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A digital detox helped two volunteers to see life – and the stars – more clearly

The average UK adult now spends almost 9 hours a day glued to their screens – more time than we spend sleeping! (1)

Checking their phone up to 150 times a day, the average smartphone owner now racks up 1.72 hours per day on social media alone. Yet heavy use of social media has been linked to anxiety, depression, and feelings of low self-esteem. (2)

It’s no surprise then, that so-called digital detoxes are becoming popular – especially among young people. (3) For some, an ICS placement can be a chance to ‘un-plug’, while making a tangible impact to a community.

Caitlin and Mike completed ICS with Raleigh last year, where they volunteered in a remote community in northern Nicaragua - with no access to electricity.

“I feel we were really lucky,” Mike says, “with our community being so remote. There really was no connection to the outside world at all. We had the opportunity to really switch off and disconnect.”

Infographic summarises stats used previously
Sources: Time to Log Off: Digital Detox Facts

Real life connections

Being off-the-grid allowed the young volunteers to build even stronger relationships with the community.

“In the evenings, there was no TV to watch, so we would spend time with our host families. There was a big focus on food, and eating together. Afterwards everyone would gather in the kitchen, where there would be some light from the fire, and we would just talk.”

The group gathers round the fire to talk
Gathering round the fire to talk was a favourite activity

No distractions

Caitlin gained a greater appreciation for having fun without technology.

“Something as simple as sitting around playing cards and chatting, is such a lovely way to spend time, but not something I would have thought of suggesting before ICS.”

She remembers epic discussions without relying on Google, and the sense of achievement the group had from working to remember all the countries in the world, continent by continent.

“Technology makes the brain lazy if you become too dependent,” she says, ‘Now I prefer to use it as a last resort rather than just a reflex.

Being completely cut off did lead to some surprises - both recall their shock at finding out Donald Trump had won the US election!

Less dependent

While embracing their digital detox however, the group were very aware of the difficulties faced by the community. Children in their host family often had to complete their homework by head-torch, while Caitlin’s host mother struggled to study for her university degree without access to the internet.

Since returning to the UK, both say their habits have changed.

Caitlin and Mike's ICS team explore their local area
Exploring the local area with the rest of the ICS team.

Mike says he now reads before bed, where before he would have watched television.

Caitlin says she’s become slightly less tolerant of friends checking their phones over dinner – ‘I struggle now to see why a message just can’t wait a while… I suppose it's helped me prioritise my attention in social situations.”

She sums up her attitude to technology now as having become “more appreciative, but less dependent.”

Stars shine brighter

Asked for a standout memory of his experience on placement, Mike says:

“I’d heard a lot beforehand about stars being brighter away from the cities. Still, I had no idea how much of a difference it made. For the first few nights we all just gathered together and lay awake looking up at the stars, wondering about the constellations.”

A beautiful night sky, captured by an ICS volunteer in Cambodia
Another ICS volunteer, this time in Cambodia, took this amazing photo of the night sky!

Caitlin and Mike took part in a Raleigh ICS placement in Nicaragua, raising awareness of hygiene and sanitation best practice, and installing eco-latrines and water filters.

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ICS is funded by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), which projects the UK as a force for good in the world, including reducing poverty and tackling global challenges.

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