Working in Digital, naturally a huge chunk of my time is spent staring at screens.

Don’t get me wrong, I love an app that makes my day a bit easier (Trello, Uber and Citymapper to name a few), but it’s hard to ignore a slight change in the air when it comes to attitudes towards society and smartphones.

The feeling of ‘tech fatigue’ and the concern that we’re permanently attached to our screens and work emails is nothing new. There’s a widely discussed view that it leaves us distracted, socially disconnected and unable to recharge, which some see as essential for our mental wellbeing.

Beyond the casual mention of looking forward to switching off when we go on holiday, the ‘Digital Detox’ movement has gained more media focus lately. Endorsed by some business leaders and other high profile figures like Arianna Huffington, it’s hard to disregard completely. Some are paying over-the-odds for regimented ‘unplugged’ retreats and there’s now even an app to help you to disconnect for strict periods of time (as strange and paradoxical as it may seem!).

For those working in digital marketing, it’s difficult to take this too seriously or be particularly discouraged, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to the overriding message and perhaps even see it as a good thing. It should push us to focus more on the user when building digital experiences and applications, to bring things back to basics and ask how can we make this truly useful?

For example, there is evidence of a less extreme tech fatigue when it comes to app push notifications. Whilst some are very welcome (my Easyjet boarding pass appearing in my lock screen on approach to the gate), there are still significant numbers choosing to opt out and plenty of online advice on how to do so. It is becoming more important to ensure that the message is relevant, useful and timely. Not a constant irritation from your phone.

On the other side of the spectrum, we’re seeing the rise in the adoption of wearable tech and habit-tracking apps (for exercise, eating & health) – even more reasons for us to be constantly engaged with our phones! However, the nature of this technology is inherently useful and therefore rarely a platform for irrelevant marketing messages. As it becomes more advanced and with the focus on Apple’s recent updates, we’re bound to see more of a shift to purposeful apps. There are already plenty of great examples of brand utility out there worth checking out: www.brand-utility.com/

Whether the Digital Detox trend is here to stay or not (something particularly hard to imagine among teenagers who have grown up ingrained with mobile technology), we can look at the reasons for its origin and learn some important lessons. If there is a genuine need and purpose, it’s unlikely that users will stay switched off for long.

 

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