As technology creates an "always-on" society, in which we are connected to a steady stream of information and each other, many people are finding themselves more dependent, if not addicted, to their devices. And with any potential addiction comes the inevitable next step: treatment.
Levi Felix, a former tech company executive, in 2009 returned from a six-month trip to Asia, where he had little or no Internet or phone connectivity in his travels, with a new belief in "the value of unplugging." He co-founded one of the USA's first unplugged vacations. He calls it "Digital Detox" -- a retreat for "people who are burning out and need a break."
In the past three years, Felix's "detoxes," which require participants to turn in all electronic devices upon arrival, have helped more than 1,500 people "to question how these tools help us or distract us." A two-night retreat costs $650 and up for three days and two nights and features activities such as yoga, meditation, reading, swimming, cooking and exercises such as making sustained eye contact with others.
Participants don't "realize how much they use their phone or device as a social crutch – as a way to avoid anxiety or loneliness," Felix says. "They find other things to do with that time and in the end feel more connected."
Jeremy Lizt, 39, a vice-president in a San Francisco tech company, attended one of Felix's recent retreats near Mendocino, Calif., hoping to be with other "like-minded people" who are overwhelmed by the phones, tablets and laptops in their lives. "I feel that same pull that a lot of people to do, to check e-mail and apps, whether for work or social reasons," Lizt says. Another participant, who asked not to be named, says she attended the retreat to learn how to "disconnect to reconnect" with others.
The movement isn't limited to the West Coast, or even the USA. Digital Detox Holidays, an online service for those "addicted" to their devices, provides hundreds of hotel listings worldwide that offer a range of ways to unplug – from accommodations with no in-room Wi-Fi, TV or phones to "highly disconnected" hotels with absolutely no Internet or cell service on the property. For instance, the Estrella Vincci Hotels del Mar in Spain asks guests to turn in their devices upon check-in and offers a book with recommendations on how to relax and detach.
All of this comes as digital device usage permeates our lives. According to a 2012 Time magazine survey, 84 percent of respondents said that they could not go a single day without their cellphones.