Finland has introduced the world’s first phone-free tourist island to encourage ‘digital fasting’ for better mental health. Jenny Southan reports
Visitors to Ulko-Tammio island, located in the Eastern Gulf of Finland National Park, are being asked to keep their phones in their pockets this summer to help them disconnect from technology, take a break from social media and enjoy the benefits of nature.
Sari Castrén, psychologist and Research Manager at the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, says: “Switching off your phone, exploring nature and meeting people face to face are bound to boost your mood and well-being. We spend countless hours scrolling our social media feeds, so taking a short break from them means you have more time for new experiences. I’d like to see more initiatives like this that promote digital fasting.”The Eastern Gulf of Finland has a 30-nautical-mile-wide national park with rugged islands, tempting swimming spots in the Baltic Sea and charming coastal villages. Believed to be the world’s first phone-free tourist island, Ulko-Tammio has a birdwatching tower, rare plants, walking paths, fresh air and empty beaches.
Mats Selin, an expert in island tourism at Visit Kotka-Hamina, says: “The island of Ulko-Tammio, which is located off the coast of Hamina, will be a phone-free area this summer. We want to urge holidaymakers to switch off their smart devices and to stop and genuinely enjoy the islands.”Technology is part of our everyday lives, and many people find it difficult to put their phone down even on holiday. Sharing your holiday activities on social media might feel more important than simply enjoying the moment. We take our smart phones with us everywhere, so many people are always within reach and spend any idle moments they have scrolling through their social media feed.
However, Terhi Mustonen, psychologist and program manager of the Limitless Gaming and Limitless Social Media programmes at the Sosped Foundation, says: “People are not meant to be glued to screens all the time. Even a short digital fast can be useful and improve our well-being and help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression.”Joel Heino, manager of outdoor recreation and visitor management at Parks and Wildlife Finland, agrees: “We encourage visitors to put their phones away voluntarily and to focus their senses on nature rather than on their phones. This is a great initiative that could be implemented in other nature and recreational destinations, too.”
(It’s worth noting that participation in digital fasting is voluntary, and the island is covered by a functioning mobile network.) Visitors can stay overnight on the island in tents or in the cabin maintained by Parks and Wildlife Finland. Selin says: “The eastern side of the Gulf of Finland is home to a unique group of islands you won’t find elsewhere. According to our research, interest in the islands of the Eastern Gulf of Finland is also on the rise among Finnish tourists looking for a ‘nearcation’ destination.”