Lentis/Detoxing as a Social Phenomenon


Detoxification (link to wiki disambiguation page rejected by wikibooks) or detox is a word with many applications.  “Detoxing” as a verb gained popularity around the same time as “rehab” (see Google ngrams image), first appearing around the early 1970’s.[1]

Detoxing can be an addiction (link rejected in edits) treatment method or prevention program.  An individual experiences a reward as a result of a substance or behavior, a desire to re-experience the reward, influenced by psychological, social, and environmental factors.  Chronic use or exposure results in brain changes.  Detoxing, going “cold turkey,” rehab, or a period of eliminating use/exposure has been a common treatment method for addiction.[2]

While not yet recognized by the American Psychological Association as a form of addiction,[3] digital “addictions” are already widely treated by detoxing. Though Google’s ngrams suggests detoxing as a phenomenon came about primarily in the 1980s, the concept of seeking an escape from the technological world is much older. In Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, (1854) he writes: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life...I did not wish to live what was not life..”[4] Thoreau’s Walden is proof that where technology is present, there is often the desire for some to abstain from it.  Similarly, dieting and detoxing have become more closely associated as a way of measuring and controlling diet or “food addiction.” Clearly, some forms of detoxing have existed long in advance of the word, but new forms are on the rise.

Defining “detoxing” in various usages often requires direct reference to either addictive substances, addictive behaviors, or other “toxins.”  In recent decades, as the word “detoxing” has gained popularity, it is applied to increasingly diverse situations: everything from an individual (link: Detoxification_(alternative_medicine)) self-help lifestyle abstaining from certain substances to celebrity meditative retreats.  Detoxing can refer to removal of toxins or behaviors from a living organism, like a human body, or an environment, such as a wetland.  Depending on the application, scientific and social groups, different participants emerge. 

The appearance of the words "detox", "detoxing", "rehab" and "dieting"

Case Studies in DetoxingEdit

Heath DetoxingEdit

Health detoxing is a form of dieting that claims to facilitate toxin removal and promote weight loss.[5] Participants of health detoxing minimize chemicals ingested such as hormones, stimulants, depressant, pesticides and heavy metals. Health detoxing originated as a ritual process in ancient Roman, Greek, Native American and Indian cultures.[6] These cultures used saunas, fasting, herbs, and meditation as methods of toxin removal.

Whole30 DietEdit

Followers of this diet hope to gain the guide to “total health and food freedom.”[7] This diet eliminates added sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes, and dairy for 30 days.  The duration of this diet allows for individuals to “change their relationship with food” by understanding how certain food groups affect their daily life. Once the 30 days is over, slowly reintroducing some foods can identify food intolerances. The Whole30 website visitation demonstrates a following of over 2 million people.[8]

According to Fitness Magazine, the Whole30 program “improves energy, sleep, digestive issues, skin, joint pain/swelling, asthma, migraines, and biomarkers like blood pressure, cholesterol, and fasting blood sugar.”[9] Founder Melissa Hartwig also claims that 96% of participants lose weight on the program.

Although many blogs attest to the benefits of Whole30, there is little scientific evidence to legitimize these claims.[10] Without studies on the Whole30 diet, it is possible that some individuals do benefit in the way that is advertised. However, components of Whole30 eliminate foods that scientific studies have proven to negatively affect individuals. For example, it is agreed upon that added sugars are a major contributor to obesity and heart disease, and that Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is often linked to consumption of carbohydrates. Unstudied variables include whether 30 days is significant enough to decrease an individual's chances of contracting heart disease and IBS, and if individuals that continue with the Whole30 diet past the 30 days.

Blood Sugar Solution 10 Day DetoxEdit

Followers of the 10 Day Detox Diet hope to improve overall health and avoid disease forming habits.  Additional motivations include weight loss statistics from founder Dr. Hyman’s study of 600 individuals, totalling over 4,000 pounds in weight loss over the 10 days.

