Why It’s So Hard to Unplug

A digital detox might be just what you need

Key Takeaways

  • Experts say that giving yourself a digital detox can be more challenging than you think. 
  • If you can unplug for 24 hours, a technology website promises to pay some people a $2,400 prize. 
  • Three out of four Americans consider themselves addicted to their phones, according to a recent survey.
S sign that says Digital Detox laying on an old tabletop with unplugged electronics surrounding it.
Carol Yepes / Getty Images

Unplugging from technology is getting harder, but experts say there are ways to succeed with a digital detox. 

A technology website is challenging people to unplug for 24 hours with a $2,400 prize. It might seem like easy money. But with the growing amount of time spent streaming, gaming, and video chatting, staying away from tech could be more complex than you think. 

"Websites, social media, and smartphones are designed to hook us and keep us coming back for more even when we don’t consciously decide to do so," Robert Glazer, the CEO of marketing agency Acceleration Partners, said in an email interview.

"The ease of use and the social affirmation we receive gets us in the habit of sneaking a quick look at Twitter or a glance at our work email. Then, that turns into hours of time spent because there’s always another thing to grab our attention once we’re online."

A 24-Hour Challenge

The website Reviews.org has issued a 24-hour detox challenge to tech enthusiasts across the world. The site will be paying $2,400 to select people who can stay away from technology for an entire day.

According to a recent survey by the company, three out of four Americans consider themselves addicted to their phones. 

But some people are fighting back against the lure of tech. In the summer of 2017, Glazer took an RV trip with his family for several weeks. "I spent almost no time online and completely unplugged from work—I didn’t even check email," he said.

“Taking days off that are free from technological distractions helps people be more creative, happier, and healthier.”

"But what was most inspiring was seeing how well my team ran the business during my extended absence. It was a valuable reminder that sometimes we have to let go a bit to give the people we lead a chance to step up."

Glazer said he wants his employees to have a chance to recharge. "That’s why we pay a bonus to employees who take at least a week of vacation and completely unplug from work while they’re off," he added.

"Not only does it help our employees avoid burning out, but it also builds vital delegation skills and encourages them not to have everything run through them."

Cutting Back on Tech

Some people come up with unique methods to resist the allure of screens. Mike Chu set his phone screen not to display colors so it would be less distracting. "The black and white mode makes apps less attractive, but photos are impossible to get right," he said in an email interview. 

Jon Staff, CEO of Getaway, a company that offers escapes to tiny cabins in nature, suggests designating a day every week that’s free of technology. "Taking days off that are free from technological distractions helps people be more creative, happier, and healthier," he said in an email interview. 

Turning off push notifications also can be helpful, Staff said. The average smartphone user checks their phone more than 96 times per day

A woman reading a paperback by the lake with mountains in the background.
swissmediavision / Getty Images

"The constant onslaught of push notifications is awful for our brains and forces us to be always on," Staff said.

"Researchers have found that merely receiving a push notification causes just as much distraction as answering a phone call or responding to a text, even without picking up your phone and going into the app that notified you. When you turn off push notifications, you put yourself back in charge of deciding when and how to use your phone."

Maybe don’t stress too much about your screen time, though. Despite dire warnings about internet addiction, not everyone agrees it’s a real thing. 

"There are certainly a very small number of individuals who overdo technology, but that's true for many other behaviors," psychology professor Christopher Ferguson said in an email interview.

"That said, the internet can cause stress for some people, as it can make it difficult for us to disconnect from our jobs, and we may find ourselves caught in dumb arguments with unpleasant people on social media."

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