"It’s not a problem to call someone after an hour again, but it is a problem if you don’t know when to call or how to reach a person at all.” Michael Dettbarn

"It’s a paradox yes, but we think it’s a necessary evil." Michael Dettbarn

In today’s society we are more and more focused on technology. We’re online almost every minute, every day. When we go to bed we check the latest updates on our mobile devices or computers – and when we get up. To some people this digital overload is a bit too much. A Berlin-based start-up called ( OFFTIME ) wanted to do something about it. Michael Dettbarn: “We believe that too much information is harmful to our health and well-being. We want to help people to create time off.”

Michael’s companion came up with the idea about two years ago. “He had actually already taken off a year to get away from this constant connectedness, but when he came back, he noticed it wasn’t any better. He actually felt worse than before: everyone was even more connected, as mobile phones had become much more an everyday tool.” He wanted to do something about it.

Unplug yourself
Michael was drawn to this idea immediately: “I experienced these moments myself too. For instance when you sit in the subway. Earlier people would just sit there and talk or read a book. Now everyone is focused on his or her device. Or when you meet up with friends and they’re only looking at their mobile phones.” After Michael became a father he started thinking about this topic more seriously: “We’re getting distracted by technology in everyday life, how will that be in the future?”

They decided to found ( OFFTIME ) and develop an application you can use to unplug yourself. Michael: “It’s a pretty straightforward app. The only thing you have to do is select a timeframe, click a start button and then you’re off from the world. From communication, Internet and all that stuff – so you can completely concentrate on your work for example.”

Message back
This idea is not new. Michael: “It is not like we are inventing the wheel here.” He continues: “Apple for instance, developed a ‘do not disturb’ mode. But what we do is limit the app usage on your mobile phone. As a user you can still allow some things or persons to get through. You can add some exceptions and create profiles for different settings in everyday life. Therefore you don’t have to fear you’re missing out because the people who are important to you at that moment can still get through.”

Also different from other functions is that when you are in an ‘offtime’ mode, people receive a message when they can’t reach you. “Shortly afterwards they receive a text message, explaining to them you’re not available at the moment and for how long.” According to Michael this is crucial information: “You are also interfering with others when you are not available. By adding a bit of transparency, they can adapt to that. It’s not a problem to call someone after an hour again, but it is a problem if you don’t know when to call or how to reach a person at all.”

Digital detox
In the US this has already become a major trend – there it’s called ‘unplugging’ or ‘digital detox’. Michael: “Sometimes I have the feeling we are living in this kind of multitasking society – everyone expects we do everything at the same time and that we can cope with all these things, but as human beings, we’re not really made for multitasking.” He continues: ”It makes sense to have these moments of ‘off time’ because then we are far more productive.”

With the application you not only block the information coming at you, you can also prevent yourself from distractions. “We think it’s a bigger problem. It’s not just about information overload – stuff that is coming in. Very often you are also distracting yourself by surfing the web or by going on Facebook. This is something we have to get to as well, that is why we block apps using different levels of restrictions.”

The application is now in the ‘beta phase’ and about 200 people are trying it out at the moment. For now it will only be available on Android. But the ( OFFTIME ) crew has big plans: “We want to get to the whole problem and come up with a solution for every device.” To use a technical solution for getting away from technology sounds a bit like a paradox. Michael: “It’s a paradox yes, but we think it’s a necessary evil.’

Wouldn’t it just be easier to put away your phone if you don’t want to be disturbed? “Off course,” Michael replies, “if that works for you and you are strong enough, and your folks support yo – then off course switch of your phone. But in many cases I think it’s hard for people. And probably it’s training too – we can help with that.”

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