The digital detox: everything in moderation?

by Nikki Oji, Future Trends Expert at Telefonica UK

Smoking. Drinking. Eating. These are all things many people try to moderate. But how many of us would consider using our digital devices in moderation?

Summer has arrived (for some parts of the UK more than others…) and many of us are taking a holiday. A whopping 94% of people take one or more mobile devices on holiday[1] so it seems even when we travel, our digital addiction still needs to be satisfied. Although I too am guilty of taking my devices away with me, during a recent holiday, my tablet began to gather dust in a corner. I managed to curb the need to use my tablet before bed and, as a result, my sleep was deep and uninterrupted.

I truly believe there are benefits to be had from digital diets and detoxing. In my recent article for Behave magazine I looked at this issue in depth to try to understand where this behaviour has come from and why many of us find it so hard to literally switch off.

How many of us have been out to dinner with a friend where they can’t take their eyes off their phone? Or been irritated in the quiet coach of the train by someone’s inane ramblings? Or worse, gone to a gig where everyone is staring at the band, one step removed, through the screen of their tablet instead of dancing and getting lost in the music? Everything in moderation is a truism for good reason. Yes technology makes our lives easier to manage, but are we missing out by constantly staring at our screens?

New wearable devices, designed around more passive use cases, could offer the balanced diet we crave. They also have the advantage of tracking your biometric data to understand when you are most receptive (or otherwise) to a notification. Once technology knows when not to disturb you, it will be far less intrusive.

For many of us, it’s just the natural order of things to embrace new technology as it develops. And younger generations are one step ahead. From the day they are born they enter a world filled with a smorgasbord of digital devices and technologies. Research last year found that 16% of children send texts and 18% use social media in bed almost every night.[2] Having not grown up as digital natives ourselves, we have no way of knowing how excessive screen use in early life will affect their development. One thing we do know is that the blue light emitted by digital screens induces wakefulness and is detrimental to a good night’s sleep.

So, what do you think? Is it time for tech companies to pro-actively encourage digital dieting? Smarter working and digital devices make the 9-5 more flexible, but we need to remember to keep the work-life balance. Just as some smartwatches can remind us to move if we sit still for too long, should our devices prompt us to disconnect when we use them non-stop?

With that final thought, I think it’s time I switched off too…

Have you ever had a digital detox? Or do you think it’s unnecessary?

Let me know your thoughts via Twitter or LinkedIn

[1] http://www.berkeley-scott.co.uk/media-centre/new-research-94-per-cent-take-their-mobile-devices-on-holiday

[2] nVision Research | Base: 1,000 online respondents aged 7-15, GB, 2014