12. July 2013–
Of the 1,245 UK residents questioned in a recent study conducted by Versapak, 51 per cent of them said they suffered from "extreme tech anxiety" when separated from their devices.
In the digital age, it's not uncommon that our smartphone is the last thing we look at before going to bed and the first thing we reach for when waking up. Something as simple as checking the time can lead to half an hour of messaging, checking emails, browsing news on Twitter, scrolling through Instagram and glancing at Facebook. And when all the notifications are checked, we're left alone, forgetting why we picked up our phone in the first place.
As countless communication channels, social networks and gadgets continue to pop up and permeate every corner of our daily lives, it seems that we are becoming increasingly desperate to find ways to consume information effectively, manage work productivity and loosen technology's grip on our lives...
The rise of digital fad diets
It's come to a point where the media are throwing around terms such as "techno-anxiety", "technology addiction" and "digital detox" as if they were medically qualified to do so. And if you're lucky to know enough techies, you'll stumble across a blogpost of someone documenting their experience with "disconnecting" or "simplifying" at least once a week.
In case you haven't heard, Camp Grounded – a three-day "summer camp for adults" to unplug – is the latest digital fad diet. For just $350, the site says that you'll get to "trade in your computer, cell phone, Instagrams, clocks, schedules and work-jargon for an off-the-grid weekend of pure unadulterated fun" in the Redwoods of Northern California. What does "pure unadulterated fun" entail? Well, activities such as "stargazing, bare feet, trading post, solar carving, pillow fights and laughing contests". Of course.
Tech-free retreats are becoming increasingly popular (for the rich) – if the idea of camp doesn't tickle your fancy, why not let The Westin Dublin help you escape from the eChatter for €175 per person? Or check-in to the Lake Placid Lodge in New York in order to check-out of the eWorld for a mere $1,340?
After such camps, some might gain "a new perspective on their relationships with technology and social media" – but will escaping "real life" for a couple of days help us develop new digital habits and improve our wellbeing? Or is it simply a band-aid solution to a bigger, more complex individual problem we're trying to avoid?
"It's not about being either connected or disconnected, it's about when/how you're connected"
Last month, Berlin-based startup Offtime (formerly known has Zeitraum and Master & Slave) launched a crowdfunding campaign to support the development of its app, which aims to make managing productivity and digital connectivity as easy as the push of a button.
"Most of the time, you don’t want to switch off your phone completely – you want to switch off 90 per cent of it but still want to have your partner or your mom being able to reach you," explained Offtime cofounder Alexander Steinhart.
With Offtime, pressing a button means you can block out apps, phone calls (with exceptions from specified emergency contacts) and text messages for a selected amount of time. If someone tries to contact you via these channels, they will receive a "friendly text message" about when you will be back on the grid again. "Everything is very transparent and you'll be able to focus on what you need to focus on."
In order to better understand the needs of their users, the Offtime team cooperates with Humboldt University's Work Psychology department to conduct research and studies on the topic. Additionally, having completed his bachelor and master degrees in psychology, Steinhart believes that the company's psychological approach to the "hyperconnectivity problem" will help differentiate its app from competitors – such as Sabbath Manifesto, Concentrate and Anti-Social.
Currently, the Offtime app is in alpha phase and runs on most Android devices. As for the future, the startup hopes to reach its funding goal of €25,000 by 25 July so it can expand to other mobile platforms (such as iOS) as well as add more features.
Echoing sentiments of Nathan Jurgensen's concept of digital dualism, which is the tendency to see the digital and physical as separate entities (ie, the online world is superficial while the offline world is authentic), Steinhart said: "A lot of what's out there now is 'either/or' options – you’re either connected or you're disconnected. I think it’s less of an 'either/or' question, and more about when/how you’re connected. It's finding the right balance and developing a healthy relationship with technology."
Want exclusive access to the Offtime app? Support the crowdfunding campaign here.
featured image – flickr user Aya (aya)