Drawing the digital line: 5 trends we're seeing as consumers look to disconnect

April 10, 2014
4 min read

The ship set sail on a Thursday afternoon in mid-March. Sure, I was thrilled for the massive cruise ship to whisk me away toward sunshine in the Bahamas; after all, this was a never-ending, it-hurts-to-see-more-snow kind of winter. But as the vessel pulled away from its home dock in Jacksonville, FL, I surprised even myself with my level of excitement for a very simple seeming act: putting away my smartphone. The brochures in my stateroom had served as a friendly reminder that I wouldn’t have cell phone service at sea and that my money would be better spent on a Mai Tai than on five minutes of the equally costly Wi-Fi access onboard.

As I prepared for vacation I had known this would be the case, but I still felt an incredibly liberating sensation as I slid my iPhone off, knowing I would hear no beeping or ringing to draw me toward emails, texts, phone calls and social media for the next five days. Instead, I knew I would have that solid chunk of time to reconnect with and enjoy my equally disconnected family. This forced disconnection reminded me for ways to look for ways to unplug in everyday life. At home I often attempt to set aside time for technology-free enjoyment, but my plan are usually foiled by suddenly remembering to respond to an important email or by an inexplicable and dire urge to know what my seventh-grade friend is up to these days on Facebook.

I’m not alone in my desire—and in tandem, my unreliable capability—to switch off. Consumers everywhere are feeling overburdened by technology and while they’re not abandoning it entirely, they are looking for any help they can get in this area. This concept is growing so vast that Mintel forecasts “Drawing the Digital Line” to be one of the four largest consumer movements happening this year. We are certainly seeing some interesting encouragement to disconnect, even in unexpected places like the workplace and at athletic events:

  • A Philadelphia-based healthcare consultancy, Vynamic, has introduced a policy that requires employees not to send emails between the hours of 10pm and 6am during the week and at all on the weekends.
  • The Australian Olympic Committee banned athletes from using social media during the Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.
  • DoCoMo, of Japan, now offers an Android phone that stops users from texting while they are walking. The smartphone, equipped with a sensor to detect walking movement, stops people from using its features with a message saying “Using your smartphone while walking is dangerous. The phone senses you are walking. Please stop.” Users of the Android phone are able to turn off the safety mode in case of emergencies, but the phone also offers a compromise of either a five- or 10-second usage period when users tap one of two special buttons.
  • The UNICEF Tap Project has introduced a challenge wherein sponsors donate the equivalent of one day’s worth of clean drinking water to needy children for every 10 minutes users stay off their phones.
  • Brazilian beer brand Polar has created a Cell Phone Nullifier—a beer holder that stops any phone and internet connection within a 1.5-meter radius. The brand hopes that by preventing people from checking their phones they will pay more attention to their friends when out drinking.


In today’s day and age, your brand is most likely already communicating with consumers in some digital capacity or another, and as our collective love for—and dependence on—technology deepens, that mode of communication will only be underscored. But consider simultaneously encouraging your consumers to disconnect occasionally, during their daily lives when they don’t have access to a signal-blocking cruise ship. They surely won’t stay away from their smartphone for long, but they’re likely to appreciate your brand’s initiative.

Stacy is a consumer trends consultant at Mintel. She specializes in Inspire trends that will propel businesses forward and comes from a diverse background that includes CPG, agency, and marketing experience.

Stacy Glasgow
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