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Digitox: Intrusive media, ambivalent users and digital detox

Alternative title: Digitox: Invaderende medier, ambivalente brukere og digital detox

Awarded: NOK 10.1 mill.

Norway is one of the world's most digitalised countries, and the corona situation has contributed to increased use of digital platforms. In parallel with digitalisation, however, we see signs of skepticism, opposition and reports of "screen fatigue" and mobile overdose. While many are studying the positive aspects of digitization, Digitox is studying ambivalence, technology skepticism and attempts at withdrawal and disconnection. Of particular interest is the phenomenon of digital detox; a new term that describes mobile breaks or other measures to limit the use of digital and social media. Our results can so far be summarized along three dimensions: a) More knowledge about digital disconnection and responsibilities in society. The project has come a long way in mapping the ambivalent attitudes of various stakeholders towards mobile and media use. Based on over 70 qualitative interviews, 60 field dialogues, a survey with over 500 answers, and analyzes of documents, apps and media texts, the project has mapped problem descriptions, motives and methods for self-regulation. A clear finding is that excessive mobile phone use is perceived as a widespread problem, but also that self-regulation is perceived as difficult. While most projects in the field are content to discuss individuals' behaviors and motives, Digitox also focuses on the societal and industry level. We ask whether, and in what way, invasive media is defined as a societal problem, for example through the fact that various industries provide services to limit mobile phone use or that trade unions and political actors put the challenges of the attention economy on the agenda. Preliminary results indicate that there is little willingness to consider this as anything more than an individual problem. In the next period, we will follow up these findings and work more with issues and findings across the project's large data material. b) International consolidation of the field: The corona situation meant that a number of activities that required physical presence had to be shelved or postponed. During the period, the project has therefore put a lot of work into an international build-up and consolidation of the field "disconnection studies", an interdisciplinary research area in strong growth with broad international participation. By organizing a regular monthly digital seminar, digital full-day conferences and panels at digital conferences, as well as editing a "special issue" in the leading international journal in the field (Convergence), the project has in a short time become a central node in a new international network for "disconnection studies" and contributed to theory, method and concept development. Our email list now has over 70 active participants and our fellows have also established an international network for PhD candidates. The project participants themselves have contributed with international publications and in 2021 will reach the goal of nine published articles that were stipulated in the project description (but more articles are planned). Project participants have also contributed to two 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). The project participants are invited as guests at professional seminars and podcasts in several countries, and have also given several keynotes at international conferences. c) Dissemination and engagement nationally: The interest in the project's results and perspectives is high, which is reflected in a high number of dissemination inquiries and media publications. A challenge in media coverage is that it can be demanding to bring in the societal perspective, given that digitox aims to be a critical voice that not only conveys self-help to individuals. In the past year, the project has also prioritized dissemination and publications in Norwegian, the project participants have given lectures, responded to media inquiries, and participated in radio and television and podcasts. In the autumn of 2020, digitox was behind a season of podcasts that focused on digital dilemmas in collaboration with the established podcast series Undervisningsplikten. A number of master's students have joined the project and three master's theses have been completed. Project participants have also supervised students at the School of Architecture and Design, and supervise a student innovation project that has received support from the Research Council. Digitox draws on interdisciplinary insights from media studies, game studies and psychology, and is a collaboration between the University of Oslo (Trine Syvertsen, Ole Jacob Madsen, Gunn Enli, Karin Fast), the University of Bergen (Brita Ytre-Arne, Hallvard Moe, Mehri Agai) and Kristiania University College (Faltin Karlsen, Kari Spjeldnæs). From the autumn of 2021, Yukun You is also linked to the project as a PhD student from UiO.

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.


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