Is the digital detox set to be 2019’s biggest health fad?

Few followed through on their digital detoxes / Photo by Jed Villejo on Unsplash

It’s over. The time has come for the nation to breathe a collective sigh of relief. Detox season is officially over.

It’s perhaps almost as traditional as a visit from Santa for January to bring a period of abstinence as people look to combat the inevitable over-indulgence of the festive period. And this year we’ve apparently done it in record numbers with participants of Dry January expected to have risen by almost a third compared to 2018. What’s more, propelled by PR favourite Piers Morgan’s rage about a certain high-street bakery’s menu, Veganuary has also grown in prominence.

But the desire to detox doesn’t just start and finish with the expansion or contraction of our waistlines. It’s starting to seep into our digital lives too as the potential damage of screen time features more and more on the news pages.

In October last year, Forbes carried a story on research from the US’s Centers for Disease Control. It showed that young people who spent more than five hours a day on their phones were 10% more likely to contemplate suicide. Soon after, the UK education secretary urged parents to spend more ‘one-to-one time with children without gadgets’ after the government found 28% of children finished reception without basic communication skills.

So, does this mean that the time has come to quit our trusty smartphones before they do more harm than good?

The positive influence of influencers

Advocates of such a move have found unlikely supporters in online influencers, who were called into action last year to promote to young people the benefits of limiting the time they spend digitally… on social media, ironically.

Sure enough, it seemed to do the trick though as #DigitalDetox picked up more than 100,000 tags on Instagram in 2018. The idea has even been brought to life in a game as HOLD launched an app that rewarded students with points for every minute they weren’t using their phones.

A carefully crafted plan

However, the digital detox is not universal. While 70% tried to cut down screen time in 2018, only 19% of the UK have actually been on a detox, according to GlobalWebIndex. The benefits that smartphones bring, and their seamless integration into everyday life is undeniable. That’s why mobile usage is increasing and forecast to account for almost a third of all media time this year.

Rather than going cold turkey, many people’s focus has shifted to more intentional and careful management of their screen time. This has seen providers like Apple, Facebook and Instagram launch updates that include notifications of usage times to make users aware of how much time they spent gazing at their screens.

The entertainment binge

Conversely, the desire to binge on video content has never been greater. Last year, Deloitte found that 76% of 18-29-year-olds admitted staying up all night to watch an entire series of a TV show. It’s this that has caused the BBC to revamp its approach to iPlayer by releasing all episodes of the hit drama series Killing Eve and Luther on a single day. It’s even impacting retail with Topshop partnering with Netflix to launch a dedicated clothing range and offering shoppers the chance to join an overnight binge session of the new second series in its flagship Oxford Street store.

Ultimately, brands will need to find a way to remain relevant and present with their customers whether they are ‘binging’ or ‘detoxing’. The subtlety around the way people are adapting to life with more and more devices needs careful consideration by brands and will mean multiple medium media plans – not only digital or video – are vital.

Flora Kessler is Strategy Partner at Carat

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