Digital Detox: The Modern Consumers’ Disconnection-Reconnection Conundrum

Written By Alex Drozdovsky, Co-Founder & Head of Strategy, FANATIC
Edited By Florent D’Souza, Medill IMC Class Of 2015

Published on 10/21/2015


It seems as though people are tired of permanent interconnectivity. A weekend getaway at a place without Internet, with your smartphone powered off for days together, and a sense of therapeutic freedom caused from this unplugging is a commonality in our modern “smart” society. Before the Internet Age could fully intoxicate us in its entirety, we are already speaking of a certain “detoxification” — a conscious temporary abstention from being connected to the Internet, to de-stress, socialize, and no matter how strange it sounds, to work.

Disconnection Boom: The Philosophy of Unplugging

It is no surprise that the travel industry was the first to bank on this phenomena, perhaps even coining the term and using it extensively. Camp Grounded in California is one of many around the world that helps adults “get off the grid” and truly disconnect. A lack of connectivity, away from one’s phone and laptop, is marketed as a liberating, free-spirited, almost child-like experience that we apparently long for.

The purpose of detoxification may be for relaxation and disconnection, however those who have unplugged for longer durations of time express a more philosophical ramification and an ethereal realization of their — of what we 21st century digital natives would consider — eccentricities. Editor of The Verge, Paul Miller, took a break from the Internet for an entire year. Rather surprisingly, the editor of one of the most influential technology publications says that what he lost in that one year was a sense of human interaction. A simple Google search of famous digital detoxers yields similar results. The purpose of digital detoxification is, in most cases, to reestablish our relationship with other humans and with nature, but the result is au contraire. This gives rise to a deeper, more philosophical question about whether digital connectivity is changing the way we communicate, or simply replacing it.

Offline is the New Treasure: Longing for Disconnection

Perhaps, soon disconnection will be considered a therapy of sorts, prescribed by actual psychologists.

For something that we (arguably) universally believe is the best thing since sliced bread, the Internet has burnt out a lot of its users. We are often acquainted with the likes of Digital Sabbath, being disconnected from Friday evening until Saturday evening, every weekend. Theorists foresee the need for a new emotion stemmed from these pains, manifested in the form of digital detoxification.

The trend is so far spread that people in the U.S. celebrate a National Day of Unplugging, where users spend a day every year in early March off the Internet. Ironically, people share their unplugged experience on the official National Day of Unplugging website. A day off the Internet is increasingly becoming revered and yearned for, as a treasured and special experience.

The Who & Why of Digital Detox

French creative agency Dagobert segmented Internet users into three categories: the first being the digital outsiders, who seldom access the Internet due to either the lack of access, or a lack of interest stemming from being digital laggards. The second are the digitally worried, who are concerned about the lack of privacy, but have a tendency to overshare and overconsume on the Internet. And lastly is our target market of the day, the digital detoxers, who just want a break from the frenzy.

Data shows that, in France alone, 82 percent of the 9 million total population, are Internet users. Of this, 62 percent feel an itching urge to unplug or limit their Internet usage. However, 41 percent of the population feels a conflicting urge to log on to the Internet at a minimum of three times a day. This love-hate, can’t live with/can’t live without relationship is a conundrum that all of us, as digital natives, seem to unconsciously and innately battle.

Digital Detox: Impact on Marketing

The marketing world is not far behind catching up on the trend of digital detoxification. While on one hand we profess that the omnipresence of the Internet is the future of humankind, on the other hand, we are all aware of the fatigue and distress it causes.

Burger King, back in 2009, asked their fans to unfriend 10 friends from their Facebook for a free Whopper. Coca-Cola ran a commercial that showed that because we are so immersed in our virtual lives, we are aloof to our surroundings (be it to our friends or the old lady crossing the street) and forget the reality around us.

The trend is so prominent that a Brazilian bar created an “offline glass” that has an uneven bottom, and can only stand straight when one places their phone at the bottom of the glass. The trend is also impacting the way we work. Volkswagen advised their employees against checking their email after work, to rest better and enhance their creativity during work hours.

Marketers are told that digital is the future and if we aren’t thinking digital, consider our brand lost in the ether. However, the digital detox trend is definitely something that is on the rise. We as marketers need to start banking on this trend as an opportunity, like how Coca-Cola and Burger King have, or start building our brand’s messaging to battle the “everything is digital” idea, like Volkswagen has. Little did we think that choosing the digital versus non-digital route was even an option for us marketers a few years ago. But that’s what we get when we burn our audience out.

Every marketing communications deck almost mandatorily has a slide or two about the brand’s digital presence. Marketers have forever been guilty of placing too much of an emphasis on the platform rather than the content behind the brand message. In retrospect, the radio, the television and the newspaper saw similar epiphanies from marketers – the media platform revolutionized the marketing world. As we have seen in such a short tenure, media channels and platforms come and go, but what is truly memorable and impactful is the message and content delivered to the consumer. Can we ask marketers to build brands that are not dependent on platforms, but live independently despite the everchanging preference of platforms from our customers? [END]


  1. “Dossier Amorcer le Dialogue, C’est Tout Un Art: Soyez pas zéro, osez les rézo” InterMedia Magazine, 26 June 2013.


Alex Drozdovsky is currently co-founder and head of strategy at FANATIC, indie communications agency. He has over eight years of experience in brand development, trendspotting and creative communication planning. He has worked at global agency networks and indie agencies such as BBDO Worldwide, Proximity, BrandScience and Heraldist & Wondermarks. Alex is also preparing to publish his first book related to digital anthropology (
Florent D’Souza worked with BBC World News’ prime time political debate show, The Doha Debates, leading web and online. He spent time with Qatar Foundation’s web and digital team, and later went on to consult for German communications agency, fischerAppelt. Florent received a bachelor’s degree in communication studies (media industries and technology) from Northwestern.

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