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Desperate for a Digital Detox?

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If you haven’t noticed the spectacular increase in smartphone and tablet usage over the last five or so years, quite frankly you must have be living either under a rock or on a desert island. In the crazy first 6 months of 2016 usage has soared. More than 75% of the UK population own a smartphone, and over half of all UK households own a tablet. Admittedly, it’s still not quite as high as TV ownership (95%) but it’s certainly getting closer.

This surge in ownership has led to a hyper connected, endlessly contactable life. We’ve all turned into zombies with heads that are permanently locked in a downward facing position, desperate not to miss a notification or news alert. Either that or we’re running around like headless chickens trying to catch Pokémon, and inevitably getting our phones nicked.

But when we’re not looking down at our smartphones or tablets, we’re watching TV (or catch up TV, on our tablets again) or, sat at our desk looking at our computer screens.

All this screen time is great news for brands, offering them more and more opportunities to interact with you, interrupt you, and divert your chain of thought. And great news for brands means even greater news for the media marketing agencies that pride themselves on being able to navigate this complex and ever evolving life of screens with elaborate media strategies that play to the power of being able to reach people at so many opportunities.

Not such great news for your health or relationships though, with more time now being spent looking at screens than sleeping – Ofcom research shows adults spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes a day on media devices, compared with the average night’s sleep of eight hours and 21 minutes.

To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — continuously.

A life dominated by screens has led us to a life of continuous partial attention. To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — continuously. It’s been born out of our ability to be constantly updated and never disconnected and it leaves the brain on continuous high alert. Eventually you crash. You get exhausted and irritable, and if you’re like me, you find yourself yearning for a break.

Enter the digital detox! The craze that’s been steadily sweeping the nation has seen some 15 million Brits take a conscious breather from their screens and all digital communications, in an effort to remain a sane and balanced human being.

The digital detox comes in various severities, I guess depending on your level of screen fixation. From ‘Screen Free Saturdays’ to full Digital Detox retreats, likely set in Camp America style leafy compounds, with rustic cabins and glistening lakes. The whole idea is to stop, switch off from the endless information and start focusing on other things in life in the hope that when going back to the screen, you will be more efficient, more appreciative of what it gives you, and ultimately more receptive to real life.

The stats show a third of people who took a digital detox said they felt more productive as a result; with a quarter saying they enjoyed life more without the constant attention of the web.

But what does this mean for brands? Perhaps it’s a time for brands, media and marketing agencies alike, to think about doing things differently; by acknowledging the impact this is having on people and how they can help towards easing this potentially tireless lifestyle. It’s a tricky decision, either being the brand leading tech innovation, or actively averting their audience away from digital platforms for their sanity.

I don’t know the answers I’m afraid, but I’m quietly confident that brand that nails this will sit well with a good few million people for years to come.

Right, now where’s my phone?

Camilla Cottrell – Head of Display Publishing

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