“If I went five or 10 minutes away from a device, my heart rate would rise, I would start getting antsy, I would start getting twitchy because I hadn’t gotten my little fix. I realize that left me carrying my phone everywhere I went — into the bedroom, into the bathroom. I couldn’t [even] take a walk.” David Roberts, a politics blogger at Grist.org decided to unplug for a year after being overwhelmed by constant attachment to his digital devices (Huffingtonpost.com, May 9, 2014)

“The pendulum is swinging back”, and people will want to switch off: “the phone is an amazing tool but we own our devices, they don’t own us.” Randi Zuckerberg, former Facebook CMO (Blogs.amdocs.com, June 20, 2013)


Description

The ultra-fast modern society has given birth to a cultural shift toward slowing down life’s pace. Recent research on Internet addiction shows it to be a recognized psychological problem. Constant digital distractions can take a toll on the mind, and many people actually never take a break from their work, the media and their devices. While sleeping, dining with friends, or even on holiday, devices are always on – informing us, updating us, interrupting us, annoying us. In the face of the digital maelstrom, a growing tranche of data reveals that consumers are tiring of the ‘always-on’ culture that makes them increasingly reliant on the media as well as their ever-present mobile devices.

People are realising that they need to take a break from the ultra connectivity, noise and stress. They need more time to get in touch with what is deeply satisfying and fulfilling.

The absence of tech, noise, logos is particularly relevant in a society that claims a wellbeing impulse. Food can’t get from the farm to the table fast enough; toxins must be avoided at all costs; the “disconnectionists” preach digital detox. Absence, in other forms, has become a commodity, from logo-free to tech-free or gluten-free oatmeal. A mindful mindset is taking the world by storm: zen gardens and meditation rooms are flourishing in many places, and “Eat, Pray, Love”- style silent retreats have never been so popular.

Digital detox

A recent American Express survey found that 83% of holidaymakers expect to stay digitally connected during their break, and 64% of those expect to check their work email daily while on leave. With technology and its connectivity-promoting devices a now constant and demanding presence in people’s lives, some overextended consumers – of all ages – need to cut the cord. Their digital abstinence practices vary widely, from occasional tech time-outs to total offline living, but they stick to the same principles: establish a time and a place to reconnect with oneself, real people and natural pleasures. The current desire to slow down and be present in the moment is manifesting in a new way as some young tech-tired consumers eschew constant connectivity by creating device-free places and times. In response, manufacturers, brands and retailers are preaching the virtues of curbing technology-induced stress and regulating the oppressiveness of constant connectivity. To disconnect, people are opting for two methods. First, they are paradoxically turning to apps and firms to get some help, or join like-minded disconnectionists in a dedicated camp that forbids all devices. Second, they put a premium on human interactions: they make local friends, hang out organically, and only communicate through traditional means. David Roberts, a politics blogger at Grist.org, decided to unplug for a year after being overwhelmed by constant attachment to his digital devices, email and social media.

The current desire to slow down and be present in the moment is manifesting in a new way as some young tech-tired consumers eschew constant connectivity by creating device-free places and times.

He realized that he was constantly suffering from a low-level anxiety because of his addiction to his multiple devices. Earlier this year, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt warned that people need to define times when they are “on” and “off” and announced his commitment to make his meals gadget-free. Like processed foods, social media and text messages are increasingly perceived as inferior, giving rise to an odd form of technophobic living.

Silence & debranding

From urban traffic to news on the media, and people on the street, from alarm systems to music earphones, silence has never got such great premium. The search for silence reveals the will to shed modern life’s “noisy” things and places. In the United States, noise ranks as the number one gripe of restaurant-goers nationally according to a Zagat survey, and from 2012 to 2013, noise-related calls to 311 increased 16% according to noise activist Arlene Bronzaft. People are willing to pay for the small luxury silence has become. A recent informal CNN poll suggested that a number of airline passengers would dole out more for silent flights. According to The Boston Herald, 53% of passengers would offer up a premium to sit in a silent zone. Silence is invading the space – the restaurant-dining scene, the hospitality industry, retail spaces, airports, all kinds of places are promoting the absence of noise as a virtue in itself. Hotels from luxury resorts to business-travel chains are marketing things like noise-free zones, triple-paned glass, soundproof walls, and serene settings where the whole sell is the ability to hear a pin drop.

