A German spa hotel will let you cut off all Wi-Fi and cellular signals in your room with a literal flick of a switch. The luxury Villa Stéphanie spa resort in Baden-Baden has a copper grid in the walls, plus a “special coating” to block a claimed 96% of wireless signals.
Switching off can be therapeutic. Every year I go with a big group of friends to camp in the grounds of a remote guest house. I use a cheap cell carrier that offers no coverage in the area, not even if you kayak downriver to the nearest village. During the first few hours I keep grabbing my iPhone to check IMDB to see who was in that movie, or to check the weather forecast, but by the evening I stop using my phone for anything but photos.
Besides, there are always plenty of folks connected to better networks that I can ask about tomorrow’s weather.
According to Frank Marrenbach, chief executive of the group that owns Villa Stéphanie, say that around half of the resort’s guests have used the kill switch. It’s hard to see the point of this in a private room–how is a switch on the wall any different from the airplane-mode switch on your device?–but it’s a great idea for communal spaces. Imagine a movie theater that offered disconnected screenings, or a silent railway car that was truly silent. Perhaps the latter is less important now that fewer people talk on the phone and most cellphone use consists of reading and writing, but I could see desperate parents dragging their texting teens to dinner at a disconnected diner.
It’s possible that the customers of Villa Stéphanie are confusing connection with distraction. It’s easy to retain all the utility of your phone or tablet just by switching off notifications instead of paying around $1,200 per night to have a hotel do it for you. But this fetishization of disconnection suggests that we feel overwhelmed by modern life. Nostalgic recreations of less technological times are one way to escape, but maybe we should be looking for ways to balance technology with a peaceful mind instead.