Digital detox — is a conscious temporary abstention from using the electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and computers to relax, socialize or work.

The “Digital detox” concept appeared in the Oxford Dictionary comparatively recently, still has already gained enough followers all over the world. Digital detox is a conscious temporary abstention from using the electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and a computers to de-stress, socialize, create, and no matter how strange it sounds, to work. One of the examples of digital detoxication is a vacation in the hotel which doesn’t have Internet or deliberate disconnection from the Net in a city for several days.

People get tired of the permanent connection. They admit that it is not that easy to give up surfing the Internet and using the technologies.

Some figures

Judging by the available data, we can see that this trend does exist. Almost 20 percent of the social nets users ponder over closing their accounts. About 35 percent of online population are trying to have the days without Facebook and Twitter at least once a month (as reported by Leo Burnett and Pew Internet & American Life Project’s). 92 percent of New-Yorkers begin the day not with the morning coffee or meditation, but with checking for the updates on their smartphones. Some users confess that they, for some reason, check for updates when waking up at night. On average, person looks at the screen of his mobile 150 times a day, and often even without having received any messages. And 10 percent of the young people claim texting while making love to be ok.

Disconnection boom

Camp Grounded: 4 days without Facebook and Instagram

Tour operators were the first who began using the term Digital detox. Travel companies and hotels started to add special tours to their offers and vacation packages which promised you time without mobile devices and the Internet. That tradition was taken up and developed by the Digital detox Camp Grounded, California. It is a boy scout summer camp where you can try archery; tell stories around the campfire and keep a diary on the ecologically friendly kraft paper. Such retreat, where all the digital devices are under lock and key, is very popular among the CEOs from the Silicon Valley, programmers or people who are simply tired of being connected.

In 2013 disconnection from the Internet caught on. At first, travel agencies set the fashion. And then it started: the journalists were throwing out their iPhones and rushing into analog seclusions, just the way Henry Thoreau did in the 19th century, when he spent two years away from civilization, in a cabin at Walden Pond.

Paul Miller, editor of the technology news and media network The Verge, took a hiatus from the Internet for a whole year. “It was not so easy,” — he says. If at first he read Homer and enjoyed his freedom,  at the end of the year he found himself being a couch potato playing video games. Paul admits that having resigned the Internet, he lost the most important thing — human communication. He did not lose his job since continued to write articles by using a laptop and flash drive. Quite the contrary — at the end of the retreat Paul got into the limelight of many publications and talk shows.

One more case of the extreme detox has been presented by Thierry Crouzet. He gave up the Internet for six months. Having got over the stress and panic attack Thierry disconnected from the Net and chronicled his experience in the book called “How to do without the Internet after the overdose.” In the end of his journey Thierry laid down the purpose of his experiment:

“We need to reconsider our use of the technologies. The best way to do this is to cut yourself off the Internet for some time so as to sort out, find the useless and mediocre. This will let you know when to use the Net, and when to be offline. Disconnection goal is not to put the technology in its place. The goal is to understand what advantages and benefits technologies have.” Thierry Crouzet

Offline is a new treasure

Technology separates us from each other. Thus told by the wives who got tired of seeing the smartphones in the hands of their husbands and children. This will confirm many who ever seen his companion made bluefaced by the smartphone screen during the conversation. Digital Shabbat was invented specifically to fight this. Digital Shabbat is a tradition of giving up devices from Friday evening to Saturday evening and devotion of those hours to family and other analog values. Just over the several years the society underwent a kind of a Big Bang: offline became the new treasure. If earlier people were trying to escape the overwork, stress and exhaust fumes, now they are searching for freedom from the Internet.

Poke — creative agency based in London.

It was Simon Waterfall, co-founder of Poke agency, who coined the slogan “off is a new emotion”. In 2011, Simon named one of the attribute of the future. It was a desire to go at least for some time into the off state. Simon asks himself: “Can we design a new emotion for the future? Everything is connected, everything is in touch, everything is going faster and faster. I don’t want all of this. I want to turn everything off.”

