Unplugged: 60% of Us Almost Never Are

“It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” – Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Twenty years ago, the term “unplugged” may have been in reference to the popular MTV acoustical show. Today, it is a nearly unheard-of concept for consumers, who are owners and users of a multitude of digital devices we never even imagined in 1994 – let alone in Einstein’s days.

Here are some quick stats on the prevalence of digital device ownership and user behaviors from a few of CivicScience’s syndicated polling questions*:

  • 64% of consumers say they use a smartphone (out of 116,590 respondents from 7/25/2013 to 7/25/2014)
  • 43% of consumers say they own a tablet computer (out of 81,293 respondents from 7/25/2013 to 7/25/2014)
  • 28% of consumers say they own an e-reader (out of 75,883 respondents from 7/25/2013 to 7/25/2014)
  • 52% of consumers watch 2 or more hours of TV per day; 22% watch 4 or more hours per day (out of 80,254 respondents from 7/25/2013 to 7/25/2014)
  • 47% of consumers are also using a second screen device while watching TV (out of 18,861 respondents from 5/21/2014 to 7/25/2014). See our recent report on second screen behaviors.

So with all of this convenient technology surrounding us and strapped to us, are we willing to unplug? Turns out, we’re not. We launched a poll question on July 7, 2014, asking people how often they unplug from such devices, and we collected 8,718 responses as of July 24, 2014.

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Turns out that 43% of consumers say they “Never!” unplug and another 17% say they do so only a few times a year. This correlates well with another question of ours that asks people if they are addicted to their digital devices: 67% of those who said yes they are addicted also say they never unplug.

What is surprising is that 20% of respondents say they manage to unplug daily and another 10% do so a few times a week. Who are these unpluggers, and who can’t bear the thought?

We dug in:

  • We did not find any notable gender differences in consumers’ responses.
  • There were also no major income differences, other than among those who unplug a few times a week, their households are more likely to earn between $50K-$75K per year.
  • When it comes to age, 18-24 year-olds are most likely at 53% to say “Never!”  And 23% of 18-44 year-olds say they unplug “A few times a year.” But unplugging isn’t just for grandma and grandpa: Those under age 18 are almost just as likely as those 55+ years old to unplug daily (24% vs. 27%).
  • Based on race, those who categorize themselves as Asian or Pacific Islanders are by far most likely to say “Never!” at 71% while all other races are under 45% for this answer. Aleut Eskimos are the largest group to unplug daily, at 39%.
  • Those in computer or technical occupations and those in professional/managerial roles are the lowest groups to unplug daily (only 23% of both say this), but those in service roles such as firefighters, wait staff, child care, etc. and those in sales roles are the highest groups to say they never unplug (55% and 49% respectively).
  • Smartphone ownership has some effect: Its owners are 34% more likely than non-smartphone owners to say they “Never!” unplug.
  • Those who play video games weekly are much more likely to unplug monthly or once a week than other video gamers (or non gamers).
  • People who say they are “Very Unhappy” are 93% more likely to say they never unplug than very unhappy people who unplug daily. People who are “Unhappy” are over 300% more likely to say they never unplug than the unhappy people who unplug daily.
  • Those who are most passionate about Movies and TV are more likely to say they never unplug vs. those passionate about other interests, such as fashion, sports, and music. Those passionate about Travel are most likely to say they unplug daily.
  • People who unplug once a week are more likely to exercise the most often (57% said they exercise several times a week).
  • Those who unplug daily are least likely to have trouble falling asleep at night.

So unplugging seems to correlate with happiness levels, exercise, travel, and a good night’s sleep more than it does to demographic attributes of consumers. What is promising is that the under 18 demo group seems to be more willing to unplug with greater frequency – although this could be more related to device ownership and accessibility than personal insight.

I am not sure that technology has exceeded humanity… and neither do others. It has of course brought many benefits. But in the spirit of balance, it may not be a bad thing to leave the device at home for an evening out.

 

*Weighted for U.S. census representativeness for gender and age, 13 years and older.