Why 2016 is shaping up to be the year of digital burnout

As digital technology infiltrates more and more of our lives, people are seeking out less frenetic, more tactile experiences

burning laptop

(Soren Hald/Getty)

In 2015, a number of disparate trends gathered steam that, taken collectively, add up to evidence of a growing fatigue with all things digital. It’s a movement that I believe will accelerate in 2016.

First up, a number of big news organizations—including Vice’s Motherboard, Bloomberg and the Toronto Star–continued to ditch their reader comment sections.

Each outlet justified the move by pointing out that such conversations were already taking place on social media, so duplication was unnecessary. But it’s hard to ignore the underlying tone that none of them were placing much value on those communications in the first place.

And yet, Twitter—one of the supposed beneficiaries of these comment-section culls—had a terrible year. While the social media company finally managed to turn a profit and saw its revenue climb nicely, its user growth fell off a cliff—and so too, as a result, did its share price.

There is growing evidence that Twitter—currently used by only a quarter of online Americans—has peaked. Despite heavily influencing other, traditional media, it is increasingly looking like something the mainstream isn’t interested in.

Is there a link between news organizations ditching comments and Twitter’s inability to break through to the masses? I think so. We may finally have reached a point of realization that the majority of people just don’t want to spend their free time talking to strangers online.

Similarly, one other factor to consider in the case of growing digital fatigue is the rebound in print book sales in 2015, not to mention the unexpected buoyancy of independent bookstores.

Some commentators have pooh-poohed the book sales figures because they include a one-time spike supposedly driven by weirdly popular adult colouring books, but it’s equally possible that people are purposely choosing to tune out of digital devices when they want some thoughtful leisure time.

There are many reasons why e-books are better than their print counterparts, but there’s also one big way in which they aren’t—they require screens, which many people otherwise look at all day.

Even that weird popularity of adult colouring books hints at this. What better example could there be of people looking for stimulus that doesn’t involve a screen?

For a few years there, we were all drunk on digital wine. But the hangover is ending and sobriety is returning. In 2016, we’re going to find more ways to unplug when it comes to our leisure time.