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Episode 16: Digital detoxing with Martin Talks

Our phones, tablets, and laptops are wonders of connectivity, information, and endless entertainment. But there’s a downside to these modern miracles—they can pull us away from real human interaction. Today on the podcast, Martin Talks introduces us to Digital Detoxing. Talks outlines several practical ways to bring balance back to our tech-dependent lives. It’s not anti-technology—it’s a way of reconnecting with people so we don’t lose ourselves in our gadgets.

Featured in this episode:

Don't miss Martin Talks at Relate Live NYC, October 23rd-25th, 2017. He'll be presenting “Emotional Intelligence in a time of Artificial Intelligence” on Monday, October 23rd.


TAMARA STANNERS: It's the end of another busy day and you feel frazzled, like you just haven't been able to get everything done that you wanted to. You're tired but you're still kind of wired. You can't quite fall asleep. So you pick up your phone to make a to-do list for tomorrow and you notice you've got a notification on the phone. You see that you've got a new like on one of your posts so you check the feed. It has 10 shares. What? So you feel this blast of dopamine as you write the followup post and then you notice that there's a new single out from that band you love. You have to make a note of the tour dates and then you decide to send out that email reminder so that your friends don't forget about it. And then the next thing you know it's 3:00 in the morning and your eyes are bleary and they're burning from the glow of the screen. You're no further ahead on tomorrow's to-do list then when you started. Let's face it. You might be addicted to technology and that's what's happening on Relate this week.

I'm Tamara Stanners and this is Relate by Zendesk. It's a show about relationships which can be complicated. Your relationship to technology is one of the more complicated ones out there.

ANDY SHEPPARD: I love my phone.

TAMARA STANNERS: I know you do.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Don't take away my phone.

TAMARA STANNERS: I love my phone. Pathetic. That's Andy Sheppard and he's here to introduce you to digital detoxing.

ANDY SHEPPARD: I am, but first let me just check my social feed. I just wanna see what's going on.

TAMARA STANNERS: Stop that. It's digital detoxing.

ANDY SHEPPARD: I know. I know. I know we have to go cold turkey, don't we? So that scenario that you described at the top of the show.


ANDY SHEPPARD: It's not really a stretch, is it, right?

TAMARA STANNERS: No. I do it all the time.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah and I think part of the dependence that we all have on our phones and our computers and our tablets, it's because they can do so much. Right? They're really amazing gadgets.

TAMARA STANNERS: Incredible and they've brought us so much, right? Joy, knowledge, all of that, but there is a downside.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, part of it is the fact that a lot of the software that we use on them is designed to keep you engaged by tweaking your attention, giving you that little hit of dopamine, that pleasure neurochemical when you see something you like. It's also that it becomes hard to navigate the modern world without one of these devices. We're tethered to them now.

TAMARA STANNERS: Yeah. So now that we're addicted, what do we do about it?

ANDY SHEPPARD: I don't have the answers but I talked to someone who's got a pretty good idea of how to stay human in this sea of tech that we're all floating in.

MARTIN TALKS: My name's Martin Talks and I run an organization called Digital Detoxing.

TAMARA STANNERS: So are we talking like drug rehab here?

ANDY SHEPPARD: No, it's more like finding a healthier balance with technology.

MARTIN TALKS: What we do is build positive cultures for the digital age. Part of what we do is take people away on digital detoxing adventures, so we take away their technology. But it's not an anti-technology organization. We're just trying to make sure when technology and people come together that it's a positive result. People are looking at their phones increasingly. Over 150 times a day I think is widely quoted although a lot of other people will tell you it's a lot more than that. I think there's generally a feeling that we're not always present in the moment where we are and we've got half an eye somewhere else. Perhaps to watch what's going on with friends, family, or often complete strangers actually. So, yeah, it presents a considerable challenge getting that balance right between resorting to our technology for answers to problems and actually using maybe more of our creative skills.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, so he's trying to find ways to mitigate this dependence. I heard him say something about digital detoxing adventures. I wanna know what those are. ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, Martin Talks believes that there has to be more to it than just going cold turkey with your devices. It's gotta be a positive experience otherwise it's not gonna work.

MARTIN TALKS: What we're trying to achieve is, and I think sometimes technology can affect, is our ability to sort of connect with the world around us, connect with the people around us and, indeed, connect with ourselves sometimes. The adventure, in a way, is this adventure into a world without having your phone.

We often go to somewhere of some natural beauty or some sort of wilderness feel to it. We take away people's technologies and then we go through a series of exercises to explore, maybe, areas of our lives that have become rather neglected through technology, such as appreciation of nature. Maybe practicing some sort of artistic or practical skill and engage in the art of real face-to-face conversation. We try basically a series of activities and we're all throwing a lot of fun in that as well, maybe some sort of activity like canyoning or canoeing or something. We're trying to get people to explore these experiences outside the digital bubble.

TAMARA STANNERS: So, I'm so curious. What happens when people have their devices ripped from their hands?

ANDY SHEPPARD: As you can imagine, it's not easy.

