Digital disengagement: mapping concerns and strategies of refusal
Our first project was to map the key concerns about the digital, voiced by individuals and groups, and the main motivations to disengage from communication platforms or devices (such as well-being, concerns for health or education, privacy, economy or the environment). We received funding from the Communities and Culture Network + to conduct two exploratory studies: the first one offered an overview of lead discourses about digital disengagement in the media, and carried out pilot interviews with individuals who made a decision to reduce their use of digital communication. The second project focused on two "Unplugging" initiatives by citizens, and on the emerging scene of businesses and services that facilitate digital disengagement. Project reports from both studies are available here.
This project, funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Small Grants scheme, begins to document the immediate and potential long-term implications of health digitisation on privacy, data agency, and digital profiling by focusing on health Apps, their data policy, and the legal, techno-social possibilities and consequences of “opting out”. By taking opting out as an empirical possibility and a conceptual entry point, this project aims to shift social perspectives on health-related Apps and digital health more broadly, and to generate future discussions of the politics of bio data as Big Data.
While concerns for well-being or privacy as key reasons for digital disengagement gain increasing popularity and awareness what has not yet been explored is the ecological motivation to refuse the digital. In our digital economy based on disposability, and in its accompanying consumer orientation towards the newest and the latest, what is needed is the broader social conversation about sustainability of the digital itself. Funded by Manchester Metropolitan University and its Research Centre for Applied Social Sciences, this project examines current scholarship on environmental sustainability from a critical sociological perspective.
Neoliberal appropriations of digital disengagement: from citizen insurgence to a business opportunity
Building on our pilot study of businesses and services that promote digital disenagement, our future project will be looking more closely at the neo-liberal appropriations of opting out, where the overwhelming presence of the digital for the sake of higher productivity and the endless squeeze of more effective labour our of already exhausted minds and bodies, becomes a business opportunity to sell packages of “digital detox” retreats, or life-coaching services in “digital decluttering”, or Apps that help one to “disconnect to connect” – all in the aid of coming back from that short break, as an even more productive and “effective” labouring subject.
Most of research on disconnection, opt out and digital refusal up to date has taken place in English and in the western context. But how is digital disengagement understood and practices elsewhere? Together with the Russian "Club for Internet and Society", we explored the phenomenon of digital disengagement in Russa. Jointly, we have organised a "Digital Disengagement" section in the online school of Internet research which took place in March-May 2018. Currently, wiht the support of Moscow High School of Economics and Manchester Metropolitan University and its Research Centre for Applied Social Sciences, we are working on a comparative project of discources and practices of digital disengagement in the two countries.