In the United States, noise ranks as the number one gripe of restaurant-goers nationally according to a Zagat survey, and from 2012 to 2013, noise-related calls to 311 increased 16% according to noise activist Arlene Bronzaft.

The sale of silence extends to the destinations themselves. Travel photography books or media like the Huffington Post even recommend “10 Fantastic Retreat Centers In The U.S. For Peace & Quiet.” Silent retreats have never been so popular: they have been dubbed one of the biggest “travel trends” of 2013. Those retreats require days of solitude and zero interaction with technology, a perfect antidote for stressed-out city dwellers to the constant noise of busy, work-driven urban lives. When it comes to products, the automotive category has seen a proliferation of quieter cars and urban buses, while a growing number of trains are getting their own ‘silent car’. Household products are also being newly marketed with an emphasis on noise-reduction, from silent dishwashers and vacuum cleaners to noise-canceling headphones.

Featured examples

The Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo

With “The Seven Hour Train Journey to Oslo”, British Airways is inviting passengers to watch footage of a seven-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo. Shot in real time from the front of a train travelling between the two Norwegian cities, the journey unwinds with no distracting narration, just the sound of a train as it glides through pitch-black tunnels, and the clang of the bell at station stops, where children wave along the tracks. Already a hit on Norwegian TV, the film is part of a burgeoning Slow TV movement in Scandinavia, where viewers are in search of something “hypnotic and calming.” The series could be expanded to include “knitting, a walk in the park, and everyone’s favorite – bird feeding.”
Norway Norway, June 2014

Breather

Credit: Breather.com

Credit: Breather.com

Breather provides “Peace and quiet, on demand.” This network of quiet private rooms in bustling cities addresses those who want to work in a peaceful atmosphere for a few hours. The rooms are designed to help people focus, meet clients, work, or relax. They can be reserved for as little as 30 minutes, or for a few hours or an entire day. In Montreal, rates for the rooms are $15 per hour, and $25 per hour in New York. The spaces are well equipped both for quiet work and relaxing moments. Breather now has thousands of active users making reservations every month.
Canada Canada, June 2013

Braincation zone

Credit: Marriott Resorts Caribbean and Mexico Facebook page

Credit: Marriott Resorts Caribbean and Mexico Facebook page

Marriott and Renaissance Caribbean and Mexico Resorts have created the Braincation zone, a device-free dedicated area that forbids cellphones, iPads, laptops or other electronics and that is suitable for lounging, relaxing, reading and quiet conversation. Prohibited electronics are indicated by signage, but the Braincation zone is based on guest courtesy (i.e., the honor system). The majority of respondents to a Marriott survey believe that staying connected to work while vacationing adds to their stress; they also said they’ve been annoyed when traveling by someone talking loudly on their cellphone. One-third admitted to being tempted to throw their mobile device into the ocean.
Mexico Caribbean & Mexico, November 2012

Digital Detox at Forsthofgut Hotel

Credit: Forsthofgut.at

Credit: Forsthofgut.at

Forsthofgut Hotel, near Salzburg, Austria, is offering a “Digital Detox” package holiday for travelers wanting to switch off for a day. Guests leave their mobile phones and digital devices at reception when they check in and stay in a WiFi-free room. Books are delivered to the rooms upon request. Beds are fitted with a special mat to reduce “electric smog,” the pollution that comes from electric and radio frequency fields generated by gadgets. The one night package, costing €128, includes a guided wilderness walk with instruction in breathing exercises.
Austria Austria, May 2012

“Free No Wi-Fi Zones”

Last year, chocolate brand Kit Kat erected “Free No Wi-Fi Zones” throughout Amsterdam’s downtown area, setting up benches with WiFi jammers that block signals within a five meter radius. In the WiFi-free zone people could escape emails, tweets, likes, hashtags, instapics and endless updates. Instead, the company suggested them to “enjoy a good old newspaper or a hardcover book…even a real conversation.” The tagline went from “Have a break, have a Kit Kat” to “Have a break, have no WiFi.”
Netherlands Netherlands, January 2013

Amtrak Quiet Car

Credit: Hmmh.com

The Amtrak Quiet Car is the first car reserved on most Northeast Corridor trains (and a few other routes), right behind business class, where peace and quiet reign. No cell phone use is allowed, no audible noise is supposed to emerge from devices and there is no talking in anything above a whisper. Riders in the Quiet Car are told to maintain a “library-like atmosphere.” It caught fire; Amtrak soon expanded it, and the Quiet Car now holds cult-like status among regular riders.
United States of America United States, November 2012