MARTIN TALKS: You take away people's phones and that is [inaudible 00:05:58] people ar every reluctant to hand them over. There's always some vital reason why they need to have access to it. People go through a sort of range of emotions I'd say from the sort of panic to sort of fear to some sort of emotional regret. You name it. People go through it.

We tend to go away for two or three nights. We take people away for that sort of period of time and it's by the second day people are beginning to relax and by the third day they've completely relaxed. They're not feeling the stress or pressure of expecting a message or feeling they have to post something about where they are. A lot of people who've been on these experiences describe them as a deep breath of fresh air. They're able to just relax, just breathe without that sort of pressure. By the end, there's some reluctant to even take their phones back. One of the things we ask people to do at the end of their adventure is actually write themselves a letter saying what they experienced, what they felt, and maybe what they wanna resolve to do slightly differently in their daily lives and their relationship with technology going forward. I post those letters to them three months later just to give them a reminder of how they felt at that moment.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay. So they write themselves letters on paper with pens and put them in the mail?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yep. It's old school so you get that slow motion pleasure of an envelope arriving in your physical mailbox.

TAMARA STANNERS: Remember how much fun it was to get those?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah, I know. But the things is we're only getting more and more integrated with our technology, right?

TAMARA STANNERS: Yeah, it is harder and harder to live without. We use it for everything.

ANDY SHEPPARD: So how do we disconnect when the world is becoming connected like this?

MARTIN TALKS: I think this is a very good question and I think it's a very good question for us all to be asking at this moment in human history. We can still turn off our smartphones but with us being increasingly surrounded and, maybe even in due course, being embedded with technology it's gonna be harder perhaps to find the off switch. As we increasingly become reliant on it and it shapes the world around us so that, you can say, that when we walk out of our door there's a car waiting for us for instance. 'Cause it knows we want to go somewhere and it's already waiting for us. When we turn up to work, the gates are open automatically for us. All our emails are already downloaded before we get to our desk and our coffee's made. All we have to do is drink our coffee and go home. It all sounds rather marvelous, doesn't it? Or does it? I don't know. So I think as technology becomes more and more a part of life, it's harder for us to disconnect. So, yeah, I think there are a lot of challenges but these are the sort of questions we need to be asking ourselves now, as I say, while we still can find the off switch.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay, so if there isn't an intervention to take you off on this deviceless adventure, how do people disconnect on their own? How do they find the off switch in their own lives?

ANDY SHEPPARD: Well, Martin's got a few simple tips that anybody can apply right away. He says they make a big difference.

MARTIN TALKS: Well, the first thing I often say to people is, "Buy yourself an alarm clock." Keep the technology out of the bedroom because people who have their phone next to their bed, use it as an alarm clock, it's always on, tend to get tempted to look at it right up to when they go to sleep. Maybe even in the middle of the night. That brings the risk of, oh you see this alert, you see that alert, and suddenly you've disappeared into the wormhole of social media for the last half hour. So, yeah, get yourself a watch as well. Perhaps not a smartwatch. And secondly, do take the opportunity to take breaks from technology. Not just adventure weekends but during the day. Maybe when you're having lunch or having dinner with your family, having drinks with your friends, do that thing called phone stack. Stack your phone sin the middle of the table. First one who reaches for their phone to see what that alert is or to post that picture has to buy the next round. That'll encourage people not to sort of trying to make that perfect image of themselves at their drinks party and post that on social media.

I will say I do think there are challenges for us all. Including myself because I'm interested by the new technologies. I think they can strengthen relationships as well as weaken them.

TAMARA STANNERS: Som really it seems like a lot of this is about maintaining our physical human connection to other people.

ANDY SHEPPARD: Yeah. Humans evolved over the millennia to operate in close net social groups, face to face. Digital technology as we said before, it gives us so much but it can't replace a handshake or a hug or a punch in the arm, at least not yet.

MARTIN TALKS: Exactly. We've gotta be more human. I guess just sort of reflecting on what that means and why have humans been so successful around the world is our ability to form relationships, to form groups, societies, in a way that most other organisms find it hard to do. We shouldn't lose that ability by outsourcing our relationships entirely to technology. They can definitely help, but we've gotta maintain that element of being a human I believe.

TAMARA STANNERS: Okay. I'm convinced. Here's my phone. I'm going to the park. Wait, I need it back. Give it back. I might get lost.

So, Martin Talks is one of the speakers at the upcoming Relate Live New York, which is happening October 23rd-25th. If you wanna hear more of his digital detoxing tips in person, you can sign up for the conference and Relate podcast listeners get a $200 discount when they signup at and use the promo code podcast. We have so many great speakers coming including author John Ronson, Damon John from Shark Tank, and Dory Rosenberg from Facebook. That among many other thought leaders who can help you take your customer service to new heights. Again, that's Relate Live New York, October 23rd-25th. Visit and enter the promo code podcast.

And that's it for Relate this week. Next week , we have a story for you about one man’s attempt to engineer a bromance using science. Will it work? Well, subscribe to Relate to find out. You can get it on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. For more articles on connecting to your customers in deeper ways, visit If you wanna explore technology built to improve your customer interactions, head over to for a free trial.

I'm Tamara Stanners. Talk to you soon.