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Among the 25-45 age group, popular unplugged activities include nature activities, sports and exercise, reading physical books, cooking, vacationing, and playing board games. Among the 45+ age group, popular unplugged activities include vacationing, having quiet time/”me” time, spending time with family, connecting with their spirituality/religion, focusing on work, gardening and reading.
During COVID-19, there was an increased awareness among people that unplugging was necessary and important, however, doing so successfully appears to have been a constant challenge due to the need to be connected most of the time as a means of survival during the lockdown. Despite this, many people were engaging with the following unplugged activities during the lockdown: gardening, DIY/hobbies/crafts, exercise, and focusing on self-care and mental well being.
The following barriers to unplugging have also been identified as part of this research: the need to work, technology addiction, fear of missing out, not enough time, and anxiety caused by unplugging. A deep dive of these collective findings has been presented below.

25-45-Year-Olds: Millennials

Outdoors/Nature Activities:

  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that outdoors/nature activities were ranked as the number one most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged. Under this category, hiking was ranked as the most popular activity, along with walking (ranked second), and going to the beach (ranked third).
  • A survey that asked millennials about their views of the Adirondacks (a wilderness area in upstate New York), found that 86% saw it as a place where they could get away and unplug.
  • Another survey of millennials found that 82% reported being interested or extremely interested in the outdoors. One reason that this activity is so popular may be due to how millennials relate to nature, with 94% of those surveyed reporting they feel a responsibility towards the environment. Millennials have also reported that they love the beauty that nature provides, along with the feeling of being in an open space.
  • Millennials are more likely than the general public overall to spend time outside each week and consider themselves to be “outdoorsy”. Aside from hiking and going to the beach, the other favorite activities of millennials when it comes to the outdoors are as follows: running, marathon participation, surfing, snowboarding, yoga, playing sports, and participating in obstacle races.
  • Camping is another popular outdoor activity among millennials and the majority prefer to be disconnected while doing so, even more so than older generations. They see this as an expectation as part of the camping experience.
  • Hospitality industry providers that cater to millennials looking for a digital detox often provide outdoor experiences, such as forest bathing.

Sports & Exercise:

  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that playing sports ranked as the second most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged.
  • Millennials are more likely than Baby Boomers to report playing sports with friends and family (43%), go swimming (39%), or take recreational classes (22%). Likewise, the cohort is twice as likely as Gen X to participate in adult team sports.
  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that exercise ranked as the fourth most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged.
  • Hospitality industry providers that cater to millennials looking for a digital detox often provide exercise activities, such as yoga.
  • A BLS time use survey found that millennials on average spend 18 minutes a day participating in sports and exercise. The survey found that 21% of millennials do this unplugged activity in a given day.

Reading:

  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that reading ranked as the third most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged.
  • In alignment with this, it would seem this age group prefers to read physical books as opposed to digital, which heightens the unplugged nature of this activity.
  • Millennials are the generation most likely to visit the public library, with 50% of those between the ages of 18 and 35 saying they went to the public library often in the past year (this does not include the library at school/college).
  • A BLS time use survey found that millennials on average spend 7 minutes a day reading for personal interest. The survey found that 10.7% of millennials do this unplugged activity in a given day.

Cooking / Dining:

  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that playing games ranked as the fifth most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged.
  • Hospitality industry providers that cater to millennials looking for a digital detox often provide cooking classes.
  • A BLS time use survey found that millennials on average spend 33 minutes a day doing food preparation activities. The survey found that 56.6% of millennials do this unplugged activity in a given day.

Traveling / Vacationing:

  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that traveling ranked as the sixth most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged.
  • “A recent survey of 1,004 Millennials (aged 23-38) living in the U.S., conducted by Kelton Global on behalf of Mazda, revealed that if given free time, they would most like to hit the road for a trip, with 39 percent of respondents saying they would head out for a driving adventure. That is 50 percent more Millennials than those who would choose to be a homebody for the weekend to binge content — only 26 percent. […] Driving not only allows Millennials to disconnect, but also provides an opportunity to reconnect with their travel companions.”
  • Likewise, millennials are more likely than Gen X to say they unplug while vacationing, with 49% of millennials saying they are willing to do so. Key motivations for doing so were reported to be having a more enjoyable experience, feeling less stressed, and able to better absorb their surroundings.

