Imagine a place where you could go to completely escape the constant distraction of online life? A remote island where all digital devices are confiscated on arrival and where you are returned to a simpler way of being?
I travelled to such a place ten days ago to visit a boutique digital detox centre on the island of Carnananaunachán, which lies somewhere off the coast of Ireland (can’t say where, exactly, for legal reasons). I was sent there by RTE Radio 1 to follow the journey of Holly and Declan, a smartphone-dependent couple from Dublin and, let me tell you readers, the things I saw there will stay with me forever.
Holly is a self-styled social influencer and online opinion manipulator living in Dublin with her partner Declan. He’s a trainee barber in one of Dublin’s hippest grooming salons, The Fade Street Beard Emporium. I had met them originally online. Holly and Declan have created a popular personal brand for themselves on the Internet and since doing so have found themselves becoming increasingly dependent on their phones.
Declan signed them up for this digital detox bootcamp in an effort to get Holly to put the phone down and pay more attention to him. They kindly allowed me to tag along and document their journey for the RTE Documentary On One. I’m glad they did – Holly really had no idea what Declan has signed them up for.
Once we reached the island, I followed the couple as they are put through a very unconventional course of treatment designed to reprogramme them to appreciate the simpler things in life. This programme is run on the island by the eccentric pairing of Brother Ponzi Fantastic and his matriarchal sidekick Bean Ní Shuilleabháin.
Over the course of the next seven days, I observed the couple’s journey as they were led through a series of increasingly surreal treatment modules from Cloud Appreciation Classes to a course on “enjoying your food without having to photograph it and share it online first”.At the halfway point of the programme, Holly broke one of the most fundamental rules of the programme, however, and things started to get uncomfortably real for the couple as the bizarre series of events that followed shook their relationship to its very core.
If you want to know exactly what happened that week you can hear the full story here now – or you can wait until Saint Patrick’s Day morning from 11am, where Surviving Ireland will be aired on RTE Radio 1.