Is it time Hong Kong took a Digital Detox?



The Oriental Spa at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental


Travel writer Will Hide recently visited Hong Kong and Tweeted: “Never seen anywhere quite like HK for people mindlessly glued to their phones, constantly shuffling slowly, playing games or texting.” I hadn’t thought about it before but I think he’s right.

I’ve written in an earlier post about how no Hong Kong pedestrian – male or female, young or old – will move out of the way on the street. The onus will always be on you to avoid a collision. But that’s changed. The onus is still on you not to get banged into but many Hong Kongers will not even be looking where they are going – they will be looking down at their phones, totally unaware of everyone else around them. If, by some miracle, they glance up at the last minute and see you standing before them they will glare at you as if it’s your fault.

And it’s not just in the street. When we first moved to Hong Kong we were bemused by how young couples spent dinner at a restaurant not gazing into each other’s eyes or conversing with each other at all but instead gazing lovingly at their respective mobiles. At dinner the other night at a smart restaurant a man who looked like he was in his twenties and out with his parents and siblings spent the entire meal watching videos on his phone. As he was directly in my eye line I couldn’t help but see them too. I suppose I was lucky he didn’t have the volume on – not always a given.

Worse was at Man Wah when an entire group of twentysomethings were on their phones throughout dinner. Our expensive meal was punctuated by very loud “pinging” noises every few seconds as a message was sent or received. None of the wait staff at this Michelin starred restaurant said a word. Isn’t it about time fancy restaurants added rules about cell phone usage just with their “no slippers, vests or shorts” dress codes?

Also at the Mandarin, taking refuge in its relaxing heat and water rooms one afternoon, I watched as a very chic woman walked up and down in the Kneipp bath yabbering away on her mobile phone. Directly under the sign which said “No Phones”. When her battery ran out she asked the attendant if she had a phone she could use. (The request was denied).

Thank goodness then that “the new Mandarin”, The Landmark, has introduced a Digital Wellness Escape. The allure of the treatment for me was the 90 minutes massage on the neck, head and arms – all the parts affected by being on phones, tablets and computers – but cutely you’re meant to hand your devices over at reception to resist any temptation.

My therapist confided that it’s not unusual for clients to be on their phones throughout the massage. Why on earth would anyone pay top dollar for a massage in a lovely environment and then do that? The week before a mainland Chinese woman had watched an entire film with the volume turned up to maximum, blaring Mandarin into the serene room.

While I enjoyed my (at times painful but extremely therapeutic) massage, two incidents struck me. As I was led along the corridor to the treatment room a middle aged white guy almost collided with me as he was already checking his phone. And when I was deposited back in the relaxation room afterwards a young Hong Kong woman arrived, accepted her ginger tea then immediately got on her phone – the bright glare of the screen shattering the dark, calm of the room. Looks like we have a long way to go with this digital detox thing.