Playing Games:

  • A survey of 1,000 millennials found that playing games ranked as the seventh most popular activity the cohort likes to engage in while unplugged.
  • A BLS time use survey found that millennials on average spend 21 minutes a day playing games, in addition to 14 minutes a day playing with children in the household doing non-sports activities. The survey found that 13% and 12.2% of millennials, respectively, do these activities in a given day.
  • In recent years, there has been a revival of board game playing among millennials. “Millenials are more likely to purchase board games with an emphasis on strategy and cooperation over conflict and chance, according to Euromonitor International, which tracks sales of different types of games. These games produced a record-breaking $9.6 billion in sales in 2016, and sales continue to rise.”
  • According to insights published by MHT Partners, the board game market is expected to grow 20% CAGR, largely driven by a growing interest among millennials. Tara Smitha and Patrick Crocker of MHT write, “Millennials are turning to traditional cards, dice, and game boards, seeking in-person social experiences that their phones and laptops cannot provide.”

45+ Year-Olds: Including Gen X, Baby Boomers & Older

Traveling/Vacationing:

  • Baby Boomers are the generation most likely to disconnect from technology while vacationing. Although the vast majority (54%-92%) take their smartphone on vacation with them, they are primarily using them as a way of taking photos or to quickly check their email, but aside from this, they are not driven to remain connected overall while on vacation.
  • 57% of Baby Boomers surveyed said they don’t think it’s important to stay connected to work while they are traveling/on vacation. For those that do, they say they spend only 10% of their time off of work.

Enjoying Quiet Time / “Me” Time / Relieving Stress:

  • Among those surveyed, 47% of Gen-X, 67% of Baby Boomers and 71% of Matures (70+) say they unplug so that they can have quiet time, while 45%, 48%, and 41% respectively say they do it to get in “me” time. Likewise, 34%, 31%, and 30% say they do it to relieve stress. Similarly, relaxing and resting is ranked as the fourth most favorite activity to do among those who make an attempt to unplug.
  • A BLS time use survey found that nonmillennials (i.e. those older than millennials) spend an average of 25.8 minutes per day relaxing and thinking (not engaged with technology or other leisure activities). The survey found that 23.1% of nonmillennials engage in this activity in a given day.
  • As the rates of anxiety have been increasing among baby boomers, experts say that it’s important for the generation to relax in order to reduce the effects of stress.

Spending Quality Time with Family:

  • Among those surveyed, 58% of Gen-X, 44% of Baby Boomers and 49% of Matures (70+) say they unplug so that they can spend quality time with their family. Similarly, 38%, 29% and 21% respectively say they do so to be more present in the moment. Likewise, spending time with family is ranked as the second most favorite activity to do among those who make an attempt to unplug.
  • A BLS time use survey found that nonmillennials (i.e. those older than millennials) spend an average of 25 minutes per day caring for and helping other members of their household. The survey found that 21.9% of nonmillennials engage in this activity in a given day.
  • Likewise, 62% of Gen X, 53% of Baby Boomers and 53% of Matures (age 70+) say they wish their family members would also unplug more often.

Connecting with Spiritual Beliefs:

  • Among those surveyed, 18% of Gen-X, 20% of Baby Boomers and 20% of Matures (70+) say they unplug so that they can connect better with their spirituality.
  • A BLS time use survey found that nonmillennials (i.e. those older than millennials) spend an average of 10 minutes per day on religious and spiritual activity. The survey found that 11.3% of nonmillennials engage in this activity in a given day.
  • 59% of Baby Boomer say religion is very important to them while 24% say its somewhat important. Additionally, 38% attend religious services at least once a week, while 33% attend once or twice a month. A majority of Baby Boomers pray on a daily basis (61%), while 16% pray weekly. Likewise, 45% of Baby Boomers engage in meditation on a weekly basis, while 8% do so once or twice a month.

Getting Work Done:

  • Among those surveyed, 34% of Gen-X, 36% of Baby Boomers and 53% of Matures (70+) say they unplug so that they can focus on getting work done. Similarly, 36%, 40% and 30% respectively say they do so to eliminate distractions.
  • A BLS time use survey found that nonmillennials (i.e. those older than millennials) spend an average of 3 hours and 32 minutes per day on work and work related activities. The survey found that 42.6% of nonmillennials engage in this activity in a given day.
  • “The majority of Baby Boomers (U.S. adults born 1946 to 1964) are still in the labor force, and the oldest among them are staying in the labor force at the highest annual rate for people their age in more than half a century. In 2018, 29% of Boomers ages 65 to 72 were working or looking for work, outpacing the labor market engagement of the Silent Generation (21%) and the Greatest Generation (19%) when they were the same age, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of official labor force data.”

Gardening & Yard Work:

  • According to a BLS time use survey, nonmillennials (i.e. those older than millennials) spend an average of 15 minutes a day on lawn and garden care, and 12.5% of nonmillennials are engaged in this activity on a given day. Similarly, gardening and yard work is ranked as the fifth most favorite activity to do among individuals surveyed who say they make an attempt to unplug.
  • Baby Boomers are the highest spenders in the gardening category. Within this generation, 40% say they garden as a way to relax/for leisure. Meanwhile, 22% of the Silent Generation report gardening in their spare time.

