Is a Digital Detox the Answer to Technostress?

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What is technostress?
Can a digital detox counteract technostress?
Digital detox strategies and challenges
Real-life effectiveness of digital detox intervention
References
Further reading


In the current digital era, an increase in the use of technology in both personal and professional settings has led to the development of many clinical conditions, such as anxiety and depression. A higher use of smartphones that support multiple applications, including social networking sites, contributes to the generation of stress. Digital detox intervention focuses on alleviating the negative effects of technology.1

Image Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock.com

What is technostress?

The continual increase in the use of information technology has a great impact on society. Individuals associated with multiple professions are exposed to digital devices during the majority of their working hours. In addition, digital entertainment applications capture a significant amount of their leisure time. The practice is a common phenomenon across the world. Many studies have indicated that overt use of information technology leads to technostress, which is defined as “stress or psychosomatic illness caused by working with computer technology on a daily basis.”.2

The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has significantly increased remote work arrangements. The remote working opportunities have helped many individuals to be more productive with less time spent on commuting.3 However, remote working has simultaneously increased the use of information technology, which in turn has increased the risk of developing technostress.

Smartphones have become an integral part of modern society. The increase in the use of smartphones has both positive and negative consequences. This device allows the user to make phone calls, send and receive emails/text messages, capture videos/photos, surf websites, navigate to a destination, and access social media networks.4 Therefore, smartphones provide multiple features that have wide-ranging applications, i.e., from communication to obtaining information whenever required.

Despite all the positive utility of smartphones, it is a major factor that adversely affects mental health. High smartphone usage has been associated with the development of depression, anxiety, and a digital fear of missing out, which is popularly known as “FOMO.” Furthermore, it also reduces self-esteem and promotes unhealthy life practices, such as poor sleep, decreased physical activities, eating disorders, and increased sedentary behavior.5

Particularly among the younger generation, some social media applications, such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok, installed on smartphones consume a significant amount of user’s time. In comparison to all applications available to smartphone users, social media applications cause several adverse consequences, leading to overall poor life satisfaction.

Can a digital detox counteract technostress?

The term “digital detox” was first introduced in 2012, that describes the “period of time during which a person refrains from using their electronic devices, such as smartphones, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world”.6 Other terms, such as media diet” and “digital diet” revolve around the concept of digital detox.

To counteract the effect of technostress, many “digital detox” interventions have come into the limelight. As described above, digital detox intervention is associated with self-imposed inhibitions from using electronic devices, such as smartphones. This intervention could be a complete timeout of electronic devices or inhibiting the use of specific applications in smartphones. Put simply, digital detox is associated with periodic disconnection or reduction in information technology engagements.7

Multiple studies have published contradictory effectiveness of digital detox interventions regarding the improvement of the well-being of an individual. Despite this ambiguity, a majority of the general public assumes that keeping away from information technology would improve mental well-being. 

Digital detox strategies and challenges

Studies have shown that users experience the need to spend time away from smartphones and search for ways to better manage their online time. Many applications, such as Android Digital Well-Being, iOS Screen TimeOffTime, DetoxSpace, ForestMoment, and Quality Time, are available that help users detox from digital or technological usage.

Image Credit: Molenira/Shutterstock.com

Image Credit: Molenira/Shutterstock.com

To promote digital detox, holiday tour operators organize “digital detox camps” or “mobile free” holidays.8 Another strategy proposed to reduce technostress is following an information technology-free lunch break.9

Digital detox strategies have been divided into three theoretical categories, namely, length of the interval, extent of intervention, and levels of information technology assistance.2 To understand the effectiveness of digital detox, it is imperative to understand the length or the total period of digital detox required to experience positive effects.

The second category, which is the extent of intervention, assesses whether a digital detox strategy conflicts with organizational norms, processes, and behavior. The third category is focused on understanding whether disabling e-mail servers after working hours or using calendar reminders to practice digital detox impacts professional settings.

A major challenge in assessing the effectiveness of digital detox intervention is the lack of device-based measurements that can document smartphone and social media usage.10 Many methodological limitations have been identified that were used to evaluate the associations between digital detoxes and health-related outcomes.

Real-life effectiveness of digital detox intervention

Research has reported that a one-week Instagram digital detox led to poor life satisfaction. Consistent with this experimental result, a similar life satisfaction level was observed in individuals who refrained from Facebook use for five days. A limited use of electronic devices for 48 hours exhibited no impact on sleep quality. Contrary to the above findings, some researchers have shown that the limited use of smartphones for two weeks was associated with improved mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression symptoms.7

Individuals who participate in digital detox programs have also been seen to experience boredom during the intervention period. A week-long social media detox caused an increase in boredom in all participants. A recent study emphasized that digital detoxing does not essentially augment personal well-being.11

The aforementioned ambiguity linked with the digital detox intervention effectiveness could be attributed to inconsistencies and unclear conceptualization of ‘digital detox.’

After assessing the available literature, there has been a shift in the description of digital detox. As per the current strategy, individuals are encouraged to develop a “healthy” relationship with their social media and smartphones. 

References

  1. Abi-Jaoude E, Naylor KT, Pignatiello A. Smartphones, social media use and youth mental health. CMAJ. 2020;192(6):E136-E141. doi:10.1503/cmaj.190434
  2. Mirbabaie M, Stieglitz S, Marx J. Digital Detox. Business & Information Systems Engineering. 2022;64(2):239-246. doi:10.1007/s12599-022-00747-x
  3. Yang L. et al. The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers. Nat Hum Behav. 2022; 6(1), 43-54. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01196-4
  4. Parasuraman S, Sam AT, Yee SWK, Chuon BLC, Ren LY. Smartphone usage and increased risk of mobile phone addiction: A concurrent study. Int J Pharm Investig. 2017;7(3):125-131. doi:10.4103/jphi.JPHI_56_17
  5. Yang H, Liu B, Fang J. Stress and Problematic Smartphone Use Severity: Smartphone Use Frequency and Fear of Missing Out as Mediators. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:659288. Published 2021 Jun 1. doi:10.3389/fpsyt.2021.659288
  6. Radtke T, Apel T, Schenkel K, Keller J. Digital detox: An effective solution in the smartphone era? A systematic literature review. Mob Media Commun. 2021; https://doi.org/10.1177/20501579211028647
  7. Coyne P, Woodruff SJ. Taking a Break: The Effects of Partaking in a Two-Week Social Media Digital Detox on Problematic Smartphone and Social Media Use, and Other Health-Related Outcomes among Young Adults. Behav Sci (Basel). 2023;13(12):1004. Published 2023 Dec 8. doi:10.3390/bs13121004
  8. Stäheli U, Stoltenberg L. Digital detox tourism: Practices of analogization. New Media Soc. 2021; https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211072808
  9. Andreadis I, Watts M. A Device Free Lunch Break program: An experiment to promote a balanced used of electronic devices in Middle Secondary International schools. EURODL. 2022; 24 (1), 1-10. https://doi.org/10.2478/eurodl-2022-0001
  10. Matthes J, Karsay K, Hirsch M, Stevic A, Schmuck D. Reflective smartphone disengagement: Conceptualization, measurement, and validation. Comput Hum Behav. 2022; 128, 107078. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2021.107078
  11. Why a social media detox may not be as good for you as you think. https://www.durham.ac.uk/alumni/news-and-events/latest-news/2023/11/why-a-social-media-detox-may-not-be-as-good-for-you-as-you-think--new-research/. 2023; Assessed on January 28, 2024.

Further Reading

 

Last Updated: Feb 19, 2024

Dr. Priyom Bose

Written by

Dr. Priyom Bose

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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