Design

An oasis dedicated to the art of unplugging

Paris space helps tech-obsessed urbanites disconnect from devices.

The 'Surf Your Mind Lounge' at the Seymour+ in Paris.The 'Surf Your Mind Lounge' at the Seymour+ in Paris.The 'Surf Your Mind Lounge' at the Seymour+ in Paris. (Photo: Camille Malissen)

In recent years, digital detox retreats have become havens for tech-obsessed travelers to surrender their devices and rediscover off-line pleasures. They're also a popular travel niche for those who can afford the time and money to swing one of these getaways.

But for those who can’t, a new space has opened in Paris to help stressed-out urbanites disconnect. Like a day spa dedicated to the art of unplugging, Seymour+ opened in January near the Canal St. Martin in the hip 10th arrondissement. For 7 euros ($7.54), visitors leave their smartphones, tablets, computers, and even books and magazines in a locker, and explore and inhabit a series of five interactive environments instead. While multiple people can inhabit the space at the same time, talking is discouraged.

Founded by Franco-American Melissa Unger, who previously worked in film, media and the art world, the new space is part of Seymour Projects, a nonprofit organization she founded in 2011 “to help individuals cultivate creative self-expression by encouraging them to balance technological stimuli with internal exploration.” Seymour+ bills itself as “a haven for the mind that provides visitors with a place to go when they need a respite from technology and the external distractions and outside influences that hinder their ability to access their own thoughts, imagination and intuition.”

The 'Selfie Booth' encourages self-exploration.The 'Selfie Booth' encourages self-exploration. (Photo: Camille Malissen)

The Selfie Booth, which looks like a disco ball-covered photo booth, “encourages self-exploration, grounding and centering,” says Unger. The dark-walled Projection Room, seemingly inspired by a darkened cinema, “encourages the release of stress and tension and calms the mind.” Wish You Were Here provides pens and paper that “encourages the communication of thoughts and emotions.” The Surf Your Mind Lounge is a space featuring enveloping, high-backed wing chairs grouped together but each angled slightly away from one another that “encourages subconscious exploration, brainstorming, fresh ideas.” Finally, the Secret Garden is a little green oasis that brings a touch of nature indoors and “encourages contemplation, noticing and listening.”

It seems odd that we have become so wrapped up in our virtual lives that we need to pay to access a dedicated space to reenact life in the pre-digital age, i.e. most of human history. But the quiet solitude of Seymour+ is actually part of a larger trend happening all across the globe. Busy commuters and suburban moms alike are choosing to stay digital-free once a week. Cell phones are being banished from dinner tables. There are even restaurants that collect cell-phones as you enter.

Unger is clearly onto something in an age where people find themselves increasingly tethered to the devices and unable to find the self-possession to unplug on their own.

“People may think that I am anti-technology but I am not,” Unger says. “I embrace it, in fact I believe that the increased connectivity between individuals and the easy transcendence of time and space that the Internet and other tech devices afford us, make it a crucial step on humanity’s intellectual and spiritual journey.” What she’s proposing, she says, is “to encourage people to ‘Surf their Mind’ as often as they surf the Internet.”

The 'Secret Garden' is a little green oasis that brings a touch of nature indoors.The 'Secret Garden' is a little green oasis that brings a touch of nature indoors. (Photo: Camille Malissen)

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