Unplugged: A Gen Z's 24-Hour Digital Detox

19th April 2024

The memory of having only five TV channels and no internet might seem like a dystopian nightmare to Generation Z, who have grown up in a hyper-connected world. In this realm, an app exists for everything; life’s moments are broadcast across a multitude of social media platforms, and binge-watching entire series in one go is merely a click away. However, numerous reports have suggested that the simple presence of multiple devices, even when not in use, can diminish the quality of face-to-face interactions.

Our new campaign, ‘Let’s Go to Work,’ champions the significant benefits of in-person collaboration. As part of this initiative, our Business Development Executive, Izzie, volunteered for a challenge to discover the advantages of a truly tech-free 24 hours. Here’s how she got on….

Day One – 10pm

I began my 24-hour digital detox with a rule of no phone or screen time before bed—a challenging start, considering my usual evening routine involves mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or watching Netflix. Moreover, it’s Easter weekend, which I’m spending with my family; typically, we’d end our day lounging on the sofa, watching an action film. Instead, I’ve secluded myself in my room, trying to convince myself I’m tired—yet not tired enough to fall asleep. I opted for an unread book, one I had attempted but never finished before. Here we go again. While reading, I found myself distracted, wondering about potential missed calls or messages, and even speculated whether there might be an unread notification on my work phone that could justify a five-minute screen break. Nevertheless, I persisted with reading for 30 minutes before boredom set in. I put the book down and attempted to count sheep.

Day Two – 7.30am (far too early)

Morning time has been a struggle. I woke up earlier than I would have liked and checked the (old-school) clock in the bathroom. I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to scroll through last night’s missed notifications and unread messages—feelings that were all too familiar and deeply ingrained in my morning routine. Instead, I chose to go back to sleep, postponing my plans for a productive morning and deciding how to spend my day. Upon waking again, the same urge resurfaced: Where’s my phone? What have I missed? Does anyone need me? I resisted the impulse, let in the light, and resolved not to let that feeling dominate. Heading downstairs, I left the phone upstairs; less temptation this way.

Reflecting on that moment later, I realised it’s a routine, and not a particularly healthy one. My phone accompanies me everywhere, and to be totally transparent, a creeping feeling began in my stomach and tried to climb into my chest. This feeling, akin to panic, is not something I am fond of. Writing this, I’ve recognised that this anxiety stems from contemplating the rest of my day. What will I do? How will I stay busy? Quite simply, I know I will run out of activities. Why do I have such an insatiable need for distractions? What am I trying to distract myself from?

Only 12 hours in at this point, this is going to be harder than I thought.

Day Two – Midday

Most of this morning I have been overwhelmed by a familiar emotion: frustration. I felt frustrated that I couldn’t check my phone for a saved Instagram recipe for feta-pesto eggs, Google an answer during an argument, or easily access the rest of the world. This frustration gradually morphed into irritability—my temper grew shorter, my tone sharper, and my sass sassier. It’s embarrassing to acknowledge how just one day away from screens significantly affected my mood.

However, I must confess that my morning was sweetened by Classic FM playing on the radio. Had my day begun without any background noise, it would have been much more challenging. This makes me curious about the psychology behind it. Later, I ventured into the cellar to explore a box full of memorabilia I had been meaning to sift through. Among my christening candle, cards from my first birthday, and old photos, I spent time looking and reading through these memories. It was gratifying to sit and rediscover things that had either been forgotten or never before noticed.

Day Two – 3pm

I have been steadily occupying myself with painting and browsing the local charity shops. I meticulously searched the bric-a-brac sections, hoping to find something to upcycle, but alas, nothing was found, and time was merely wasted. Heading into town was an adventure in itself. Fortunately, the town is small enough that I can’t get lost and don’t need a phone or GPS to navigate it. I had to take my purse with me, which is unusual as I normally rely on the quick convenience of my Apple Wallet. However, this was fine, and I managed. I enjoyed being unaware of time passing and not needing to check my phone for messages. There was a moment in the supermarket when I couldn’t locate my sister, and I found myself wanting to reach for my phone for a quick call to find her. Instead, I chose the normal approach and went to look for her. Despite being in no rush, I wondered why I felt the need to call her instead of searching for her. I think it was a mix of impatience and a slight anxiety that came over me, yet another habit born of lazy reliance.

Day Two – 5pm

I returned to painting, an activity from which I quickly grew bored again. I felt a strong urge to check my phone, just for a quick glance. I cannot explain why I wanted to go on my phone; I now know there is nothing there worth breaking the detox for, but I can’t shake the feeling that I need to check it. It wouldn’t alleviate my boredom; it would only provide the temporary quick fix I know I’m seeking.

I have also noticed that I’ve checked the fridge more often than usual. I associate boredom and a lack of distractions with a ‘reason’ to snack. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything appealing in the fridge to snack on anyway.

Day Two – 10pm (FINALLY bedtime)

The detox is over, and I can be reunited with my tech. However, my heavy reliance on the instant gratification from a screen has definitely taught me that I need to take time for myself to rediscover what I enjoy doing. My passion for painting and searching for pre-loved items persists, yet there is still more work to be done.

When boredom became overwhelming, I found myself juggling self-control and irritability, knowing that my phone was just upstairs—a mere few meters away from providing a distraction. As cliché as it sounds, it was in moments like these that I reminded myself why I was undertaking this digital detox. Not to prove to my boss that I could do it—kidding—it was more to see if I could do it for myself, given my full awareness of my screen addiction. I reassured myself that I wasn’t missing out on anything; nobody needed me that urgently, and there was no emergency.

Not quite the originally planned 48 hours, but still a useful experience. Izzie has accomplished what many of her peers couldn’t and is planning to follow up with a retreat to experience a more formal way of detoxing from her digital addiction. Stay tuned for part two.