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Why we must see the digital detox as an opportunity

(Image credit: Ditty_about_summer)

The in various states of lockdown, we're more reliant on our screens than ever before. Whether it’s our work or social lives, catching up with family or getting tasks done, our devices are rarely off. As many as 58 percent of us were using video call apps weekly during the height of lockdown, up from 35 percent before the pandemic, according to Acxiom research conducted during the lockdown.

But while having access to so much information can open up vast opportunities, there’s an equal risk of overload and burnout. Humans aren’t wired like computers, and we all have moments where it can feel far too much of our time is spent in virtual environments.

‘Digital detoxes’ have become a growing trend in response, as people look to reclaim control of the digital devices in their lives, particularly when we’re presented with stats on things like screen time and app usage each day.

But what’s behind this shift towards cutting down on digital device use – and what can technology vendors be doing to respond and adapt?

Information overload

The past few months have proved the value of connectivity and technology, and there’s an obvious demand for global connection and support. But at the same time, many of us want to reduce anxieties as well as the endless stream of news and social media.

Acxiom researched the digital detox earlier this year – speaking to a nationally representative sample of 4,000 people within the UK – and while these findings represent data uncovered before this year’s coronavirus outbreak, they provide a valuable lesson to tech companies who usually contend with this kind of detox as we head into the Christmas period. This lesson is in listening to and understanding customer sentiment to build brand loyalty and bring their users on the journey with them, not just to build better products but to build a healthier world.

Seeking disconnection

We found roughly 25 percent of the population have taken a digital detox in the last year. This is defined as anything from limiting the time spent on your phone, right up to going away on an isolated retreat, completely disconnected.

That might seem like a small number, but when you consider the very concept of a digital detox was barely on the radar just over a decade ago, it takes on a greater significance.

Today, the search term “digital detox” is now 10x more popular than it was in 2005, and since 2015, has doubled in popularity. As for who’s taking time away from technology, detoxing is a growing trend driven by younger generations: Gen Z are 5x more likely than the Baby Boomer generation to have taken at least one.

Why detox?

Respondents to the research gave a number of reasons to cut the amount of digital screen time in their lives, but overwhelmingly it’s about restoring a sense of balance. Given more than 25 percent of Gen Z check their phones every 10 mins or more, and 50 percent look at it every 20 mins or more, that’s not surprising.

Some were seeking more of a human connection with their families – something that with technology distractions was becoming lost. Others felt they were making an improvement to their mental health and emotional wellbeing by using their devices less.

As for the detox itself, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the ‘short-term limit’ is the most common form, with social media the most common medium to relinquish. 50 percent of digital detoxers have gone on to limit their use of social media or a device over the longer term, with 39 percent avoiding the use of at least one device for a limited period.

Often the short-term breaks are about relaxation and reducing stress, with clear-headedness and a greater feeling of being in control also among the common feelings people had when detoxing. After taking those breaks, opinions then become a little more split – some hate the fact that they need the device, for others it made them recognize the value of their devices a little more.

A healthier relationship with tech

On average, people limited their device use, whether it was their phone, PC or TV, for just under a fortnight. Of course, everyone uses technology differently – and the decision to take a break from technology is a very personal choice. While all kinds of digital technology have found favor across the generations, the smartphone is unmatched in its ubiquity to captivate and hold attention.

Like much in life – balance is key. There is nothing inherently wrong with technology use – and indeed it has made all manner of opportunities possible. Those positives are often the reason why so many of us spend such a high amount of our waking hours using digital devices.

Detoxes are often more a way to seek that better balance and move towards a more positive use of technology. The industry has an important role in supporting that better relationship, and there can be significant trust to be earned in doing so. Nearly 50 percent of digital detoxers said they would trust companies more if they were seen to be tackling the problem.

What does this mean for brands? In a highly competitive market, tech companies operating in this space can differentiate themselves by listening to their customers and taking action to recognize that more of us are feeling this way about technology. By taking customer voices seriously and acting on them, there’s a big opportunity for businesses to build greater trust and loyalty.

We live in a world where companies are under pressure to play their part in tackling social issues, and screen and digital device addiction has many knock-on effects. In order to boost customer satisfaction and brand loyalty, technology companies must recognize the risks of over-use of their products, and cater to a growing need – those seeking a better relationship with technology.

Andrew Hooper, Head of Consumer Electronics, Acxiom (opens in new tab)

Andrew Hooper, Head of Consumer Electronics at Acxiom.