Who disconnects and why

French agency Dagobert divides people who don’t use the Internet into three groups:

Digital outsiders — people who do not regularly surf the Net on material or social reasons. This happens as the technologies seem too perplexing for them, or they just don’t have Internet access. It is the biggest group in the world, and it is a severe problem that hampers social evolution.

Two other groups are considerably less in number.

Digital worried — users who are concerned about the personal information privacy in the Net. Such people neither have accounts in the social networks, nor make electronic transactions. This group is thin. There are not that many radicals who abandon the Net over the privacy matter. Most users debate heatedly the issues of anonymity, while easily making their personal information public.

The third group — Digital detox — those who are tired of the Internet and try to cut down on their presence in the Net. They shorten the contact list in social networks and feel a need for spending a few days without the Net. These syndromes are easy to find among the residents of the big cities who actively use the Internet.

Dagobert provides statistics for France. 18 percent of the population (9 million people) do not use the Internet. 62 percent of online users would like to limit their stay online, or unplug for good. At the same time, 41 percent of the respondents note feeling low without logging in to the Net more than three times a day. Qualitative results can be extrapolated to the Russian society.

Switch-off days

People in the USA also got tired of being continuously connected and arranged the day off called National Day of Unplugging, which takes place every year in the beginning of March. This day people don’t use their computers to do something else. You can share your switch-off experience with all the people in the world via the initiative website. The unplugged hold parties and take photos with manifestos such as “I unplug to go shopping” or “I unplug to enjoy my life.”

Analog things are also humming in the advertising agencies. Designers Leo Burnett arranged Analog day. They replaced the mice with the pencils to get closer to the simple human values. All because the company executives made a startling statement: “The digital era is over. People wish to get rid of the digital addiction and get back to a real-life fellowship. The company changes the course to the creation of the more vibrant analog advertising approaches to follow the latest trends on the market.”

Trend development in the marketing

Go and use every other trend to stay up-to-date and amaze the consumers with the new features, — thus sounds the motto of the marketing specialists of today. It would have been strange if the servers of the “mind milles” had ignored that new trend. And if at first marketeers were steadily keeping in the consumers’ minds the importance of staying online, today brands, on the contrary, use people’s lust for disconnection. Of course, only to make these people buy their products up during the switch-offs.

Fast food chain Burger King at the time of their campaign called Whopper Sacrifice promised a free Whopper to anyone who would remove 10 people from their friend-list using a special application, and post that on their Facebook page. This promo conjure up the digital campaign of the vodka “Russian standard”, which concept gave everyone a chance to play with their friends the virtual Russian roulette for their social profile.

Coca-Cola Avatar commercial demonstrates the people who cease to communicate with their friends, help others in the street, and become aloof and absent-minded. All because they are too immersed in the games and social media. The message is simple: “In the modern world everybody is so passionate about virtual life that they lose touch with reality and real people. Coca-Cola brings you round to reality and gives food for communication in the real world.”

The trend “back to offline” was used by Diesel to promote the classical YUK Pre-Internet shoe from 1993. Promotion campaign “Pre-Internet shoe” placed at stake the re-launched classic sneakers YUK. To become the owner of the legendary sneakers with red sole, it was necessary to stop being online for three days. The site reports curious figures: most of the competitors fell out of the race after 17 hours, having written something in the social network.

The Digital detox trend is a convenient way for the owner of the cafe or bar to explain to the visitors why there is no Wi-Fi. Once you hang a sign in the hall saying “we have no Internet, communicate with each other”, and your bar is instantly on trend. The JWT agency arranged special benches for KitKat in the cities, around which there is no Wi-Fi. One can easily sit on these benches chatting and having a chocolate bite.

The brightest manifestation of the trend happened in the alcoholic industry. Many countries have the direct advertising of alcoholic beverages put under a ban: videos cannot be shown on TV, print advertising is prohibited, or you are not allowed to show people in the commercials. As is well known, restrictions only stretch the imagination.

