We’ve been tracking young consumers’ growing desire to unplug and just “be here now” for some time. But now we see them turning to tech solutions to force themselves to stay unplugged and focused on the present.
In our Q1 2013 Ypulse Quarterly report, we wrote about the trend Be Here Now: Millennials’ growing desire to turn off tech and be fully present. Despite their appreciation for technology and all that it allows them to do, their constant accessibility and borderline addiction to devices can also be overwhelming. Social media adds an expectation of accountability and social pressure to their lives, and they’re self-aware enough to see the negative effects of their constant tech-immersion. As one 22-year-old female told us, “We are [so] involved in sharing our surroundings that sometimes we forget to simply enjoy our surroundings.” The Be Here Now mentality has these same tech-dependent young consumers unplugging for periods of time, taking breaks from social networks or encouraging their peers to be present by stacking cell phones in the middle of the table during a dinner out. Since we first wrote about Be Here Now, we’ve seen some restaurants encourage the trend by rewarding patrons who give up their phones during their meal, a Brooklyn nightclub enforce a no-photo rule, and bands and artists request that the young attendees of their concerts put phones away so they can enjoy the moment and the music.
In July of this year, 60% of Millennials told us that they have unplugged at some point, with 53% of those saying they did so to focus on a task. But turning off that tech isn’t easy for Millennials and teens who sometimes literally sleep with their smartphones in their hands and under their pillows. We’ve also seen a burgeoning trend of unplugging assistance and challenges. Unplugging retreats are becoming “a thing:” Camp Grounded offers digital detox, completely device-free weekend retreats for $350, and their first camp weekend sold out last summer. This year, UNICEF challenged Millennials to unplug for charity, donating water to those in need for every ten minutes participants can go without reaching for their device.
Now, we’re starting to see another interesting iteration of the Be Here Now trend: tech that prevents/discourages them from using tech. Millennials can’t seem to help themselves: they are so used to turning to digital solutions for the problems in their lives, they look to tech as a solution even when the problem they’re having is too much tech. Here are three examples:
We already mentioned that some music artists are requesting that their fans turn off the tech to enjoy the concert as it’s happening and not be distracted by broadcasting the whole thing on social media. Yondr is a startup that helps to make that request easier to follow, and create completely phone-free zones. When attendees enter a Yondr event, staff places their devices in a Yondr case. The case locks while they’re within a specific vicinity, and they’ll need to leave the Yondr zone—where the action is taking place—if they want to access it. Yondr’s slogan is “Be Here Now,” so it’s pretty clear they know what young consumers are craving. Their “vision” also aligns with how we hear Millennials and teens are feeling about their devices: “We think smartphones have incredible utility, but not in every setting. In some situations, they have become a distraction and a crutch—cutting people off from each other and their immediate surroundings. Yondr has a simple purpose: to show people how powerful a moment can be when we aren’t focused on documenting or broadcasting it.”
Entering a mandatory phone lockdown zone isn’t a realistic unplugging solution on an everyday basis, so of course we’ve begun to see apps created specifically to help people to stay off their phones. Yes, an app to keep you off your other apps. Forest encourages users to leave their phones alone for half an hour. Starting a timer plants a digital seed, and during those 30 minutes, a little virtual tree grows in the app, but if you weaken and open your phone before the time is up, your tree dies. It’s Be Here Now technology for the Tamagotchi generation. Forest’s real goal is to help its users be productive and “focus on what’s more important in your life,” whether that’s at work, class, or dinner with family or friends. Over time a little forest of trees is collected in the app so that users have a visual representation of every 30 minutes they’ve managed to unplug.
Creating virtual forests by unplugging might seem ironic for a generation who can’t seem to go into an actual forest without Instagramming every leaf. When we asked Millennials about the benefits of unplugging, one told us, “When you unplug you notice things around you a lot more. You pay more attention to the details of your everyday life. You’re more likely to go outside and relax.” Artist Allison Burtch wanted to make that Be Here Now mentality more mandatory in the great outdoors, so she created the Log Jammer, a device that can block all cell phone voice communications within 20 feet. The Log Jammer is an art project, because blocking cells is actually illegal, but Burtch’s motivation is much larger. She writes on her project’s website:
“Who cares if we have endless information, if we’re constantly connected, if we can’t deal with it? How can anything change if we don’t talk to each other, work together? Because really, the problem is no longer getting people to express themselves, but providing any miniscule gap of solitude in which they might eventually find something to say.”