Tuesday 27 June 2023

Finland introduces world’s first phone-free island to study effects of social media addiction

 The popular tourist destination of Ulko-Tammio, an island in Finland, is attempting to become the world's first phone-free tourist zone – meaning no more snapping photos and uploading them to Facebook and Instagram.

For the first time, officials in Ulko-Tammio are asking visitors to turn their smartphones off – or better yet, to just leave them at home and enjoy the scenery the natural way.

Located in the Eastern Gulf of Finland, Ulko-Tammio has officially declared itself to be a "phone-free" zone starting this year. The island is visited annually by millions of tourists, so the change is significant.

"The island of Ulko-Tammio, which is located off the coast of Hamina, will be a phone-free area this summer," announced Mats Selin, a member of the Visit Kotka-Hamina tourism board.

"We want to urge holidaymakers to switch off their smart devices and to stop and genuinely enjoy the islands."

While Ulko-Tammio still has a functioning mobile network, every traveler who visits the area will be asked to keep their smart devices in their pockets and to stay off social media for the entire duration of their stay – you know, just like the old days.


Nature lovers: Do phone-free tourism destinations interest you?

What makes Ulko-Tammio particularly unique in addition to its breathtaking natural beauty is the fact that it is completely uninhabited by people. Visitors can stay overnight in tents or cabins, but there are no houses or hotels like most other places in the world.

The new phone-free policy is technically voluntary, but every visitor will be informed about the optional rule and told about its benefits, which the tourism board hopes will cause most of them to comply out of sheer interest.

"This is a great initiative that could be implemented in other nature and recreational destinations, too," said Joel Heino from Parks and Wildlife Finland, adding that remaining phone-free will allow visitors to better "focus on nature" and the experience of actually being where they are.

The really great thing about Ulko-Tammio is that there is plenty to see and do with no need for technology. The rocky shorelines are great for hiking, and the many bird-watching towers allow visitors to see not just unique fowl but also the island's rare flora and fauna.

Sea cruises organized by MeriSet take visitors there, or they can opt to travel to Ulko-Tammio by private boat or a water taxi from Varissaari, a nearby historic island fortress.

The latest data suggests that the average European person spends around six hours a day on their screens – and in the United States, it is probably even worse. All of that screen-watching is horrible for mental health.

A 2022 study found that people who take even just a one-week break from social media experience "significant improvements" in their wellbeing and sleep quality.

Staying away from digital devices more rather than less is also beneficial for attention span as constant exposure to digital stimuli impairs one's ability to concentrate and think deeply.

In 2019, the University of East Anglia published a study as well revealing that taking a "digital detox" holiday improves feelings of connectedness and presence. And what better place to do that than in a phone-free zone like Ulko-Tammio?

Hopefully other tourist areas take the hint and impose similar policies to help improve the tourism experience for everyone around the world wherever they choose to travel for holiday.

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