Reading:

  • According to a BLS time use survey, nonmillennials (i.e. those older than millennials) spend an average of 22 minutes a day reading for personal interest, and 23.8% of nonmillennials are engaged in this activity on a given day. Similarly, reading is ranked as the number one most favorite activity to do among individuals surveyed who say they make an attempt to unplug.
  • A separate survey found that 29% of baby boomers read in their spare time. Baby Boomers appear to be reading physical books frequently, with 64% saying they read print books. Similarly, 43% of the generation saying they visit bookmobiles and libraries within the past year.

Barriers to Unplugging

Needing to Work:

  • According to insights collecting during a SimplyHired survey, Millennials are struggling to leave work at work / stop thinking about work after they are done for the day, and this is largely due to mobile technology. This appears to be easier for the Baby Boomer generation, as 58% said it wasn’t difficult for them to transition from work to home, while only 36.2% of Millennials said the same.
  • “The digital tools designed to make people more productive also distract them and make them less able to disconnect from work. A GoTo study released in June found that the 2,000 office employees polled are ‘toggling between work and personal topics on any one of the hundreds of apps and devices they use.'”
  • The issue of unplugging from work is especially pertinent among the rapidly growing remote workforce. A survey of remote workers found that 40% say unplugging after work is their biggest remote work pain point.
  • Likewise, 27% of survey respondents to a survey said that “It’s difficult to unplug because my business never sleeps.” This was also true for 40% of millennials, 35% of Gen X, 12% of Baby Boomers and 8% of Matures (70+).

Technology Addiction:

Millennials are prone to being addicted to their mobile phones, primarily due to the fact that they have had them for the majority of their lives, if not for their whole lives.

  • 50% of Millennials and Gen Z say they are addicted to their smartphones, and 80% say their phone is always nearby. Additionally, 70% say most of their day consists of them looking at a screen.
  • Likewise, 27% of survey respondents say they that they have been told they should unplug more often. This was also true for 29% of millennials, 19% of Gen X, 5% of Baby Boomers, and 9% of Matures (70+).

Fear of Missing Out:

  • Among survey respondents, 37% say they are afraid they will miss out if they are unplugged. This was also true for 46% of millennials, 39% of Gen X, 28% of Baby Boomers, and 23% of Matures (70+).
  • Several years ago, MyLife.com conducted a survey which found that 56% of people are afraid of missing out if they unplug from their social media. They are afraid of missing out on things like events, news, important posts, and updates.
  • A study of 900 Canadians found that 38% could not give up social media due to their fear of missing out.
  • “Some doctors even believe that the combination of FOMO (fear of missing out) with the speed of social media can actually be impacting our brains at the neurological level. After the initial stimulation digital media can provide, the brain adapts quickly and continually seeks out the novelty of new information it can provide, placing us at a self-imposed state of stress that’s hard to break.”

Not Enough Time:

  • Among survey respondents, 37% of those surveyed said it’s unrealistic to unplug for more than a few hours at a time. This was true for 45% of millennials, 35% of Gen X, 29% of Baby Boomers, and 32% of Matures (70+).
  • Survey have found that some people “rely so heavily on technology that they wouldn’t be able to take a break even if they really needed to; 31% of respondents said they would be unlikely to be able to unplug from internet-connected devices for a week-long vacation.

Unplugging Causes Anxiety:

  • Among survey respondents, 44% said they get anxious if they don’t have their phone with them. This was also true for 59% of millennials, 50% of Gen X, 31% of Baby Boomers, and 22% of Matures (70+).
  • Data published in 2020 shows that 28% of people surveyed say they somewhat agree that they feel anxious without their phones, while 16% say they strongly agree.
  • A study of people in Briton found that “60% of 18 to 24-year-olds and 25 to 34-year-olds say they’d be anxious about not being able to communicate with family and friends without their phone, compared to only a third (34%) of those aged 55 and over. […] One in nine smartphone users (11%) would be nervous about being ‘disconnected from my online identity’ if they went without their phones for a day. This rises to one in five (19%) among 18 to 24-year-olds and one in six (16%) 25 to 34-year-olds.”