One of the strongest areas of beer positioning is the territory of communication. And as you know, Digital Detox ideology implies that phones interfere with communication and hamper enjoying your life. For example, there is a beer so-called “offline glass” with the hollow in the bottom. This glass is stable only if it stands on the phone. Offer “Phones are under lock and key” propose to the bar visitors to barter their phone for a free beer, smartphone is put in a secure safe for a party time. On the Guinness beer poster you can see the impressive glass-shaped tower of phones standing out (it refers to the popular game among the cafe visitors — who takes the phone first, should foot the bill) and the telling message “Enjoy responsibly.”

Norte Beer came up with the way to protect their consumers from that awkward feeling when the party came off, and your friends start to tag you on the photos which are far cry from being worth posting in the Net. Special beer glass catches the flash and sends a beam in return, which spoils the picture. What happens in the club stays in the club.

Russian brands did not stay aside too. In the MTS commercial featuring the “Kvartet I” at one moment men are treated for Internet addiction in the Internauts anonymous club. At the next, they are so engaged in photo gallery of the new pink collar in the Internet, that do not notice her coming into the room.

There are examples of the responsible work approach with the use of the trend. So did Volkswagen when advised their employees against checking mail after work in order to make their rest more efficient and generate creativity. According to statistics in 2013 88 percent of employees in Germany were available by mail after hours (in 2012 it came only to 77%).

Digital detox future

Complete abandonment of the Internet is a marginal phenomenon, and it seems to be impossible in the current social structure. Tiredness of being online and the desire to cut down on connection spread and gain strength. Life out of the Net will be affordable only to the very rich people, or to the outcast and freaks living out of society.

Everyone eventually will have to develop their own methods to overcome information overload. Everybody will have to become a media ascetic to a certain extent, otherwise it is impossible to lead such a hectic lifestyle and stay connected. Rules and tools for overcoming the digital addiction will inevitably come to our lives.

Digital detox criticism — the arguments of cyber-realists against disconnection from the Net on the terms that are offered to users today.

Science finds, Industry applies, Man conforms

Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition 1893

The term “detox” implies that the nature of the Internet overdose is very similar to poisoning and disease. The Internet acts as an aggressive environment which causes poisoning. Apologists for digital detox offer to disconnect from the Net for an hour or a few days to recharge, in order to return later with renewed vigour to the daily clicks and distraction.

The main point of “digital detox” criticism is that detox remains a highly individual practice, which does not eliminate the major cause we are “poisoned” by the Net. When the boots three times as small are tight, it makes no sense to take them for a while and then put on again. The pain will pass, but will come back again as soon as you put your foot into leather trap. You must have your boots changed. In our case we need to change the principles which the digital services are built on and which lay in the base of the new technologies.

Little is said about such approach in the digital society. Consciously or not, but the creators of the digital services jauntily advance the digital detox slogans just as they willingly did let toys and yoga into their offices. “Tamed detox” neither puts in jeopardy the customary business models based on the user attention exploitation, nor requires the services architecture to be drastically changed.

The fact that the design and algorithms of the social media are designed in such a way that makes them addictive is securely concealed from the users by the modern techno ideology. The links between the impacts which the technologies have on the economy, society and politics accordingly are not publicly debated. And any who speaks for the striking changes is accused of being technophobe opposing social advance.

What is to be done?

The matter lies over: are we only able to conform to the uprushing realities or we can change something? Well-known Belarusian-American journalist Evgeny Morozov, who studies how the technologies shape political and public life, claims there’s a better way to talk about digital detox in his article “The Mindfulness Racket”, The New Rebublic. “…let’s disconnect indeed. But let us not do it for the sake of reconnecting on the very same terms as before.” the author says. There is a crucial need for the genuine social movements that will make problems of time and attention online part of their political agendas. It is necessary to frame alternative practices, institutions, and designs.

To achieve this one can lay down the laws of social networks composition and to write the Digital Constitution, similarly to The Three Laws of Robotics. This can be public licenses that are granted to the social media. Once you see a red badge on the application, be set for the local algorithms to milk you, and your rights to be disrespected.

