Participants in digital detox weekend at Strip resort ditch smartphones, rejoin real world

“How many times a day do you do it?” she asked. It was a simple question, but no one wants to do the math.

The person doing the asking was Jennifer Lynn, senior director of the spa and digital detox coach at the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas.

She wanted to know how many times a day I checked email and texts.

Twenty? Thirty? Infinity?

Are you one of those people who can’t go 10 minutes without checking your phone? No need to look it up: You’re not alone.

Americans check their phones an estimated 8 billion times a day. In addition, the average person checks his or her phone 46 times a day, according to a study released by Deloitte.

That’s why when the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas decided to create a digital detox weekend to kick off the fall, it was needed — stat.

The first step was a pre-unplugging interview.

“Do you sleep with your phone?” Lynn inquired. “Do you bring it to the dinner table?” (Answers: No … and no, I swear, we have a family rule. Really!)

“Understand what we’re doing during this digital detox weekend can bring some balance to your life and how you use technology,” she said. “For most of us, the pendulum has swung from tech being a convenience to now being a stressor.

“The expectation of timely communication is so great,” she added. “People will actually call to say, ‘Did you get my email?’”

But there would be no more using technology to check up on technology. There would be no emails while detoxing and texts would have to wait. Plugs would remain empty and Siri would spend a weekend in a drawer. Among the 10 attendees on the program’s inaugural weekend (four retreats are planned each year with one per season) no hands trembled as their devices were collected. The $299 fee for the retreat included two days of yoga, guided meditation, nutrition talks, smoothie demos and lunches.

By the way, devices could either be secured in a hotel safety deposit box or left at home on the honor system. (Not once during the time did a phone ring.)

Here’s what happens during a digital intervention.

Without a phone, you’re suspended in time — ‘Twilight Zone’ style

The detox began on Friday night and by Saturday morning, the group seemed to lose all track of time. A few people asked … but then they didn’t anymore. Not being so aware of time was freeing and empowering. “It’s dark out. It must be night,” said one detoxer.

“No one wears watches anymore,” said a business executive who admitted with a wide grin, “I have absolutely no idea what time it is – and that’s sort of great. For once, I’m just living in the moment without time pressure. I can breathe.”

Unplugging is a spa treatment in itself

Massages are great, as is yoga and other ways of looking inward. Here’s another way to unwind in our modern times: Let your power on your devices hit zero.

“We’ve become servants to our phones and just releasing that monkey has freed up a lot of my stress,” said a fashion guru who lives on the Strip and attended the weekend to see if she could remain phone- and laptop-less.

“You don’t get a moment to breathe or rest anymore. We’re online just looking, looking, looking,” said Susan Holmes, a master yoga instructor who took the group through a restorative class. “Put your phone down and experience the real world for a period of time,” she advised.

Being unavailable is the new black

Jennifer Thompson, a certified iridologist and nutrition and health coach, lectured throughout the weekend on topics including eating for beauty and energy. Her take on unplugging? “It’s nice to have a break from being so available,” she said. “Most of us feel like we need to respond to people the minute a call comes in or we see an email. It creates untold stress. Think of unplugging from time-to-time as a way of respecting yourself and your needs.”

In fact, on Saturday night after 24 hours of no electronics, she asked the group of mostly women and two men, “Do you feel like Googling something?” There wasn’t a yes to be heard. “Isn’t it nice to just enjoy peaceful moments with yourself?” Thompson said.

Digital boundaries are a must

A writer in the group mentioned a pop star ghostwriting client who emailed her night and day. If she didn’t answer within five minutes, he would text her streams of 20 to 30 question marks. The more time went by, he added more ?????? followed by !!!!!!!!

“It made my blood pressure hit the roof,” she said. Thompson said that it was up to her to set the digital boundaries. “If you keep responding to someone in the middle of the night then they will keep emailing you. Now you’ve created an expectation and perhaps a monster,” she said, adding, “It’s your job to decide when you’re available for electronic communication and when you’re not.”

Have an electronic cutoff time and do it for your own health. This means no checking in the middle of the night and maybe not even checking until after breakfast. “It will even help you sleep better because the light of electronics disturbs your sleep patterns,” Thompson said. “Try to start your day without logging on. It’s a better way to ease into your day.”

Don’t let social media rule your world

Around 8 p.m. on Saturday (we think it was that time, but with no phones no one was sure), Thompson talked about the emotional roller coaster of social media. “Most people attach real emotions now to social media,” she said. “You get a negative comment on Facebook and it cuts you to the core. Then your whole day is off balance. You’re thinking, ‘Should I respond or delete them?’” Her advice? “Don’t spin this out to be a big drama,” she said. “And remember that choosing NOT to respond is also a very powerful choice.”

Her advice was simple. “Have an across-the-board policy that you do not accept any online bullying. Block those who try to upset you.”

In the end, perhaps the strangest thing during the weekend was an entire table of people at lunch actually talking to each other and making eye contact. Not once was someone looking down or doing the texting finger dance.

The pace slowed; people listened to tales that ranged from family to travel. Numbers were exchanged. On paper. There was no inputting it into a phone. “What time is it?” someone asked and then added, “I don’t even care what time it is. This is so relaxing.”

The next digital detox is scheduled for March 20 as a half-day retreat only.

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