Trends: Unplugged Activities During COVID-19

1. Need to Unplug Increases During COVID-19 As Use of Technology Significantly Increases

  • As a result of working from home during the pandemic, 37% reported working longer hours, with 17% saying they are working more than 10 extra hours each week. This increased time spent with remote work technologies could signal an increased need to unplug
  • Data published in May 2020 found that 32% of Americans say they unplug from all their devices in order to clear their mind and unwind after their day.
  • Many employees reported feeling burned out as a result of remote working during COVID-19 and acknowledge the need to disconnect as a result. One person stated: “I, for one, feel burned out by constant meetings all day, so having Saturday and Sunday without them feels like a real break to me.” Another person stated: “I often have to respond to emails at odd hours because I have small kids at home. But setting a period of time where you’re not allowed to work or check your work email, that is carved out for yourself, is key for recharging.”
  • Psychologists stated that the pandemic was becoming a regular topic of discussion with their patients, which some experts have said is tied to an over consumption of COVID related news and updates. These experts note that while it’s important for people to stay informed, they also need to find time to unplug.
  • Although it’s clear that experts and the public understood the need to unplug during the pandemic, many Americans likely felt it was difficult to do so effectively, given that 53% said the internet was an essential part of surviving the outbreak. In fact, data on internet usage shows that people were plugging in more often than before the pandemic, with a 25% increase in internet usage only a few days into the lockdown.
  • During the pandemic, 49% of Americans said they were spending more time outdoors, with Americans spending an average of two hours a day outside.

2. Gardening

  • Studies show that 55% of American adults were gardening or engaging in lawn care during COVID-19, with another 20% saying they were planning to. Keeping busy and reducing their stress levels were key motivators to get involved with this trend.
  • During COVID-19 Americans who were involved in gardening said they were spending an average of four hours a week doing so.
  • A time-use study of people in the U.K. found an increase in the amount of time people are spending on gardening during COVID-19.
  • A survey of fathers in the U.K. found that 49% of fathers reported spending more time gardening with their children during COVID-19.
  • 28% of British parents surveyed said that their family has taken up gardening as an activity they can do together.
  • 42% of British people surveyed said they have turned to gardening to help deal with the COVID-19 lockdown.
  • According to insights published by Reuters, “People around the world are turning to gardening as a soothing, family friendly hobby that also eases concerns over food security as lock downs slow the harvesting and distribution of some crops. Fruit and vegetable seed sales are jumping worldwide.”

3. DIY & Hobbies / Crafts

  • 65% of Americans have reported feeling more inspired to do DIY projects as a result of staying home during the pandemic.
  • Americans in the creative community felt inspired to produce things that could help fight the pandemic (73%), with reported upticks in the number of sewing machines and fabrics being sold for making masks.
  • A time-use study of people in the U.K. found an increase in the amount of time people are spending on DIY projects during COVID-19.
  • A survey of fathers in the U.K. found that 48% of fathers reported spending more time doing DIY projects with their children during COVID-19.
  • 31% of parents surveyed said they taught their children their hobby during lockdown.
  • A survey of people in Briton found that 32% are using the extra time in COVID-19 to do DIY tasks.

4. Exercise

  • 11% of men and 18% of women in the U.S. said their exercise routines improved during COVID-19, while the same is true for 17% of those in the 18-34 age group, 14% of those in the 35-54 age group, and 13% of those in the 55+ age group.
  • During COVID-19, 82% of Americans said they were exercising the same or more while working remotely at home.
  • A time-use study of people in the U.K. found an increase in the amount of time people are spending on keeping fit during COVID-19.
  • A survey of fathers in the U.K. found that 46% of fathers reported spending more time exercising/being active their children during COVID-19.
  • 52% of Britons surveyed said they are using exercise to help them cope with COVID-19 conditions. “There are also indications that some people might be exercising more than before, with separate Ipsos Mori polling finding that a quarter (25%) have upped their activity levels since restrictions were imposed.”
  • 37% of parents surveyed said they have played with their children more during lockdown.
  • “Cycling is also proving to be a popular family activity [in England], with 18% of those who are cycling, doing so with children in their household. ​​While 20% of those doing home-based fitness online are doing it with children in their household.”
  • Many parents in Britain surveyed said that the additional time provided by the lockdown has enabled them to spend more time exercising with their children.

5. Focusing on Self-Care and Well Being

  • A survey of over 3,000 consumers found that “60% of respondents are spending more time on self-care and mental-well being, with about six in 10 consumers (57%) saying they have started exercising.”
  • Consumers are increasing their focus on health as a result of the pandemic, as “50% of consumers said they’re shopping more health-consciously and will likely continue to do so.”
  • Compared to older generations, millennials are reporting feeling worse “across all measured mental and physical health dimensions” as a result of COVID-19. Baby boomers have remained the most mentally healthy during the pandemic, with 66% saying their mental health has not been affected.
  • “A poll of 2,000 Americans found half (50%) simply enjoy getting out in nature as a positive daily action for their mental health,” while 35% say they meditate.
TDM

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