Being mindful of technology

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Holidays can be one of the best time to rejuvenate, whether your choice is a spa or fitness holiday or just getting away from home and having new experiences alone or with people you love. As travellers we’re increasingly looking for hotels and destinations that attend to every aspect of our wellbeing – allowing us to connect to each other, ourselves and the natural world, stay in places without pollution and crowds, and enjoy seasonal and organically sourced food.

Technology plays a huge part in such travelling experiences – often making it better. Many of us carry our smartphones everywhere, use the internet to research and book a holiday, access free wifi to tweak bookings or check the weather on the move, and enjoy access to TVs and music in our hotel rooms. However far we travel from home and everyday life, we usually still want access to some form of technology – whether it’s a step counter, a book reader, a music collection, a mindfulness app, a map or just an emergency contact. And even if we choose to leave our devices at home and enjoy a digital detox, technology is still around us – running transport and properties and ensuring tiny but necessary things happen while we sleep.

Despite this, our use of technology has been cited by many as a risk to our wellbeing. In a 2017 report The Global Wellness Summit said: ‘The smartphone technology has exploded faster than any other in human history. Those sleek, harmless-looking little weapons that have since shackled humans to the internet, media/social media, and work, every waking hour. This eternal (infernal) connection quickly decimated the work-life divide, sleep, and any sense of “free time” or true peace’.

Dramatic though this may sound, we can feel distinctly uncomfortable if we can’t connect with friends and family at all times, however far flung the holiday is, and such a compulsion to connect can prevent us from experiencing everything in the flesh and in the moment – leaving us preoccupied with taking a good photo for instagram, say, or frustrated that the wifi signal in our holiday hotel isn’t very good.

Other health risks of technology in its many forms have been well documented, from obesity, sleep disruption, headaches and anxiety to decreased sperm counts and ultimately, cancer. Apart from the physical effects, there are also reports that using social media and “being overly connected can cause psychological issues such as distraction, narcissism, expectation of instant gratification, and even depression,” according to Digital Responsibility – a group of Silicon Valley tech employees.

Many people from every generation want to be connected – from children on iPads and tablets to grandparents on Facebook – and we are wearing smartphones now not just in our pockets but in watches, rings, pens and glasses. The secret, perhaps, is to embrace these marvellous devices, but to protect ourselves from them too, most especially while we are on the move.

This can be in the form of physical protection – Dr. Devra Davis, an Epidemiologist and Toxicologist, and author of the book ‘Disconnect’ on the truth about cell phone radiation, advise never putting a smart phone in our pockets, keeping calls short and using a speaker phone or headset, and putting devices on flight mode before giving them to babies or children. British Vogue recently reported that US designer Gabriela Hearst, for example, has started to line the pockets of her suits with a special material to protect the wearer from mobile phone radiation, while travel bag companies such as Tumi now have products with special pockets to protect our credit cards from fraudsters who use smart technology to ‘read’ our details in busy areas.

Psychological protection is also key – and this is up to us. Just as meditation teaches us to be in control of our minds, rather than allowing them to control us, so we need to take control of our devices, rather than allowing them to dominate our every waking moment. If using screens late at night supresses melatonin and affects our ability to get to sleep, for example, it’s obvious that we as travellers can turn the phone onto airplane mode and resist using them late at night (especially so for travellers to further-flung locations whose circadian rhythms will already be disrupted by travel and different time zones) to minimize sources of electro magnetic voltage. As with most things to do with our wellbeing, balance is key, and getting the balance right is our responsibility.

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