Digital silence in a digital age?

As digital technologies become more pervasive in our everyday lives, some individuals, communities, and groups are taking active measures towards digital silence. The argument of information overloading has been particularly charged in terms of debates around youth, which has sometimes led to moral panics around the topic.

Social media platforms are, by design, formulated to increase volume, rather than fostering silence. Moreover, the economics of social platforms are built around augmenting engagement, rather than silencing it. So-called ‘cell phone addiction’ has been studied for years now and such studies generally feature respondents who report positive aspects of withdrawing from their phones for some period.

The logic is not dissimilar to moves such as #MeatlessMonday, but, instead of providing a temporary break from meat, it’s from ‘normal’ digital usage. However, as my experiences with my students show, this is not a straightforward task. A decade ago, I used to ask students in a seminar class of mine, In The Facebook Age at Bowdoin College, to see how long they could go without a digital device and then to write about their experiences. Some students really enjoyed the experience and others felt it had major repercussions on their social lives.

Today, the pervasiveness of digital technologies into our lives is much more than it was in 2009 with everything from payments to health applications residing in social media and smartphones. Our phones sometimes literally even unlock doors. Therefore, even if iOS alerts shame us of excessive screen time, we generally quickly ignore them. At least we are losing our keys less often…

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