Connecting by Disconnecting

Social technology provides brands with a platform to connect directly with their audiences. Brands use these connection tools to form relationships, ie connections, with consumers. This unprecedented access has fundamentally changed the brand/consumer relationship. People log in, follow, rate, recommend, download and share in real time, whenever and wherever they choose to interact. The backlash to this uber-connectedness is a growing anti-technology trend. Apps like OnOff and Freedom allow users to set limits on their own internet access. HumanMode disables your smart phone by blocking calls, messages, emails, and other notifications, helping us break our phone addictions and “be humans.” I find it rather ironic to use technology to escape technology, but the existence of these apps confirms the trend. Nor is the trend limited to the tech field.

The Country of Belize is tapping into the sentiment by rebranding itself as a destination for tech-free vacations, advertises in tech mags like Wired with the message: “Discover how to Be – Be Still, Be Disconnected, Be-lize.” This trend away from constant digital connection reminds me of the maker’s movement.

While the Makers Faires are tech-driven, the underlying philosophy of making things yourself reflects the same desire to return to simpler, more “human-driven” times. Rohit Bhargava, author of the 2014 Non-obvious Trend Report, describes it as a “desperate detox” caused by mobile device and internet fatigue. People are looking for “authentic” ways to connect by disconnecting from tech.

Forward-looking companies like Radio Shack and Patagonia are already part of the movement. Businesses can address digital overload in other ways – internally by taking care of their employees; externally by providing non-digitized, “retro” products and experiences for their customers.

Digitaldetox.org offers business seminars, trainings, and full-on retreats to help employees “disconnect to reconnect: creating balance in the digital age.” They pitch corporate wellness days and device-free camps that “return staff refreshed and renewed.” Their corporate client list includes Airbnb, VMware, and TOMS Shoes and they have hosted employees retreats for big hitters like Facebook, Apple, Square, and Google.

Brands can look for ways to attract what Rohit Bhargava dubs “Non-Digital Connoisseurs” who want “the original experience.” These consumers want vinyl records over MP3s, film photography over digital enhancement. Companies should pay attention because as Bhargava points out, the demand for original, non-digital experience is rapidly expanding into new categories and younger demographic groups.

The HumanMode app was developed by students. Their messaging appeals to both young and old: “Your phone distracts you from your studies? Your friends, kids, parents or spouse keep complaining you are not giving them enough attention because of your phone?” In our increasingly connected world, learning how to unplug will need to become part of companies’ internal and external business models. Brands must find ways to provide authentic and original experiences for their consumers or risk losing them to digital fatigue.

The ability of both brands and consumers to find a healthy balance between meaningful connections and information overload will, as Digitaldetox.org sums it up, “determine the future success and sustainability of our companies, personal wellness and collective happiness.”   What are your thoughts and perspectives on the topic?

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