The Next Wave: Digital Detox

Natural disasters. Emails 24/7. Aging family members. Taxes. Political posts on Facebook. Bitcoin volatility. Sexual harassment. Government shutdown. Bills. Parking tickets. Last minute flight. Trump. Email inbox.

Stressed yet?

For all the progress we’ve seen over the last two decades, we have become perhaps too connected for our own good. We’re quickly realizing that constant low-level anxiety is bad for our sleep, our health, and our relationships.

Ironically, it’s even bad for our sense of true connection. The number of Americans reporting no close friendships has tripled in recent decades, while “zero” is the most common number of confidants people report having. Causation is hard to pinpoint given the multitude of factors here. But it seems likely that if text communication is the least intimate (behind in person and voice communication), and that’s where we’re spending an increasing portion of our time, we have a problem.

People are beginning to wake up to this.

I’ve heard more in the last two years about “being present” than I had in the previous ten. Celebrities are requiring people to lock up their phones during concerts. Activist shareholders filed a complaint with Apple about the effects of their devices on children. We’re now using apps, ironically, to meditate and get centered.

The problem is, technology alone is not enough to fix its own ill effects. Many answers to these challenges are deeply personal. After all, how did we unwind before iPhones took over our lives? Snuggling the dog, a glass of wine with friends, reading a book, lighting a candle, a long run, the crossword, getting into PJs, and cooking or baking all come to mind. Most of these activities happen at home, in what used to be the private sphere before technology blurred these boundaries.

However, a lot of innovation in the last twenty years has caused people to spend more of their lives, intentionally or not, in the public sphere.

I once heard a CEO speak of shifting from “work life balance” to “work life integration” like it was the holy grail. Social media has caused people to reevaluate their homes and private lives through the lens of Instagram, where they never measure up. And while there has been a lot of innovation related to the home, it’s mostly focused on allowing people to spend less of their time in it via convenience-based solutions such as food delivery, laundry, home cleaning, and the like. These solutions should theoretically allow people to cut down the to do list and spend more time doing joyful activities, but all too often it just results in more time spent at work and on our devices.

Great opportunity, in my mind, rests with companies that allow people to find more joy in their private lives.

While there are a lot of approaches to doing so, I believe that the most successful companies covering everything from lifestyle brands to slippers to music to beauty to wellness and meditation will integrate this lens. Beyond solving an important need, companies that create soothing rituals around their products and services will build closer and more emotional connections with their customer base. It’s evident when this is working: customer feedback sounds much more heartfelt and vulnerable, retention and engagement rates are well above average, and the vast majority of growth is organic. There are few examples as extreme as the Gravity Blanket, which raised over $4M on Kickstarter for an extra heavy blanket designed to make people feel soothed and snuggled. For all the amusement in the press, its success makes clear: there is a deeply felt, unmet need here. I’m determined to help new companies meet it.