Digital rationing: Trying to switch off, while still being connected

In 2014, Ofcom released a study that claimed that 16-24 year olds were squeezing 14 hours and 7 minutes of media consumption, into each day, in just over 9 hours. So, let’s think about that for a minute. 16-24 year olds, engaging through multiple channels, are spending more time consuming media than they are sleeping. And from dating to shopping, self expression to self-improvement, young audiences are engaging in just about every form of communication and task on their mobiles.


However, there is a counter trend to this digi-addiction - the digital detox: the desire to switch off from technology. This is a concept recognised internationally with companies like Digital Detox in the US organising retreats, and Digital Detoxing in the UK providing adventure tech retreats, digital culture audits and digital culture training. Similarly, in Ireland we have the Digital Detox centre in Co. Meath as well as sites like Lovin Dublin selling digital detox getaways.

So, has this overly-connected culture become toxic? Do young people think they are overdosing on digital? It appears so. It seems young people are feeling increasingly guilty about their over-reliance on digital, with articles highlighting its impact on their attention span, memories, even their posture. With the growing trend of health consciousness, 16-24 year olds, in particular, who grew up with a mobile in hand, are now beginning to ask - is it time to loosen the grip?

Similarly, celebrities are taking a stance in leading this charge to disconnect. In March of this year at a concert in Verona, Adele called out the audience for using their phones during her gig. She told fans, “You can enjoy it in real life rather than through your camera.” Likewise, in December 2015, Ed Sheeran decided to embark on a year long social media detox, claiming, “I find myself seeing the world through a screen and not my eyes.” Ironically, this message was posted to his 5.8 million Instagram followers…


Technology has made our lives more convenient, but when we are always on - it has also made our time more precious, with more pressure to be productive. Idle time is being replaced with consuming new information, leaving no time for simply ‘switching off’.

The idea of ‘down time’ without technology has become a commoditised concept, like mindfulness. It seems idle time now needs to be driven to a higher purpose, with members of our LOVE Network (the LOVE Network is Thinkhouse's global peer-to-peer network and management system) claiming to feel ‘guilty’ if they are doing nothing, and ‘uncomfortable’ at the thought of spending time alone.


Even though 18-35 year olds have a growing desire to be ‘real and present’ in the moment and switch off from their screens, that doesn’t mean it is an easy decision. In a hyperconnected society, complete disconnection now feels both unnatural and near impossible for young people.

Instead, young people are being more selective in their use of, or avoidance of, specific apps, social media channels, or are choosing to limit their daily time on technology. They are engaging in ‘digital rationing’in the pursuit of JOLO (the Joy of Logging Off).

Members of the LOVE Network talked about deleting the Facebook app from their phone, buying a ‘real’ alarm clock for their bedroom so they could leave their phone downstairs, and deliberately taking to reading a book in bed to avoid the temptation of a screen.

With no official guidance on recommended daily mobile usage, for now, many 18-35 year olds will continue to straddle the line between feeling compelled to be always on and their want to disconnect, employing mindfulness apps in between scrolling through their messenger ones.


18-35 year olds are increasingly embracing ‘challenges’ to take a break from the online world, particularly when it comes from someone that isn’t their parent or elder. Some great examples of brands who have championed this idea of ‘being purposefully present’ are companies like E4 who chose to turn off their broadcast for a full 12 hours to encourage young audiences to vote during the 2015 UK general election.Just, a Dutch creative agency, created a campaign to encourage people to go 99 days without Facebook and had 45,000 people pledge to partake in the challenge.

Particularly in the context of live events, and especially as festival season kicks off, it’s also worth noting that engagement success should be less focused on quantity of ‘live tweets’ and more in line with the quantity of head-bopping social animals who are so immersed in the moment that they have opted to save their social post for later.

For more digital Insights, connect with The Youth Lab at

See also

Is empathy the word of 2016?
Is empathy the word of 2016?

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