Unplugging: Majority of Americans Try to Disconnect from Tech

It's become routine to see Americans staring at screens anytime, anyplace. Whether out to dinner and sending a text, on vacation and searching the web, or simply hanging at home and watching a show, it can be a real challenge to put away our plethora of devices and take the time to focus on what's in front of us. Read on to review the results of a recent Harris Poll® of 2,193 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 13 and 18, 2016.

"Unplugging," or disconnecting from the technology we rely on day in and day out can be hard. Many are making the effort, however, as two thirds (67 percent) indicate they make an attempt to unplug at some point during the year. Over four in 10 adults (45 percent) say they try to unplug at least once a week.

But is it enough? Six in 10 adults (60 percent) say they wish their family members would unplug more often and nearly three in 10 (27 percent) say they have been told the same thing. The latter is particularly true among Millennials (41 percent vs. 31 percent Gen Xers, 13 percent Baby Boomers and 10 percent Matures), but they really are trying – they're also the group most likely to say they make an effort to unplug in the first place (82 percent vs. 72 percent, 55 percent and 45 percent).

What does it mean to unplug? According to the poll:

For majorities of Americans, unplugging means avoiding social media (71 percent), the Internet (64 percent), and email (58 percent). Just over half also add avoiding text messages (55 percent), mobile or tablet apps (55 percent), and video games on consoles or handheld game devices (51 percent) to that list, while 50 percent indicate computer games as well. Fewer, though still notable percentages, consider avoiding phone calls (48 percent) and television (45 percent) to qualify as unplugging, while three in 10 or less say the same for eBooks (30 percent) and audio books (21 percent).

Not too surprisingly, when it comes to being unplugged, younger generations are more likely than their older counterparts to say this means avoiding:
  • The Internet (66 percent Millennials, 68 percent Gen Xers and 65 percent Baby Boomers vs. 42 percent Matures),
  • Email (62 percent, 64 percent and 58 percent vs. 28 percent), and
  • Text messages (57 percent, 56 percent and 57 percent vs. 42 percent).Interestingly, the same is also true for television (52 percent Millennials, 48 percent Gen Xers, 44 percent Baby Boomers, and 24 percent Matures).
But it's hard!

According to many Americans, unplugging isn't for the faint of heart. Nearly four in 10 adults (37 percent) each say it's simply unrealistic to unplug for more than a few hours at a time and they have a fear of missing out when they're unplugged. Just over one quarter (27 percent) say it's difficult because their business never sleeps.

Most Americans (86 percent) say they have difficulty unplugging from at least one device. Mobile phones top the list with 44 percent saying they have difficulty unplugging from their cells. This comes as no surprise seeing that 44 percent of adults also say they get anxious when they don't have their phones with them. One third each say they have difficulty detaching from their television (34 percent) and computers (33 percent).

The device that is hardest to put down is far from consistent across generations, however.
  • Mobile phones top Millennials' and Gen Xers' lists (61 percent and 53 percent, respectively), but Millennials have more difficulty letting go of them than any other generation (28 percent Baby Boomers, 17 percent Matures).
  • Baby Boomers find turning off the television (44 percent) to be the most difficult.
  • Matures, on the other hand, find it hardest to shut down their computers or laptops (58 percent).
Women struggle more to turn off their mobile phones (49 percent) than their TVs (34 percent) or computers (29 percent), while men have a relatively equally tough time with each (39 percent mobile phone, 35 percent TV and 37 percent computer).

Why do it?

Among those who try to unplug at least once throughout the year, many say they do it for quiet or quality time. More specifically, half say they do it to enjoy quiet time (52 percent) or to spend more quality time with their family (50 percent), while four in 10 say do it to have quality "me" time (45 percent). For others, focus is the key with 39 percent saying they shut down in order to focus on getting work done and 38 percent do it to eliminate distractions. Around one third say they unplug to be more present in the moment (35 percent) or to relieve stress (34 percent), while 23 percent disconnect in order to better connect with their spiritual beliefs.

When Americans aren't in front of their screens, they largely like to take it easy and what better way to do that than with a good book? Reading ranks number one on Americans' list of favorite activities to do while unplugged. Rounding out the top five favorite activities, unplugged Americans can be found spending time with or talking to family, sleeping, relaxing, and gardening.

So if you're one of those who wishes their family members would disconnect more often, or have been told you need to do so yourself, perhaps it's worth a try. Just don't forget to let everyone know. Ironically, nearly two in 10 Americans (17 percent) say they make an announcement on social media when they're going to be unplugged.

For more information, visit TheHarrisPoll.com.

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