The Journey of Withdrawal & Liberation on a Digital Detox
Anxiety, pain and withdrawal were all experienced before a sense of liberation during a digital detox, according to new research.
The project involved losing access to all technologies, such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, the Internet, social media and navigation tools.
The researchers, who also took part in the study themselves, examined participants’ emotions before they disconnected, during their disconnection, and after they reconnected.
The findings show that there was initial anxiety, frustration and withdrawal symptoms among many of the travellers, however this later grew into levels of acceptance, enjoyment, and even liberation.
The findings therefore mirror an addictive recovery process.
People Are ‘Heavily Addicted’ to Phones
We are heavily addicted to our digital devices, according to another study, or more precisely, we are addicted to the digital experiences they give us.
Digital addiction is linked to promoting obesity, sleeplessness, anxiety, decreased productivity, and relationship issues.
Findings have ‘valuable implications
The findings of the first study have valuable implications for tour operators and destination management organisations to gain a better understanding of travellers’ emotions when developing ‘off-the-grid’ packages or tech-savvy tour products.
“Understanding what triggers consumers’ negative and positive emotions can help service providers to improve products and marketing strategies,” said lead author Dr McKenna.
“The trips our travellers took varied in terms of lengths and types of destinations, which provides useful insights into various influencing factors on emotions.
“We found that some participants embraced and enjoyed the disconnected experience straightaway or after struggling initially, while for others it took a little bit longer to accept the disconnected experience.
“Many also pointed out that they were much more attentive and focused on their surroundings while disconnected, rather than getting distracted by incoming messages, notifications or alerts from their mobile apps.”
In total 24 participants from seven countries travelled to 17 countries and regions during the study. Most disconnected for more than 24 hours and data was collected via diaries and interviews.
By talking to other travellers, especially locals, many reported that they were given excellent advice and learned more about sights, places and beaches that were not on any tourism websites or guidebooks, but were a highlight of their trips.
Once reconnected, many participants said they were upset and overwhelmed as soon as they saw all the incoming messages and notifications they received over the days they were disconnected.
However, having enjoyed the engagement with locals and physical surroundings during disconnection, some decided to have another digital detox in the future.
Various factors affected how travellers perceived the digital-free tourism experience.
Participants suffered anxieties and frustrations more in urban destinations due to the need for navigation, instant information access, and digital word-of-mouth recommendation seeking.
Those in rural and natural destinations, on the other hand, tended to have withdrawal symptoms related to being unable to report safety or kill time.
Participants travelling as a couple, or in a group, tended to be more confident to disconnect than solo travellers.
They reported suffering less or even had no negative withdrawal symptoms when travelling with companions who are connected; while solo travellers tended to feel vulnerable without technological assistance to buffer cultural differences, such as an unfamiliar language.
On a personal level, withdrawal symptoms tended to be stronger for travellers who participated in digital-free tourism with many social and professional commitments.
They were also more likely to have negative disconnected experiences. Some participants tried, but could not disconnect during their travels either because they did not feel secure and thought they would get lost, or because they had private commitments that did not allow them to be unavailable.