins ‘Eco’?
HH: Solar-powered is the big one. Getting off-grid solar working in the UK turned out to be quite the challenge. There’s not much sun here in the winter as I’m sure you know. We’ve cracked it now and all our electricity in the cabin is from solar. Aside from that we have a composting toilet and are also pondering what to fuel the wood stove with. Whilst wood is sustainable, burning wood isn’t ideal from an ‘Eco’ point of view. We’re weighing up alternatives.
DJ: How important do you think having an eco-friendly accommodation offering is these days, and do you think there is an alignment between an Eco-cabin and a digital detox experience in the countryside?
HH: More important is being a sustainable business. Businesses power everything so if we’re going to turn around the looming climate disaster then businesses must pull their weight.
There’s a real risk to focus on ticking the Eco box without actually thinking about the impact. For example, flying in bamboo sheets from Australia. Sure, it’s a sustainable material, but it’s clocked up some serious airmiles to get here. The more we can simplify the supply chain and use local materials, the better. In terms of the link with digital detoxing: the great thing about a DD is that it helps clear the mind. A clear mind is far more likely to recognise the impact of it’s decisions, so the two go hand in hand.
DJ: Finally, how can our tech-orientated generation build a healthier relationship with our tech?
HH: The first step is awareness. Understanding quite how addicted we are and what it’s doing to our brains is key. A good starting place is Cal Newport’s great book Digital Minimalism. Beyond that, it’s about normalising healthy tech usage. I hope we get to a place where it’s normal for people to spend time away from their phones. It’s fun once you’ve got the hang of it. I ditch my phone at any opportunity these days- the irony is if I wasn’t running Unplugged I’d probably spend more time offline. I’d love to move back to communicating via letters- one day!
There you have it. Huge thanks to Hector for that insight on digital detox. If you want to learn more about Unplugged.rest, you can find their website here and their Instagram here. You can also reach out to Hector on LinkedIn.
Thanks for reading. Happy digital detoxing!