What are you giving up for Lent this year? If you’re thinking about a digital detox, you wouldn’t be the only one. The #1 item given up for Lent for the past 10 years was social media, based on Twitter history. Oh the irony—we know we need to give up what we love so much. Our obsession with technology and social media has been met with an equal but opposite craving for tangible goods, creating an analog renaissance.
It’s hard to go cold turkey on something, especially technology and social media. Let's be honest; we’re all addicts to a varying degree. To our phones, to social media, to getting likes, to it all. How many times do you obsessively check your phone in a day? Well, 85 on average. But you may not be the only one to blame—iPhones and social media have literally been designed to be addictive, from the sleek design to the constant notifications to the infinite scroll.
Additionally, many point to FOMO as a root cause for our addiction, which is certainly a huge part of it, but there’s way more to it. It has become an ugly habit with an intrinsic reward system, giving your brain a hit of dopamine. Phones have been compared to cigarettes, so there’s that.
Our new habit has created an unrealistic expectation to feel stimulated at every waking moment. Can no time in the day be filled with silence or better yet, boredom? For those in the “burnout generation”, you feel like if you don’t have something to fill your time then you’re failing. Boredom has been vilified, but it’s actually extremely important for nourishing creativity.
MIT professor Sherry Turkle says, “Boredom is your imagination calling to you. It’s important to go inside, it’s important to cultivate your inner life. When you experience boredom, your brain isn’t bored at all. The brain is laying down those parts of the brain associated with a stable autobiographical memory. So it isn’t good for us to flee from any moment of boredom by going to a phone, yet that’s what’s happening.”
Due to the mounting piles of research and massive pressure from stakeholders, our collective awareness of technology’s negative effects is turning a corner. The list of what technology has rattled in our lives is longer than a CVS receipt—ranging from sleep to concentration to memory spans to anxiety to stress to relationships to self-esteem and the list goes on. So, digital detoxing definitely has its merits. As you can see from the chart below, people felt more productive, liberated and enjoyed life more while detoxing.
Enough feeling sorry for yourself though, who you should feel worse for is GenZ. They are bearing the major brunt of technology’s effects, with 50% of them saying they are addicted to their phones. They are the first generation to fully grow up with iPhones, social media and influencers, and to no surprise, anxiety, depression and suicide are plaguing this generation.
The teenage rebel stereotype has been replaced with the teenage loner stereotype—spending hours inside accessing the “outside” through their phone. Independence has a whole new meaning, or lack thereof, with driving, dating and spending time with friends falling off a cliff. Even people my age struggle with the unrealistic lifestyles portrayed online, but can you imagine being 12 and trying to decipher what’s real and what isn’t? Or being constantly bombarded with pictures and stories of your friends leaving you out in middle school?
With that being said, is it ALL technology’s fault? Of course not. And is giving it up cold turkey realistic? Hardly. In a fantastic deep dive, Quartz suggests “Digital Nutrition” is the key. Meaning, we should keep tabs on what we’re consuming and how much, just like we do with food. Are we consuming Kale or Candy Crush? Maybe we should start counting our digital calories. With anything in life, it’s all about moderation. “Instead of digital sabbaticals, shabbats, and fasts, we should reclaim a sustainable relationship with technology—one that teaches us lifelong healthy digital habits instead of perpetuating the binge-and-purge cycle.” With new tools like Apple’s Screen Time limits, measures will continue to be introduced to help us find a happy medium.
Now for some good news. Because of these circumstances amongst many others, there has been a massive push for positivity on the internet, especially within social media. Cue Imgur—the social media platform for doing just that. They tout themselves as “the place to discover and enjoy the magic of the internet through informative and inspiring images, memes, GIFs, and visual stories served up in an endless stream of bite-sized fun.” And it’s paying off; they’ve grown nearly double in the past three years with 250MM people visiting on a monthly basis around the world.
In a study Imgur commissioned with YPulse (*thank you Imgur for the data!*), they found that people are happiest after visiting Spotify, Netflix and Imgur whereas they are least happy after visiting Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, further validating social media's flaws.
What has our contradictory obsession and resistance to technology created? A renaissance in analog formats. Our thumbs were literally built for this.
Recode describes that "Many people are rediscovering and resurrecting older analog technologies—printed books, vinyl records, musical instruments—that provide some kind of tactile physical experience that a purely digital world has started to remove. While vinyl record sales only account for 12% of all album sales, they have more than tripled since five years ago. Independent book stores have increased by 35% and physical book sales are up 11% since 2013. Board game sales are also up 28% over the last year alone. Gotta love Settlers of Catan.
Not only are these analog formats have a resurgence, people are also more willing to pay more for physical goods. HBR conducted a study that explored this conundrum. They found that "The very feature that imbues digital goods with their unique abilities—their immateriality—is also what impairs our ability to develop a sense of ownership for them. Because we cannot touch, and hold, and control digital goods in the way that we interact with physical goods, we feel an impaired sense of ownership for digital goods. They never quite feel like they are ours, and when we feel that we own a thing, we psychologically inflate its value. As a result, digital goods don’t enjoy this premium we extend to things that we own."
What does this all mean? We weren't created to live a solely digital life. Although many promise of that future, I'd submit that humans won't actually follow through with it. As a brand, you should be thinking about what physical and tactile experiences you can provide to your audience—they not only crave it but also will pay more for it. Perhaps I should start sending this as a real letter as well...