Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, recently released a detailed report to great fanfare claiming that UK internet users are increasingly aware of their relationships with technology and take digital detoxes to balance the quality of their digitised lives.
More than 15 million people, or one in three UK adults claim to have taken a digital detox. A third of people found the experience to be positive, while 16 per cent experienced FOMO and 14 per cent felt that a digital detox cut them off from the world.
It is encouraging that more people are taking the quality of their relationship to technology more seriously, but we have been down this road before. While digital detoxes can be useful, they are not new. Organisations like Reboot have worked for years to raise awareness of the need for a national day of unplugging, and bring the balance to people that is sorely needed.
But while the digital detox is great for highlighting the need for balance in our digitised lives, what happens afterwards the detox is over? Like the traditional two-week summer holiday, once people take time away from their hyperconnected lives, they inherently get swept back into the onrushing digital world, only to wait patiently for the next digital detox.
Institutions, corporations and the global public need to engage in a more intelligent conversation about the impact of protracted technology use outside the time we spend unplugging. Robust evidence continues to highlight the effects of unfettered and protracted technology use on people, particularly information workers and children. Extended use of technology has measurable psychological, physical and business effects, all of which we should be aware of.
The clearest finding from the reports is that as a global society, we need to move beyond the idea that digital detoxing is an effective technique against our problems with protracted technology use. Innovative behavioural approaches that dovetail with our digitised lives exist, such as the learnings from the persuasive technology lab at Stanford University to information workers and children develop behaviours that reduce the negative impacts of unfettered technology use.
Perhaps the most profound way we can help people to improve the quality of their digitised lives is to start a global discussion with the world’s designers, engineers and policymakers about improving the way we create digital experiences and digitised spaces so the quality of our digitised lives are improved. Technology can and should support the cultivation and expression of humanity’s best qualities without being overly distracting or addictive. We can design digitised spaces so they support strong relationships and a healthy environment, rather than constantly driving to gain our attention. Perhaps then, we might not need to take holidays from our technology.