Unplugging: Majority of Americans Try to Disconnect from Tech; 45% Try Weekly

But is it enough? Six in ten wish their family members would unplug more often

01:00 PM EST Feb 25, 2016 Rating
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Unplugging: Majority of Americans Try to Disconnect from Tech; 45% Try Weekly

NEW YORK, N.Y. – 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. It’s no wonder then that some felt a day dedicated to the effort of putting away these devices was a necessity. This year’s National Day of Unplugging falls between March 4th and 5th.

“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%) indicate they make an attempt to unplug at some point during the year. Over four in ten adults (45%) say they try to unplug at least once a week.

But is it enough? Six in ten adults (60%) say they wish their family members would unplug more often and nearly three in ten (27%) say they have been told the same thing. The latter is particularly true among Millennials (41% vs. 31% Gen Xers, 13% Baby Boomers & 10% 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% vs. 72%, 55% & 45%).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,193 U.S. adults surveyed online between January 13 and 18, 2016.

What does it mean to unplug?

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

Not too surprisingly, when it comes to being unplugged, younger generations are more likely than their older counterparts to say this means avoiding:

Interestingly, the same is also true for television (52% Millennials, 48% Gen Xers, 44% Baby Boomers, and 24% Matures).

But it’s hard!

According to many Americans, unplugging isn’t for the faint of heart. Nearly four in ten adults (37%) 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%) say it’s difficult because their business never sleeps.

Most Americans (86%) say they have difficulty unplugging from at least one device. Mobile phones top the list with 44% saying they have difficulty unplugging from their cells. This comes as no surprise seeing that 44% 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%) and computers (33%).

The device that is hardest to put down is far from consistent across generations, however.

Women struggle more to turn off their mobile phones (49%) than their TVs (34%) or computers (29%), while men have a relatively equally tough time with each (39% mobile phone, 35% TV & 37% 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%) or to spend more quality time with their family (50%), while four in ten say do it to have quality “me” time (45%). For others, focus is the key with 39% saying they shut down in order to focus on getting work done and 38% do it to eliminate distractions. Around one third say they unplug to be more present in the moment (35%) or to relieve stress (34%), while 23% 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 ten Americans (17%) say they make an announcement on social media when they’re going to be unplugged.

 

 

TABLE 1

DEFINING UNPLUGGING

By Generation & Gender

"On another subject, we’d like to ask you about taking time to "unplug" or disconnect from technology. Which of the following do you think of avoiding when you think of "unplugging?" Please select all that apply."

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Social media

71

69

78

69

62

66

75

The Internet

64

66

68

65

42

56

70

Email

58

62

64

58

28

54

62

Text messages

55

57

56

57

42

53

57

Mobile or tablet applications

55

55

54

56

55

52

58

Video games on consoles or handheld game devices

51

53

49

47

59

48

53

Computer games

50

48

52

52

44

45

54

Phone calls

48

51

50

46

36

47

49

Television

45

52

48

44

24

41

50

Electronic books (e.g., on a tablet, mobile phone, or e-reader)

30

30

29

32

31

28

33

Audio books

21

21

19

24

25

20

23

Something else

8

8

7

9

8

8

8


 

TABLE 2

DEVICE MOST DIFFICULT TO UNPLUG FROM

By Generation & Gender

"What device do you personally find most difficult to unplug from? You may select up to two responses."

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Any (NET)

86

91

90

78

80

88

84

    Mobile phone

44

61

53

28

17

39

49

    Television

34

21

36

44

47

35

34

    Computer or laptop

33

22

33

37

58

37

29

    Tablet

9

11

6

10

4

8

9

    E-reader

5

12

2

2

5

8

4

    Video game device (e.g., console,
    handheld gaming device)

5

11

4

1

1

9

2

    Other

1

1

*

*

2

*

1

NA – I don’t have difficulty unplugging

14

9

10

22

20

12

16

 

TABLE 3

ATTEMPTS TO UNPLUG

By Generation & Gender

"How often do you make an attempt to unplug?"

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Ever (NET)

67

82

72

55

45

66

69

Once a week or more (NET)

45

58

50

33

26

46

45

Every day

16

18

21

12

10

16

17

A few times per week

19

27

17

13

12

20

18

Once a week

10

13

12

8

4

10

10

A few times a month

9

11

9

7

4

8

9

Once a month

3

4

4

2

1

2

4

A few times per year

9

8

7

10

13

7

10

Once a year

1

1

2

2

1

2

1

Never

33

18

28

45

55

34

31

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 4

REASONS FOR UNPLUGGING

By Generation & Gender

"For what reasons do you unplug? Please select all that apply."

Base: Those who make an attempt to unplug

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

To enjoy quiet time

52

43

47

67

71

45

58

To spend more quality time with my family

50

48

58

44

49

40

58

To have quality “me” time

45

43

45

48

41

39

49

To focus on getting work done

39

42

34

36

53

34

43

To eliminate distractions

38

41

36

40

30

37

39

To be more present in the moment

35

39

38

29

21

26

43

To relieve stress

34

36

34

31

30

29

38

To better connect with my spiritual beliefs

23

28

18

20

20

23

22

Other

4

2

5

4

9

4

3

 

TABLE 5

FAVORITE UNPLUGGED ACTIVITY

Top Five Activities

"What is your favorite activity to do while unplugged?"

Base: Those who make an attempt to unplug

 

Rank

Reading

1

Spending time with/Talking to family

2

Sleeping/Napping

3

Relaxing/Resting

4

Gardening/Yard work

5

 

TABLE 6a

ATTITUDES TOWARDS UNPLUGGING

Grid Summary

"How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?"

Base: All adults

 

AGREE
(NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

%

%

%

%

%

%

I wish my family members would unplug more often.

60

22

37

40

20

21

I get anxious when I don’t have my phone with me.

44

17

28

56

21

34

I have a fear of missing out if I am unplugged.

37

13

24

63

21

42

It’s unrealistic to unplug for more than a few hours at a time.

37

12

24

63

27

37

It’s difficult to unplug because my business never sleeps.

27

10

16

73

19

54

I’ve been told that I should unplug more often.

27

11

16

73

24

50

I make an announcement on social media when I’m going to be unplugged.

17

8

10

83

11

71

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 6b

ATTITUDES TOWARDS UNPLUGGING

Summary of “Agree (NET)”

By Generation & Gender

"How strongly do you agree or disagree with each of the following statements?"

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

I wish my family members would unplug more often.

60

65

62

53

53

60

59

I get anxious when I don’t have my phone with me.

44

59

50

31

22

45

44

I have a fear of missing out if I am unplugged.

37

46

39

28

23

41

33

It’s unrealistic to unplug for more than a few hours at a time.

37

45

36

29

32

39

34

It’s difficult to unplug because my business never sleeps.

27

40

35

12

8

35

20

I’ve been told that I should unplug more often.

27

41

31

13

10

33

21

I make an announcement on social media when I’m going to be unplugged.

17

29

19

5

9

24

12

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between January 13 and 18, 2016 among 2,193 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #14, February 25, 2016

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

 

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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