Is it possible to digital detox anymore?

In February, news broke that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff had taken a ‘digital detox’: 10 tech-free days at a French Polynesian resort. For a small group of people, taking a step back from devices is an achievable dream – but for most, it’s an impossibility, especially now.

A digital detox requires shelving technology almost entirely: taking a break from screens, social media and video conferences for multiple days. The goals – reducing stress or anxiety, and reconnecting with the physical world – are well-intentioned. And although there aren’t scientifically proven benefits from periods of tech abstinence, that hasn’t stopped the digital detox from becoming a coveted challenge.

But that challenge has become far harder to accomplish since 2012, when researchers first used the term. Screens were already important then, even with nascent versions of apps and social media. Yet attempting a digital detox in 2012 would have been a cake walk compared to now, when more than ever, our lives are impossible to detangle from technology. We pay with our phones at stores, work on our computers and tablets and maintain relationships through apps. And since the pandemic, our life-tech connection has intensified even further.

A digital detox in 2023: where would you even start?

Short of running to the remote wilderness for a few phone-free days, experts say a digital detox isn’t feasible anymore for most people.

“Technology is very much a part of us now. We bank with an app, read restaurant menus on phones and even sweat with exercise instructors through a screen,” says Seattle-based consultant Emily Cherkin, who specialises in screen-time management. “It’s so embedded in our lives, we’re setting ourselves up for failure if we say we’re going to go phone-free for a week.”