Norway is one of the world's most digitized countries, and Covid has increased the use of digital platforms. In parallel, however, we see a critique of the digital platforms and reports of "screen fatigue" and "digital overload". Since 2019, the Digitox project has studied these phenomena and, in particular, digital detoxing, a term that describes mobile breaks or other measures to limit the use of digital media and platforms.
The project examines digital detox both at the individual and societal levels. Based on nearly 100 qualitative interviews, 60 field dialogues, a survey with over 500 responses, observational studies, field experiments and analyzes of documents, apps and media texts, the project has mapped problem descriptions, motives and methods for self-regulation, as well as the views of politicians and the industry. Further data collection is planned, including a representative survey.
The most important findings are that the smartphone and digital media are perceived as intrusive because they draw attention away from socializing, learning, leisure activities, nature experiences and being present here and now. Users often place the responsibility on themselves rather than placing it politically or with platforms and media. There is a great focus on technological solutions to regulate screen time etc., but many prefer simple solutions such as switching off the mobile phone or putting it somewhere else. However, it is more difficult to use such solutions as more necessary functions are linked to the smartphone. The project documents how the increasing digitization in society takes place without regard to the fact that many people experience digital media as a disruptive element in everyday life.
The project is now in a phase where we summarize results across the substudies. We see that users have developed extensive repertoires to avoid invasive mobile and internet use, while at the same time, self-regulation is perceived as labour-intensive and conflict-creating. Norms for the use of digital media in various situations are emerging, for example, in workplaces, schools, cultural events, and tourist destinations. Political regulation of the platforms is increasingly on the agenda, especially at the EU level. In the remaining project period, we will follow up on these findings.
The project has significantly contributed to establishing and consolidating the field of "disconnection studies", a growing interdisciplinary research area. Digitox organises monthly international seminars, and in several cases, this has led to concrete cooperation between participants from different countries. A special issue in the leading international journal in the field (Convergence) has been published, and an international anthology in collaboration with partners from several countries is in process. A physical conference has been held in Paris with around fifty participants, and a new one is planned for next year in Toronto. Our PhD group have established an international network for PhD candidates. We have also strengthened the collaboration with the University of Copenhagen, one of our PhD candidates has been on a research stay there, and we collaborate on publications and research activities. Project participants have also contributed to several spin-off projects that have received support from funding sources in Sweden and Portugal (the latter are EEA funds for a comparative project that follows Digitox design). Four master's theses have been completed, and supervision has been offered to students on several programs and an innovation project that has received support from the Research Council.
A third dimension of the project is the public dissemination of results and perspectives. We receive many invitations to comment in the media and present our findings. The project participants give many lectures, and the project manager has been invited to hold keynotes in the Netherlands, Great Britain and Denmark. We continue to communicate widely nationally and internationally but have less capacity with fewer active researchers in the project. At the same time, we have developed dissemination activities beyond monologic forms and have arranged two field experiments under the umbrella "Read without your smartphone" at libraries in Oslo. Here, a group of researchers and students invite users to put their smartphones in a paper envelope when they are reading, while at the same time inviting conversations about the issues we are researching. We are experiencing a great deal of engagement through these field experiments and will continue to develop our forms of communication throughout the project's life.
Digitox draws on interdisciplinary insights and is a collaboration between the University of Oslo (Trine Syvertsen, Ole Jacob Madsen, Gunn Enli, Karin Fast, Yukun You), the University of Bergen (Brita Ytre-Arne, Hallvard Moe, Mehri Agai) and Kristiania University College (Faltin Karlsen, Kari Spjeldnæs).
Digitox studies causes, implications, and reactions to intensified digital media involvement in a situation of rising concerns over intrusive media and digital overload. While many studies imply or emphasise the value of connection, and the positive and enabling potentials of digital media, this project analyses ambivalence, resistance and attempts at withdrawal and disconnection. A key thesis is that current features of digital media produce conflicts and tensions both in the lives of individuals and in the public sphere, and the project studies how problems with intense digital media engagement are conceptualised historically, among users, on the level of policy, and in industry. Furthermore, the project studies how potentially problematic aspects of digital media (and possible solutions) are framed in texts advocating digital detox, in software designed to limit media involvement, and in experiences of users who disconnect.
While the project is transnational in scope, investigating the impact of global media and platforms, it also discusses Norwegian media and digital politics, industry responsibility and user norms. With its high level of online use, ambitious ICT and media policies, Norway is a critical case for studying digital ambivalence, resistance and detox. The theoretical ambition is to advance the research field of disconnection and detox through a cross-disciplinary investigation drawing on theories of intrusiveness, flow and responsibilization. The project employs a mixed method approach, combining interviews and textual analysis with targeted methodologies such as observation, user experiments and log data. Through activities such as public lectures, round-table discussions, and detox events, a key objective is to contribute to discussions over political, industry and user responsibility for handling dilemmas and conflicts pertaining to digital media.