Another way is to legally declare the constitutional right for the free Internet access as well as for the voluntary disconnection from it. Different countries have already taken the first steps towards the regulators build-up. So, in December 2013 writers from all over the world called for an International Charter which would restrict the control of the security services over the private network communications. However, there is still no strong social movement, which could act as a real force regulator.

On-coming architects of the Digital World

Our future may be tailored by engineers and designers who will create the projects and write programs for the future. “I would like all engineers to awake to the point that being a real engineer takes more than just being an engineer. You need to be alert, to learn to go way beyond, take a closer look at life as it is,” as written by the Spanish philosopher Jos? Ortega y Gasset in 1939. The engineer must be a sociologist with firm political views, and the freer these views are, the better for all of us.

Our future depends on our perception of technology. We must be aware that we are not just building technology to make life easier. We design devices that eventually change our behavior and our society. You want to get rid of conscience, then create a gadget or a service, that will decide for you, and your conscience can gradually wear off. You want to be constantly tired, then create the social network, which makes money on advertising. If we do not return to the discussion of all the links and do not realize the importance of the technologies study, we will lose even what we own now.

The Disconnection algorithm — step-by-step individual guide to making a break for the Network and gaining new experience.

Everybody should try Disconnection

The idea of media asceticism is simple: every person should have firsthand switch-off experience. This requires you to disconnect from the Internet completely only for a few days, or at least from those services you spend the most time for. The experience you get these days, will apply to all your future life. As the researchers of Athonite monasticism wrote, even one week spent at the monastery will set a stamp upon your following daily experience.

French journalist Thierry Crouzet in his book “How to do without the Internet after the overdose” describes his experience of unplugging for six months. Having got over the stress and panic attack Thierry disconnected from the Net for six months. He defines the goal of the experiment:

“We need to reconsider our use of the technologies. The best way to do this is to cut yourself off the Internet for some time so as to sort out, find the useless and mediocre. Disconnection goal is not to put the technology in its place. The goal is to understand what advantages and benefits technologies have, and to define your future online pattern.”


Information causes biological addiction — on receipt of the new data our body produces dopamine which makes us feel pleasure and satisfaction. Apart from its soothing effect, digital detox can be applied as a method of information hunger. This means that at first you are deprived of information, and then you become eager to learn new things and explore the world. In this sense detox is a highly favourable condition for education or a new breakthrough.

Steps into the new experience

The algorithm set out below is individual. It does not require you to be hard-working and takes into account your particular behavior in the Net. Just take several days and see what it will come to. Staying disconnected for a few days will enable you to take a fresh look at your customary practice and change the way you think.

Make a list of the websites, services and occupations which swallow most your time. There are usually three to five services. For example, it can be: Facebook, Vkontakte, Instagram or Tumblr. Take into consideration stationary and mobile devices. These will be the services you are going to be free during the disconnection. There is a digital detox for everyone. Those who always chat in messenger will rest from instant messaging, who check the work mail even on holiday will unwind and recuperate, who constantly follow Facebook news feed will switch to other sources of information. The most extreme experience is the complete switch-off, when person doesn’t use the Internet at all.

Set the disconnection period. Average detox lasts 5-7 days. As a rule, the person manages both to relax from the Internet, and to miss it.It is important to remember that the disconnection practice will do the job only on condition you devote three to five days to it. A group of people was disconnected from the Internet within the scope of the media asceticism investigation in 2014. Many participants told that they had felt nothing after one detox day. Just imagine that you live on junk food, and suddenly decide to go on a diet. Will it do you much good if you refuse burgers for one day, and then get back to them again? You know that it won’t be of tangible benefit to your health.Along with the services that you disconnect from, define the services you may use. It can be the services that do not bother you and take little of your time. So, if you constantly update your status in Twitter, it is acceptable to watch a couple of videos on YouTube. The main thing is not to overindulge. If you think and feel that access to some service will negate the overall disconnection effect, then add it to your Not To Do list.

