There is no doubt that digital devices enhance our lives – but are they taking over? In this 24/7, always-on age, should we all take a digital detox once in a while? In the “yes” camp is Georgia Turner. In the “no” corner is Andrew Hesselden. Let the digital duel begin!

28th January 2019


By Georgia Turner, head of communications and marketing at Bournemouth Borough Council and Borough of Poole, and co-creator of Comms Unplugged.

Being online makes our lives easier, doesn’t it? We rely on email and social media to do our jobs, for connecting with friends or on particular topics, and for accessing information.

For me, the case for a digital detox isn’t about what technology gives you – I couldn’t argue against that. It’s about what you gain by stepping away from your devices for a few hours, days or even weeks.

We are always “on”, especially in comms, where there’s an expectation that it’s our job to have our finger on the pulse, to reach staff quickly and easily – and very often we need digital to do that.

In our personal lives too – the information, amusement, knowledge and inspiration that we get online... we love it, don’t we? But honestly, how often do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling and refreshing your feeds and, before you know it, an hour’s gone by – or two or three?

So, just take a minute now to relax, be in the moment, and consider these stats: 40 per cent of adults check their phone within five minutes of waking. Sound familiar?

Some 88 per cent of adult internet users spend 24 hours a week online.

The screen time reports on our phones make for fascinating reading. In the last week, I averaged two hours and 54 minutes a day of screen time just on my phone. On average, I picked it up 54 times a day. And that was down 19 per cent from the week before. The vast majority of that online time was defined as non-productive time.

Is there absolutely nothing better I could be doing with that time?

The Journal of Social Psychology says that Facebook adds to your stress.

Quitting Facebook for just five days leads to a significant drop in the stress hormone cortisol. And the high levels of cortisol associated with social media overuse can even make us overweight – cortisol activates enzymes inside our fat cells and instructs them to grow. Unless burned away, we store this as fat. Urgh!

Of course, this isn’t a new thing, not really, and the message remains the same – it’s all about getting balance in your life.

That is the ethos of Comms Unplugged, an event I created with two comms colleagues. It’s a two-day professional development event for comms folk that is completely analogue. No tech, no wifi, no PowerPoint and definitely no hashtag… The event is held in marquees in a field in Dorset with the focus on learning, listening and connecting in real life, in person.

What difference did unplugging make? Well, people found the connections they made professionally had greater depth, were more meaningful and lasted longer. They found inspiration in the outdoors, enhancing their creativity, and said they took more back to their workplaces than they did from a more traditional learning event.

So, is a digital detox for you?

I get that it’s difficult. But it’s all about moderation and what works for you. For example, I don’t have any notifications on my devices, so I’m not a slave to my phone’s beckoning, and I have a “start from now” principle on WhatsApp, so I don’t feel the pressure to catch up on every digital conversation I might have missed.

One of my Comms Unplugged co-organisers won’t go online after 9pm and swears he now sleeps better for it. A delegate deletes her apps when on holiday, so she can focus on – guess what? – actually being on holiday. And another recently swapped her smartphone for an old Nokia for a week so that any tech time was focused on interaction with real people and not platforms.

My case isn’t about saying there is no value in our digital lives, it’s about what you can’t get from being online – and that’s real-life experiences: fresh air, birdsong, the wind on your skin, inspiration from what you see in real life, learning from speaking and listening to real people, and friendships made in person.

Those, to me, are more authentic and life-enriching than anything you’ll get from the screen of your phone.


By Andrew Hesselden, founder and director of Coralfish, specialising in intranets, channel strategy and user-experience design.

Why would you need to detox from something that isn’t toxic?

Digital makes my life richer, easier and better all round, and I can prove it in three ways.

Number one – digital lets me work whenever and wherever I want.

Rather than work encroaching on my leisure time, I can now let my leisure activities encroach on work. Last year, I rented a flat for a month in Mallorca, packed up my laptop up and set up my office 200 metres from the beach. My wife joined me and we spent much of April working there together.

The client I’m helping at the moment uses Google Docs and has a social intranet. We have meetings using Google Hangouts and hardly anyone ever goes into the office. This means I can work whenever and wherever I want free of distractions, and my client is delighted because I get loads done.

Number two – the second way digital makes my life richer is that it lets me stay in touch with friends and family, even those on the other side of the world in different time zones. I Facetime my cousin, WhatsApp my aunt, swap pictures, messages, chat. It costs me nothing – and the call quality is better too.

When I’m on holiday, while my wife stretches out by the pool with a good book, I like nothing better than to message or reconnect with people I have fallen out of contact with. I’m often too busy to email friends or call them. Go for a snorkel, swim in the pool, text a friend, surf the net – bliss!

And being in that relaxed state of mind gives me the headspace to think of new business ideas – plus I’m getting enough sleep to think creatively. Having my iPad or iPhone nearby lets me research it or connect with people to bounce ideas around. Which brings me to…

Number three – preserving my “flow”.

What do I mean by flow? Having flow is the same as being in the zone. Wikipedia says “it’s a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity”.

It stops interruptions and lets me choose when to respond.

It’s better than someone coming up to your desk all the time, because you can choose to ignore it. Choosing to ignore messages is one of the liberating things about digital. If someone sends you an email, you’ve no more obligation to reply right away than you have to write back before lunch as soon as the postman has delivered your letters in the morning.

Apply the same approach to instant messages too – it’s your choice.

It’s not digital you need to detox from, but your own toxic digital habits.

It’s easy to allow ourselves to become slaves to digital – or rather to other people’s interruptions and demands.

Are you one of those people checking your phone constantly to check for “likes”? It’s just an extension of an unhealthy need for positive affirmations and endorsements, a tendency to measure ourselves against other people’s opinions or endorsements.

I recommend you turn off new email notifications right away. Turn off your Facebook and Twitter notifications too, and even your instant messenger – or, at the very least, learn to get comfortable with not replying instantly until you’ve finished what you’re doing.

It’s much better to help your colleagues when you really have the time to help them, rather than firing off half-baked answers and being resentful for the interruption.

How could you vote against digital? Detoxing must surely be like returning to the dark ages: to shellsuits, Betamax videos and taking your grainy holiday snaps to Boots to be developed by next week.

If I still can’t persuade you that digital can only be a good thing, then perhaps you’re just one of those people who, instead of booking your holiday online, would rather sit in Lunn Poly for two hours while Sharon checks the Viewdata terminal for seven nights half-board flying from Stansted or Luton – enjoy your break.

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