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Blast from the past: Digital detox in Pittsburgh

Do you...check your phone every few minutes? Scroll Facebook for hours? Fall asleep clutching your iPad?

We could go on, but you get the idea. Digital addiction is a thing, and now one hotel is addressing it. The Marriott Renaissance in Pittsburgh might not have a cure for your addiction, but has something fun that can point you in the right direction: A Digital Detox Getaway.

We are old enough to remember days before cell phones, and in a weird way, the experience reminded us how electronics are handy, but not necessary. If you’ve grown up using electronics, you might be in for shock, but in a good way. We loved and survived it!

Take a deep breath

Digital Detox | Buffalo Magazine

A pass for a one-hour kayak ride is part of the Digital Detox Getaway package. (Kayak Pittsburgh / VisitPittsburgh)

The hotel locks all your electronics in a safe deposit box (gulp). The room is stripped of the TV and clock. The phone is left for safety. (We needed it for a good, old fashioned wake up call.)

Board games (Battleship, Yahtzee, Life), a working, replica Victrola turntable/radio and a working Polaroid camera are supplied. Bring reading material; however a Kindle/Nook are off limits.

What we remembered: We let folks know where we were in case of an emergency and printed a couple maps of attractions and restaurants around the hotel. In the Cultural District and near the Strip District, the hotel is close to Heinz Hall and the awesome Heinz History Center with its neon ketchup bottle. Across the Andy Warhol Bridge is the Andy Warhol Museum on the North Shore.

What we forgot: A watch! We had no concept of time. We would have needed one to keep track of time for anything like a theater performance or restaurant reservation.

When a phone would have come in handy: The Three Rivers Heritage Trail, including the North Shore Trail is perfect for biking. After using the hotel voucher for kayaking as part of the Digital Detox Getaway, we tried to rent bikes on our own at Healthy Ride kiosk. We didn’t have a phone to sign up, or to call the help number. The kiosk’s on site sign up function was not working. Had we registered before going we could have just used our credit card at the kiosk.

We would have liked a phone to look up restaurants, like the hot Guacho Parilla Argentinian joint we passed with a line out the door. Or to make a reservation at Tako that was all booked up by the time we found it. We didn’t even know about Butcher and Rye around the corner from the hotel. Again, bad pre-planning, or rather, realizing we rely too much on phones for last minute things.

Digital Detox | Buffalo Magazine

Butcher and the Rye is located just around the corner from the Renaissance. The two-story restaurant destination has an extensive whiskey collection and menu, which offers contemporary riffs on rustic American dishes. (Laura Petrilla)

Be mindful of walking. We walked a good distance to the excellent Strip District neighborhood. We didn’t have a phone to call Uber to return. A restaurant or hotel could have called a cab for us, but we opted to hoof it back. In other words, wear good walking shoes. Also, we missed a GPS. Traveling beyond our printed maps was problematic. Next time we’d bring a real map.

What we noticed: We normally don’t look at phones eating or sitting at a bar, but we were more aware of those who did, and it was sad. There is freedom not having to respond texts or alerts. And guess what? The world didn’t come to an end.

What it forced us to do: We asked for directions and for the time. It was great just talking to people. We also stayed out later walking the streets, instead of heading back to the room. Back at the the room we played Yahtzee, and were reminded about how fun the classic game is.

Small cheating: We did touch a phone taking a picture of a group of darling girls struggling to get a group selfie. Of course, TVs are everywhere in bars and restaurants. So we’ll call it passive cheating.

The best part?

Our brain somehow remembered WNY’s Southern Tier Brewing has a Pittsburgh location. We asked the kayak workers how close it was. Turns out not far! A good cold beer after kayaking was perfect. We also stumbled and ate dinner at the delicious, James Beard nominated Pork & Beans.

Living in the moment and just “being.” We explored without knowing what was around the next corner. There is something to be said for emptying the mind of digital clutter.

And while we couldn’t take any great Pittsburgh pictures, we do, however, have great memories of what we did. And in some ways, that’s even better.

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