The perceived health benefit of the 10 Day Detox Diet rests on the assertion that sugar is the root cause of the obesity and chronic disease epidemic.[11] According to Dr. Hyman, the “facts are in, science is beyond question. Eliminating sugar from your diet can decrease the risk of heart disease, dementia, diabetes, depression, acne, infertility, and impotence.” Similar to the Whole30 diet, the 10 Day Detox Diet lack evidence supporting the duration of the detox as influential in disease prevention.


Doctors have spoken out against the perceived health benefits, on forums such as WebMD. WebMD is accredited by the Utilization Review Accreditation Commision since 2001 and has reached more unique visitors each month (2015) than any other leading private or government healthcare website.

In her post to WebMD, Dr. Zelman claims that “toxins don’t build up in your liver, kidneys, or any other part of your body, and you’re not going to get rid of them with the latest detox wonder… We’ve heard a great deal about detox diets in recent years. But it’s all hype with no health benefits. There are many ways to get your body clean and healthy. This is not one of them.”[12]

Importance of Health DetoxingEdit

In popular media three identified levels of organization include the individual platform, the instagram-famous platform, and the celebrity blog platform. On the individual level, facebook friends can share their latest diet or workout. The displayed image is an example of someone announcing their day long juice cleanse, and asking friends to participate in her journey. Lee From America is a blogger who has 225,000 followers on Instagram and identifies as a “recipe developer, fitness lover, holistic lifestyle, naturally balancing hormones.” She uses her platform to share how her routine fits the aforementioned description. Gwenyth Paltrow’s website titled “Goop” is a “clean modern lifestyle brand” that offers “cutting edge advice from doctors”. The fan base consists of 1.8 million readers a month and they self identify as “goopies.”[13]

Facebook user promotes individual platform.

Digital DetoxingEdit

Digital detoxing refers to a time period that an individual abstains from the use of electronic devices, and sometimes technology as a whole. Participants hope to improve focus on tasks, reduce social pressures and anxiety, and to seek more personal interactions. Often times, these detoxes are considered treatments to severities like Internet addiction, though classification of addiction is not necessary to perform a detox.

Participants as AdvocatesEdit


Some schools  implement “no-technology” policies while others allow more freedom. One study conducted by the Journal of Media Education found that students check their phones during class more than 11 times a day. In the same survey on over 675 students in 26 states,  it was reported students spend more than 20% of classroom time on their digital devices for unrelated activities.[14] Students who recognize this as a  problem are participants. They are intellectually motivated, driven by the desire to focus on their academics and education.

Participants wish to detox to subdue social pressures associated with social media platforms.  Abstaining from social media is purported to help regain control, establish boundaries, resist information overload and create a better personal life balance.[15] The pressure to record the “perfect life” and compare perceived success to others can cause anxiety. Digital detoxing claims to relieve users of social pressure, thereby achieving more personal relationships and presence in life.

Pocket PointsEdit

To motivate students to focus in class and put away their phones, companies like PocketPoints have emerged. PocketPoints is an app that monitors students’ abstinence from phone usage and rewards them.  When the application sees  a student has not used their device during class, their account accrues points they may redeem for real discounts or gift certificates at participating local establishments. This provides a short-term incentive that students may capitalize on sooner than an eventual degree. PocketPoints and their cooperating establishments that aid in the reward system are materially motivated as app-downloads equate to profit and bringing more customers to retail locations boost business.

Participants as CriticsEdit

Social Media CompaniesEdit

Abstaining from social media is not perceived as a positive or healthy change by all social groups. Social media industries often discourage behavior associated with digital detoxes. Companies like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and SnapChat encourage behaviors that keep users on social media platforms. Many even “gamify” the experience by attributing points for frequent use. SnapChat’s Snap-Score rewards users with points for sending snaps to friends and receiving responses. The use of emojis next to SnapChat friends further motivates users to stay on the application, build their scores, maintain streaks with peers, etc. These industries are motivated to keep users on their devices by material and intellectual gain. Application downloads and high usage attracts advertisers, increasing profits and establishing an intellectual brand for the company.

