Do you need a Digital Detox?

a tablet computer with the text digital detox written in its screen, placed in the sand of a beach

The internet is ruining everything. Really? Well according to the sensationalist CNBC headline last week it is. And it’s all down to the latest research from Ofcom which claims that millions of people are taking a ‘digital detox’ to spend more time with family and friends…

So firstly, what exactly is a ‘digital detox’? Definitions vary but the general consensus is that it’s a conscious decision not to go online or use connected devices for a limited time. Or as I like to call it, a “technology timeout” (you read it here first!).

The recent Ofcom research for the UK market suggests that just over a third of people in the UK had taken a digital detox and 10% had done so in the last week. And their reasoning behind that choice was very simple – they felt that they had been missing out on other more important aspects of life with almost half saying that they had missed out on a decent sleep and 31% claiming that they had lost valuable time with their loved ones.

And it’s not just the UK that is affected – a Harris poll in the US which was published in January this year had remarkably similar findings. In that study 45% of respondents said they tried to unplug at least once a week and up to two thirds said they attempt to do it at some stage throughout the year.

So how much time are people actually detoxing for? A quarter said that they had managed to cease and desist for up to a day (hardly a serious commitment), whereas 1 in 5 had abstained for up to a week (that’s more like it). However, the proportion that had managed to sustain a self-imposed ban for any longer than a week was minuscule by comparison (a pretty sad indictment).

The truth is that we are coming to the realisation that we have become ‘screen junkies’. 59% of people admitted as much on the Ofcom survey stating that they now spend around 25 hours a week on their devices. That’s worrying in itself but even more so when you consider that it was only 9 hours in 2005. For 16-29 year olds, their addiction is even more serious, spending an average of 29 hours a week connected.

Jane Rumble, director of market intelligence at Ofcom explained:

“The internet has revolutionised our lives for the better. But our love affair with the web isn’t always plain surfing, and many people admit to feeling hooked. So millions of us are taking a fresh look at the role of technology in our lives, and going on a digital detox to get a better tech-life balance”

So apart from cutting the cord or turning off the bluetooth connection completely, what can you do dial down your usage to achieve that elusive tech-life balance? An article in the Huffington Post suggests a variety of handy tips including:

  • a total ban at mealtimes (that’s mandatory in the Blakeman household)
  • take up a non-screen based hobby
  • don’t phub (that means to snub someone in favour of your phone)
  • compliment people in real life (just ‘liking’ everything someone does on Facebook is not a genuine expression of commitment to that person)

And I am going to add one tip which Huffpo didn’t feature – no phones in the bedroom. They are as much passion killers as wearing granny pants or sweat socks in bed.

If you feel you have a real problem and need some professional assistance to get unplugged, then you can go one step further and sign up for a Digital Detox retreat which provides an opportunity to ‘disconnect to reconnect” by offering:

“individuals, families and companies the opportunity to put aside their digital arm, gain perspective, and reemerge with new found inspiration, balance and connection”

Does that sound a bit too full on for you? Okay, then maybe consider the ‘lite beer’ version at the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas who are offering a Digital Detox Weekend Retreat this September. If you are hooked on Pokémon Go (I don’t get it) or are obsessing about Candy Crush (I didn’t and still don’t get it) then this internet-free haven could be just the thing for you. Their 48-hour digital downtime also includes an expert consultation about your personal tech habits plus a recommendation for a revised regimen designed to extend beyond the ‘therapy’.

So does all this sound unerringly familiar? Are you frittering your life away on Facebook? Investing too much time on Instagram? Livin’ la vida LinkedIn? And if that is you, what are you doing to try and strike a better equilibrium between your physical and virtual lives?

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Steve Blakeman is Managing Director - Global Accounts for OMD based in London / Paris. He was named by LinkedIn as a Top 10 Writer for Marketing & Social for 2015 (Top Voices) and also 'Agency Publisher of the Year' for EMEA. Please follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter