Sat, May 06, 2017 - Page 13 News List

On the digital wagon

Hotels and spas are riding the digital detox wave, offering services they claim will ease the stress and strain of using digital devices

By Sarah Firshein  /  Bloomberg

A shungite-infused bath will help eliminate those mobile phone-induced free radicals.

Photo: AFP

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, the New York Times app sent a flurry of notifications about Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court confirmation, Vox published an interview with an ex-congressman who was caught buying cocaine from an undercover cop, 78 people liked one of my Instagram photos, and SoulCycle pushed out the following alert: “Clarity. Confidence. Breakthroughs. What are you [eyes emoji] for? FIND IT!”

But from one of the hushed treatment rooms at the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, New York — 35 floors directly above the largest transit system in the world — I missed out on all that. As therapist Jim Patrick explained the supposed health benefits of shungite, an ancient Russian mineraloid consisting mostly of carbon, my phone bleeped and blooped from the snug confines of a neoprene “sleeping bag” tucked behind the spa’s reception desk.

I had relinquished the device that day to test out the Mandarin’s Digital Wellness Escape, an 80-minute spa package fit for overacheivers that’s meant to “ease stresses and strains resulting from the frequent use of digital devices,” according to the official description. The treatment (US$240 to US$365) starts with a shungite-infused bath aiming to help the body eliminate the “free radicals we get through our technology.” Post-soak, it ends with a targeted massage designed to counteract postural imbalance and repetitive stress caused by hunching over hours of Candy Crush.

Throughout was shungite-infused water, for hydration. By the time Patrick admitted that the mineral “doesn’t really have a discernible flavor,” he was just confirming what my palate had already discerned. He reassured me that “it’s more of an energetic charge.” I tried to feel it, and failed. I could have been too relaxed for such subtleties.


Instagram: Instagram post by J O E Y Z A U Z I G ?

Though Patrick is only one of 20 therapists who provide digital detox treatments at the Mandarin in New York, he estimates he gives one Digital Wellness Escape treatment a week, mostly to resident New Yorkers.

“We have a very metropolitan, almost aggressive, energy to our city — that whole idea of, ‘if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,’” he said.

Counterintuitive as it might seem, going to the spa doesn’t inherently constitute a digital detox.

“A lot of people have a difficult time letting their technology go while they’re here,” Patrick said. “We always try to gently correct people using their cell phones, because we want this to be a sanctuary where guests can restore,” he added.

But despite the hotel’s best efforts, the Instagram geotag for the Spa at the Mandarin Oriental, New York is a vast and curious world of skin-mask selfies, enrobed selfies, and even the occasional midbath selfie.

That’s why Mandarin Oriental has added stricter phone-free offerings at all its 29 hotels, situated chiefly in major urban centers; they range from isolated spa treatments, such as my shungite fest, to daylong and weekend retreats. Imagine: yoga, journaling and note-card writing, all conducted under the soft glow of Himalayan salt lamps, right on the Las Vegas Strip.


The idea of getting a reprieve from your screen is most often associated with remote, sun-dappled destinations that naturally inspire unplugging. Think Costa Rica, where the Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica and Nayara Springs both offer digital detox programs; Vietnam, where Intrepid Travel is hosting one of its phone-free Digital Detox expeditions this year; or even a remote cabin in the woods, which serves as the inspiration behind Getaway’s tiny, Walden-like vacation houses, each stocked with a cell-phone lockbox.

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