Technological VisionariesEdit

Critics also include individual technology enthusiasts who believe that technological integration in daily life increases efficiency and human capabilities. Mark Zuckerberg built a personal assistant for his home, which he endearingly named Jarvis, who controls home systems including lights, thermostat, doors, music, and a toaster.  Jarvis uses language processing, speech recognition and facial recognition to perform many of its operations. The Jarvis server is an A.I. system, meaning it learns to performs its tasks better the more it experiences human interaction. Thus, the more interaction with Jarvis, the better it will preform and so taking to Jarvis, whether through speech or via text, helps it do a better job (Business Insider, 2016).

Jarvis Server: AI systems, home systems and user interface.

Importance of Digital DetoxingEdit

Digital detoxes are a phenomenon that is increasing in our technology age. Interventions such as detox camps and Google meditation leaders help employees detach from the material world to increase their emotional intelligence. Whether its referenced in shows like HBOs Silicon Valley or seen when celebrities delete their social media accounts digital detoxing is a relevant part of modern society.


Because of the many possible meanings of the word “detoxing,” there are many possible intersections of technology and society.  Detoxing as an addiction treatment method alone implies many different adaptions to different addictions (substance abuse) or human behaviors (shopping, gambling), each with different participants.  Other means of “detoxing” in terms of cleansing, such as a diet, or returning an environment to its natural state, imply many creative applications with new participants (detoxing from all

Detoxing as a social phenomenon has applications in many social sciences: anthropology, history, linguistics, and more. Here, digital and health detoxing has applications in public and individual health, sociology, psychology, even economics. Science and forms of media are employed by participants throughout the spectrum to promote their agendas and build their base.  Industries supporting health and digital detoxing exist, and by detoxing, participants leave the customer base of other industries, thus causing economic changes. Further study may expand horizontally, exploring additional social overlap with other forms of detoxing, or vertically, looking closer at these case studies. Psychological effects such as the placebo effect, the Hawthorne effect (link Hawthorne effect), and inattentional blindness (wikipedia link) may explain participants' varying stances on the effectiveness of detoxing. Additional participants that were not included here, such as women against thinness and dieting, anti-consumer groups such as adbusters.org, other anti-technology groups could be explored.


  1. Merriam-Webster (Ed.). (2017). Detox. December 4, 2017, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/detox
  2. American Psychology Association. (2017). Addictions. November 28, 2017, https://books.apa.org/topics/addiction/index.aspx
  3. Freimuth, M. (2009). Addiction Screening in Psyhotherapy. Retrieved December 1, 2017, from http://www.apa.org/education/ce/addiction-screening.pdf
  4. Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Gutenberg.org
  5. Wong, C. (2017, August 19) What is a Detox Diet? https://www.verywell.com/what-is-a-detox-diet-88245
  6. Trish. (2014, September 6). History of Detoxification. Keep the Beet. http://keepthebeet.com/detoxification/
  7. The Whole30 Program (n.d.). https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/
  8. About Whole30 (n.d.). https://whole30.com/about/
  9. Maguire, K. (n.d.) Should You Try the Whole30? Fitness Magazine. https://www.fitnessmagazine.com/weight-loss/plans/paleo/whole-30/
  10. Ghose, T. (2014, December 29). Does the Whole30 Diet Really Work? Live Science. https://www.livescience.com/49276-whole-30-health-claims.html
  11. 10-Day Detox Course (n.d.) http://drhyman.com/10dd-course/
  12. Zelman, K. (n.d.) The Truth About Detox Diets. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/diet/a-z/detox-diets
  13. Khazan, O. (2017, September 12). The Baffling Rise of Goop. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/09/goop-popularity/539064/
  14. Bernard R. McCoy. "Digital Distractions in the Classroom Phase II: Student Classroom Use of Digital Devices for Non-Class Related Purposes" Journal of Media Education Vol. 7 Iss. 1 (2016) p. 5 - 32
  15. Woodstock, Louis. 2011. Performing Internet Resistance: Attempting to Opt Out of Online Participation. Paper presented at the Internet Research 12.0, Association of Internet Researchers. Seattle, Washington, October 8-11.