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

Feb 25, 2016, 14:35 ET from The Harris Poll

NEW YORK, Feb. 25, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- 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. Full results of this study, including data tables, can be found here.

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:

  • The Internet (66% Millennials, 68% Gen Xers & 65% Baby Boomers vs. 42% Matures),
  • Email (62%, 64% & 58% vs. 28%), and
  • Text messages (57%, 56% & 57% vs. 42%).

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.

  • Mobile phones top Millennials' and Gen Xers' lists (61% & 53%, respectively), but Millennials have more difficulty letting go of them than any other generation (28% Baby Boomers, 17% Matures).
  • Baby Boomers find turning off the television (44%) to be the most difficult.
  • Matures, on the other hand, find it hardest to shut down their computers or laptops (58%).

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.

To see other recent Harris Polls, visit us at TheHarrisPoll.com.

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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. For more information, or to see other recent polls, please visit our new website, TheHarrisPoll.com.

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SOURCE The Harris Poll