Tennis players are being routinely abused via social media by gamblers angry that they have lost them money. Photo: Nick Ut/AP

Durban - Nightmare scenario: you go on holiday to “somewhere serene”, it’s just what you need, but you’re in a pure panic when you discover there’s no cellphone signal. Or perhaps you’ve left your cellphone charger at home.

Or, can you imagine arriving at that seaside or a mountain retreat you’ve been longing to visit, only to learn that there are just four channels on the TV in your chalet. In this day and age, is that possible?

Or what about when you’re having a nice quiet dinner with your partner and your phone is dead, preventing you from taking that all-important selfie to capture the moment?

Many of us foil our own attempts at relaxation because we simply cannot draw the line between technology and saving our own sanity.

My husband and I visit a special spa once every year – it’s our treat to ourselves, precious time alone. On our last visit, my cellphone must have rung five times during the massage. I thought I’d had it on silent. Needless to say the whole time I was lying there, I was stressing about those voicemails I had to check.

It was the weekend – it should have been off – but a young child, potential emergencies and an unconventional job ensure that it never is.

At home the TV is almost always on. Serious conversations take place with movies on in the background. And e-mails have to be checked before going to bed – it’s simply a matter of keeping up.

“Switch off? No way,” said local choreographer and project manager Mark Hawkins. “It’s my lifeline to the real world, especially while we’re on tour.”

Durban businesswoman Tanya van Agthoven said she experienced horrible guilt and anxiety for not answering all her e-mails and work-related Facebook messages, which never stop coming.

“I feel I am ‘owned by the outside world’. I’ve had to travel quite a lot lately and the saying ‘have laptop will travel’ works but has overloaded me.

“SMSes, e-mail, Facebook all need answering but I am sure I will drop a ball if I don’t have a rest.”

Like me, Van Agthoven enjoys the spa but said being home does the trick too.

“I paint and I bake professionally – the artistry on my cakes is what gives me pleasure.”

My younger brother’s technology is his pleasure. He doesn’t rely on it for work but has incorporated it into every aspect of his life.

There have been numerous studies published to suggest that this is not a good thing.

Research at Bordeaux University, which was published in the British Occupational and Environmental Medicine Journal, suggests that people who talk on their cellphones for more than 15 hours a month are three times more likely to develop brain cancer.

Business people are said to be at particular risk because they are forced to keep bosses and clients updated as they travel between meetings throughout the day.

The researchers drew their conclusions from a study of 447 cases of brain tumour reported in France between 2004 and 2006.

Scientists in France found that those who clocked up 900 hours on their cellphone over the course of their career were in the danger zone for developing a tumour.

On average, most people are on their phone for just two-and-a-half hours a month.

It certainly isn’t the first batch of frightening statistics. Further alarming research is pointing to device addiction among teenagers and other mental health issues.

Durban-based psychologist Dr Shaquir Salduker said that addiction to electronic media and technology was like any other addiction in that certain areas of the brain become excited.

“We see this in practice quite often. It is not just with the younger generation but also with older people who are quite engaged and involved in virtual socialisation.

“Problems appear to arise when there is a clash or conflict between the virtual world and the real world rather than a pure technology overload or breakdown,” said Salduker.

He said that a disturbing aspect of the trend was “that a certain group of people who struggle with social anxiety or relationships in general are more prone to developing disorders related to technology and virtual socialisation”.

“I’ve definitely encountered people with technology and social media-related problems and I think it’s going to become more common in the future, where predominantly younger people are going to require assistance in detoxing from technology and the social media,” he said.

“Stories of young children who have to have cellphones physically pried out of their hands and be sedated for extreme agitation and restlessness, mimic addictive symptoms experienced by people on chemical substances or behaviours like gambling.”

It’s small wonder then that we are seeing a global comodification of the simple act of unplugging.

The owners of the site called “digital detox’, who run a California retreat with corporate clients such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, are among those globally who are commercialising the concept of time out (no doubt, coming to a spa near you).

After running a guesthouse on a secluded island in Cambodia, Brooke Dean and Levi Felix began leading device-free retreats and programmes to help people find balance and mindfulness.

They include yoga, mediation and arts and crafts in their programmes.

Digital detox is defined on their website as a tech-free personal wellness retreat, where attendees give up their smartphones and gadgets in exchange for an off-the-grid experience of personal growth, serenity and bliss.

It’s a wonderful idea – a spoke in the global wellness wheel – but the question is, should we be allowing people to sell us our sanity? - The Mercury

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