Remote cabin, Chile
The last time you were in a place with no cell phone reception or where electronic devices were prohibited – were you anxious or secretly relieved? If you felt a creeping sense of relief at being given permission to have a break from the incessant pull of your digitally connected lifestyles then you are not alone.
In the latest Lowe Counsel Future Sign we explore the concept of 'New Esc', which looks at how people are increasingly seeking time away from the intensity of a hyper-connected and crowded world. This trend is being driven by a range of factors, from the rise in urban population, information overload, search for meaning and unique experiences, which are all fueling the demand for physical and mental escape and space. It's important to understand that New Esc is not about a new Luddite rejection of technology; it's about finding better ways to manage it so we remain its master and not its servant.
Digital Detox holiday
Understanding the Impact of Hyper-connected Lives
We are only beginning to see the implications of living with constant connectivity. While younger generations cannot even comprehend the possibility of being online not being an integral part of everyday life for many the transition has not been without its challenges. The constant stimulation of multiscreen reality means that we are seldom alone or un-stimulated and this is seen as having negative as well as positive psychological effects on productivity. Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University explains: “It's this basic cultural recognition that people have a pathological relationship with their devices. People feel not just addicted, but trapped.”
Digital Crack: Online Addiction
Experts are already warning of the addictive power of technology. The constant stimulation in the form of digital pings and updates stimulates chemicals in the brain, which create a physical craving that can be damaging and can even lead to addiction. As Dr. Gary Small, director of the UCLA Longevity Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior explains: "The same neural pathways in the brain that reinforce dependence on substances can reinforce compulsive technology behaviors that are just as addictive and potentially destructive." Teaching people to regularly disconnect is becoming vital for personal mental health and business productivity.
David Lynch - Silencio
The Rising Demands of the 'Always on' Workplace
Our obsession with being constantly connected is in part being fueled by employers. Alexis Madrigal, writing for The Atlantic questions: “Are we addicted to gadgets or indentured to work? Much of our compulsive connectedness… is a symptom of a greater problem, not the problem itself." Employees are now expected to work longer hours with growing numbers going home still tethered to devices, which constantly send them emails and messages. A survey conducted by Xobni, an email and contact management company, found that 68% of American adults check their work emails during holidays, with 79% of those polled saying they receive emails from clients or colleagues during this time. According to McKinsey Quarterly Report: “Always-on, multitasking work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity, and making us unhappy.”
Remote cabin, Sweden
The Power of Being Out of Reach
In our over-connected world being alone or un-contactable is emerging as a modern luxury. The last few years have seen a dramatic rise in 'sanctuary spaces', from technology free venues to digital free islands, with many leading edge luxury spaces using 'no reception' as an added value. Increasingly we are seeking space and time away from the constant demand and chatter of technology.
Eva Restaurant deposit box
As Leonardo da Vinci famously proclaimed:“Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.” People are learning to appreciate quiet time for inspiration and contemplation. Earlier this year David Lynch's Silencio hosted the 'In Praise of Slowness Salon'. Lynch in partnership with the Maharishi Foundation is introducing Quiet Time, where students practice transcendental meditation to awaken their creativity and intelligence, into more than 350 partner schools around the world. As we learn to appreciate silence and contemplation, consumers and brands are realizing the power of daydreaming in boosting creativity and innovation.
Telia internet-free zone
Creating New 'Space’
Progressive companies are recognizing that employees need mental space in order to be creative and make better business decisions. According to New York research brand Basex, half of a knowledge worker's day entails managing information, which causes 'a loss of ability to make decisions, process information and prioritize tasks'. Web consultancy firm Netlife Research have introduced a new monastery-style space at work, designed as a space for employees to seek refuge for contemplation. Google allows employees to take 20% of the time to work on their own projects, or to simply do whatever they want. Some companies are even paying workers to take vacations to avoid burnout.
Remote cabin, Washington
Tech-free time out
Companies are gradually becoming more aware of digital on and off time and are implementing new procedures to ensure employees are taking technology-free time outs. Volkswagen has rewired employees' Blackberrys to stop receiving work emails 30 minutes after their shifts ended, while W Hotels in New York is introducing technology-free Fridays to encourage 'greater communication and creativity among the team'. As part of his Invisibility Project, artist and designer Thomas Stevenson has created 'analogue armor', which is lined with anti-electromagnetic fabrics to prevent electronic devices from working. There has been a rise in campaigns and offers to promote healthy breaks from technology. There is even an annual ‘National Day of Unplugging’ organized by think-tank Reboot who campaigned at this years SXSW, setting the Recordsetter.com world-record for the most people to power-down their devices at the same time.
The Rise of Digital Free Spaces
It's not just in the workplace where people are seeking digital detox. Digital connection is banned in most private members clubs and we are now seeing this practice being adopted by other public spaces such as shops and hotels. US outdoor clothing brand Weatherproof opened its New York store recently with a 'leave your Blackberry at the door' policy, while the Eva Restaurant in L.A. offers customers a 5% discount for leaving their phone with the receptionist during the meal. According to Mark Gold, chef and owner of Eva Restaurant: “We want people to connect again. It’s about two people sitting together and just connecting, without the distraction of a phone, and we’re trying to create an ambiance where you come in and really enjoy the experience and the food and the company.”
Digital Detox Apps
Paul Butler Facebook visualisation
People are now even using technology to take breaks from technology itself. Digital Detox is a free app inspired by Adbuster’s Digital Detox week, which disables a user’s phone for a specified period of time. Similarly the Pomodoro app aims to maximize productivity by instructing you to take a break from work every 25 minutes. The Freedom app can be set to block Internet access for up to eight hours to allow users time for offline productivity. Anti-Social is another productivity application that disables access to social media sites. The RescueTime app monitors where you spend time online, forcing you offline at certain times. It claims to rescue an average of four hours of productive time per person per week. Taking the approach a step further sees Swedish telecoms provider Telia launch an application allowing customers to disable the Internet for a set time at home, which also has the benefit of being a cost cutting strategy. The company also created physical isolation pods around Sweden called 'Internet-free zones', which people could visit to disconnect from their devices. As Kelly McGonigal, health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University suggests: “We need to find ways to make it [digital technology] as nourishing as possible, as we try to do with our diets, and not just turn to what’s easiest.”
Photo credit: Eric Valli
It's not just in the digital realm that people are seeking escapes. From camping to retreats, there is a growing trend for vacations from digital technology that is emerging, allowing people to reconnect with themselves and return to the digital world charged. As part of their digital-detox vacation package St. Vincent and the Grenadines is asking travelers to leave their technology at home. The package includes an onsite life coach who offers advice on how not to let technology control one’s life. There is also the growing appeal of visiting virgin territory. The combination of isolation and the purity of the surroundings are becoming aspirational to a global generation of urban dwellers. A Style Magazine journalist in Sao Paulo reveals: “People are now traveling to spend time with the Xingu, (one of the few indigenes tribes who have remained in Brazil) to live by their rules and be isolated from the modern world.” Glen Morris, writing for BBC, points out: "These days the Arctic, and to a large extent the Antarctic, has become a playground for the wealthy holiday maker."
Living off the Grid
Once only for extremists and hippies, living 'off grid' is also becoming increasingly popular and aspirational. The trend reflects the fact that many consumers in the west are moving away from acquisition culture; buying fewer things, adopting new methods for self-sufficiency. According to US Home Power magazine, there are now 750,000 living off-grid compared to 180,000 five years ago. While the New Esc trend continues to gather converts it's interesting to see that the latest trend on the Internet is to step away from the Internet.
Republished with the kind permission of Lowe Counsel.