Eat

Credit: Eat Greenpoint’ Facebook page

Credit: Eat Greenpoint’ Facebook page

Eat is a restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where diners can enjoy their meals in total silence on Sunday evenings. While multi-course organic meals are served, neither the customers nor the wait-staff speak for the duration of the meal. The concept has been launched by Nicholas Nauman, who was inspired by silent breakfasts he enjoyed at a monastery in the Indian Buddhist pilgrimage city of Bodh Gaya. “We wanted to bring attention to the physical and visceral properties of eating, and less of the distractions you see so much these days,” he said.
United States of America United States, January 2014

Quiet clubbing

Credit: Quietevents.com

Credit: Quietevents.com

Quiet clubbing is a growing trend in big cities where noise ordinances and other limitations have encouraged club-goers to get creative. In New York City, there are several companies organizing these parties all over the country, but one of the most popular ones in NYC is Quiet Events. Thousands of people head out to silent discos each week, put on their headphones, select the DJ, and just dance.
United States of America United States, April 2014

“No Noise”

From 7th January to end of February 2013, Selfridges London relaunched the “Silence Room” – initially created by founder Harry Gordon Selfridge in 1909 – as part of their store-wide “No Noise” initiative. The space intended to insulate people from the noise and human traffic of the store. In order to relax, unwind and de-stress, customers were invited to leave their shoes, phones and 21st-century distractions at the door. Moreover, a curated “Quiet Shop” unveiled its first collection of de-logofied products in partnership with brands in its food hall – a trio of bare labels created by Heinz for its iconic ketchup bottle, baked beans tin and Marmite jar – promoting a purer approach to design. Acne created exclusive pieces for No Noise, removing MUSIC and COLLAGE slogans from SS13 runway t-shirts.
United-Kingdom United Kingdom, January 2013

Business & Marketing guidelines

1

When conceiving a space, be it a house or an office, consider including in-home retreats – like an alcove, a nook or a minimally wired room – that encourage non-digital activities.

2

Create systems or apps that alert dwellers when it is time to have a break between a Facebook session, TV series episodes and a Candy Crush party. Tech could, for once, be a solution for those who can’t keep control of themselves face to so many digital temptations.

3

In your communication, play the card of Escape or Evasion. Travel is the most aspirational topic, and far-away exotic places are increasingly appealing to customers who want to disconnect from their everyday routine.

4

Think debranding. Dropping a well-known company name from a product or marketing activity is a smart way to make your company appear less corporate and more forward-thinking, with stronger character. Today the best brand design has a delicate footprint, and in some cases there’s not even a logo. Starbucks, Nike, Coke, Apple among others are already experimenting this strategy.

5

Invoke a quieter, more personal connection with your consumers, encouraging interaction with – and between – them.

Summary

  • People are realising that they need to take a break from the ultra connectivity, noise and stress. They need to appropriate amount of time to experience more various activities of their lives, to get in touch with what is deeply satisfying and fulfilling.
  • Consumer digital abstinence practices vary widely, from occasional tech time-outs to total offline living, but they stick to the same principles: establish a time and a place to reconnect with oneself, real people and natural pleasures.
  • In the U.S., noise ranks as the number one gripe of restaurant-goers nationally, according to a Zagat survey, and from 2012 to 2013, noise-related calls to 311 increased 16% according to noise activist Arlene Bronzaft.
  • Silence is invading the space – the restaurant-dining scene, the hospitality industry, retail spaces, airports, all kinds of places are promoting the absence of noise as a virtue in itself. Consumers are even willing to pay a premium for this small luxury.

Experts that we recommend

James folk James Folk
American author of book Digital Detox: How Taking A Break From Technology Can Help You Reclaim Your Life, Reduce Stress, & Achieve Success (James Folk Publishing, 2014)
joelle-menrath Joelle Menrath
French Millennials and social media sociologist, author of press articles about digital detox at The Huffington Post
christina-crook Christina Crook
Canadian author of book The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World (New Society Publisher, 2015)
agnes-ledru Agnès Ledru
French personal development coach and therapist
Rémy Oudghiri Rémy Oudghiri
Director of trends & innovation at IPSOS & author of book Déconnectez vous ! (Arléa, 2013)