On your social profiles write a post reading as follows:“’Friends, I will be out of Facebook till the next Wednesday, here’s my phone number and e-mail.”That trick is for your psyche. The same power that was previously drawing you into the Net will not let you break your public pledge and return. Otherwise you will go back on your word in front of all your friends in the Net.I’m going to let you in on a little secret of digital detox. It is also a great opportunity to explain to your colleagues why you don’t check the work e-mail at the weekend.

Disable push notifications on your smartphone or delete applications for social networks. This will help you not to get side-tracked. If you switch off your densely populated Facebook you are very likely to need to reply to the urgent messages. In this case install Facebook Messenger, so you don’t need to check the news feed.

Now relax! If possible, carry a notepad and a pen with you to capture your experience — keep your Disconnection Diary. You’d better take down the idea or feeling related to the experiment and technology as soon as they struck you.During the detox time do the things that you used to do but they were crowded out by the Internet. For instance, you may read a fiction book, draw something, go in for sports, etc. The practice of silence is also one of the most effective ways to have a rest. Just try to spend one day without saying a word (but before this tell your family so not to embarrass them). For someone the reverse may be true — doing away with the books will be the best holiday for them. It will help to lessen the dependence on the delight of new discoveries— the joy of gaining the information is biologically addictive. In this regard the new content is a powerful drug.

During or after unplugging you can consider and reflect on the following questions:

  • What drags me into the Net?
  • What gives me every particular computer service which I use most?
  • Am I a wise user? Are there any alternatives to these services? How effectively do I achieve my goals using the habitual services? What sources of information do I ignore, for what reason?
  • What were the new parts that I was performing during the switch-off? What did I like? What would I like to carry on?
  • We often present and write in the Net just for several specific people. Did you miss them? Why exactly for these people do I stay in the Net?

In the end of disconnection you will relish your freedom from info- garbage, savouring silence and tardy flight of time. Just as after the period of controlled hunger therapy person doesn’t instantly pounce on food, after digital detox you need to immerse gradually into the infomedia. Analyze your feelings: would you like to return to the Net? How would you describe your information intake and technology use before and after the disconnection?

A simple message I’m trying get across is that personal experience of disconnection should gain everyone. First of all, it is a simple way to obtain a new experience. Secondly, not having tried this most of what has been said here will remain just the words. When to use the algorithm is for the reader to decide. I would advise not to disconnect from the Internet until you read this book, do it after you are done. Thereby you will see more clearly the depicted phenomena in your behavior and of those around you.

Our most precious, irreplaceable resource is our time. For me personally, books are one of the wisest ways we can invest that time. A book is the direct transfer, mind to mind, of the thoughts of another human being. Today, we are assailed by a thousand distractions every hour, as various sources of information compete for our attention. Those of us who grew up in the pre-Internet era know the slow time experience of immersion in a powerful or moving book. And when we switch our attention to Facebook, or Reddit, or any of a million and one other potential distractions, we are losing our time to an insidious digital addiction.

The shallow accretions of Internet data doses are finely tuned to captivate our attention, titillating our minds with illusory promises of satisfaction which can never be fulfilled except by more of the same, in an endless cycle of meme, news flash and tawdry ‘human interest’ stories, optimized with click-bait headlines. What we gain in content, we lose in meaning.

We are also losing our privacy, our innocence and most importantly, we are losing the ability to think deeply about important subjects. As long as we embrace too-easy gratification, we will continue to remain in thrall to the digital domination of instant information. I am concerned that human beings are subjecting themselves to a new way to trigger neuro-chemical changes in our brains, that may ultimately lead to a decline in the quality of our human relationships.

I therefore advocate and support the message of entering slow time. Take a hike in nature. Disconnect from the constant digital flood. Interact with your friends. Share a meal together. Switch off from every external distraction, and embrace the flow of life beyond the digital fix. Your future may depend upon it.

Paul Gillingwater
Journalist & Filmmaker. Managing Editor at The Local Austria