The disconnected work place and new ideals regarding digital well-being2021-09-10
In her article “The Disconnection Turn: Three facets of disconnective work in post-digital capitalism”, Karin Fast, senior lecturer in Media and Communication Studies, discusses the social consequences of disconnecting invasive media as well as digital detox trends at work places.
- In short, my article is about the disconnected work place, new ideals regarding how we should be working without online connections and how problems with intrusive - or invasive - media are discussed, explains Karin Fast. The article also mentions new ways of organising and marketing work places and the new forms of digital work which, paradoxically, are driven by the interest in the disconnected.
Can you explain the term invasive media?
- At work we work, at home we cultivate social relationships and when we are on holiday, we are off work. Some people cherish this more than others. If you are of the opinion that certain spheres are meant for specific things, then these media can feel invasive or intrusive. To a certain point, we choose what we want to include in our media arsenal at home or at work, but one should question the degree of freedom of choice in this. We are more or less forced to use many of these media if we are to function in society.
When we feel as though we are losing control, or are being forced to use technology we do not want or fully master - then the media can feel invasive. And in the so-called experience economy, they are created in order to be intrusive. Silicon Valley knows how to direct our attention towards the screens at all times. Different mechanisms are being added to our digital tools in order to make them invasive. They are supposed to be seen, noticed and heard. We are supposed to click the red icon on Facebook to see what has happened.
How did this aspiration to be disconnected occur and what drives it?
- In the article I explain this based on the fact that we are living in an online media society - a post-digital capitalism. This means that digital media have become a part of life and that a lot of people worry about their usage of, for example, mobile phones. Many find invasive media, where push notifications and a constant flow of e-mail are the norm, bothersome. It is not clear where to draw the line between different social spheres these days, and eventually being online becomes a problem rather than beneficial. At the same time, economic interests are behind much of the problem definition.
A growing industry
Many businesses have seen the opportunities in this disconnection trend. Right now, a whole industry with the goal of helping users to log off, is emerging. There is a myriad of self-help books, an abundance of apps and you can go on digital detox-trips to temporarily get away from the connected everyday life. Karin Fast takes the subject to another level.
- I connect this aspiration to ideological shifts in society. We are living in a neo-liberal era, and one of the manifestations of this ideology is that workers and human beings are expected to make your own luck and engage in different forms of self-actualisation. Not least, we are supposed to be self-optimising - to always improve. According to this viewpoint we are responsible for our own well-being, happiness, economic success and stability. Everything.
To all this I also want to add the disconnection trend, since those who promote digital well-being as the key to happiness are themselves signs of this healthism. To be a happy worker, they say, we must learn to deal with our digital everyday life and sometimes know when to take a step back and log off.
Progress within the tech industry is fast - have people even had time to get used to the technology before having to learn how to disconnect it?
- You have a point there, says Karin Fast. There is a faction within this research area who are interested in what is happening in our brains. As a social scientist, I am more interested in the social aspects, and as social beings I think we can relate to the feeling that things are moving too fast and that we are losing control. I do not think the amount of information is what is most important here. Instead, it is when we lose sight of the big picture or when we do not know what consequences a button press will bring, where our photos are stored, or who is monitoring our communications and data. I think many of us can relate to the confusion caused by the cloud-based society we live in. These things contribute to a feeling of discomfort. Consequently, setting the phone to airplane mode can feel liberating.
Do people draw the line differently?
- From interviews I know this can vary greatly. You can easily see the difference between individuals who are okay with, or even enjoy, when life is more fluent and you, for example, can work while on a train or are on your way to pre-school. At the same time, some individuals want these spheres to be separated and they do not want the lines to be blurred. They work hard to maintain them. You can see differences between individuals and groups in this matter. Overachieving office workers with mobile professions seem more at peace with having the lines between work and free time blurred, but they can tolerate this more fluent state since they have developed more or less advanced routines for logging off.
What can a user do against the pressure to be connected digitally?
- This is where the problems arise. The disconnection industry is exaggerating the simplicity. There are strategies you can use, and I believe they can go a long way for a lot of people - you can stay disconnected for one or several days if you can still do your job. But not everyone has the economic resources to be able to disconnect. Most of us are forced back after taking a break, since we are also stuck in various social patterns. I bring this up in my article as well.
Karin Fast shows me a few examples from her article. A worker within the gig economy is completely dependent on his mobile phone for receiving work, making it hard, not to say impossible, to disconnect without losing income. It can be equally hard for a single parent at work, knowing that their child’s pre-school can get in touch at any time. It is the social relationships and responsibilities that are hard to disconnect from, not the digital world itself.
- It is important to be aware of the fact that the self-help books are not written for people working within, for example, home care services, despite the fact that they can be very dependent on this technology. It is usually directed towards middle class people who, in a sense, are also stuck in this situation, but who usually have a bigger autonomy in their work. They do not risk losing their jobs if they turn off their mobile phones during work hours.
You write that it takes hard work in order to disconnect - what do you mean by that?
- If I use myself as an example - a frequent user of media, who might benefit from going on a digital retreat or disconnect for a few days. But then I would have to do a lot of preparation work in order to go through with this: notify others of my impending absence, print physical copies to work on, complete meetings and other commitments before I disappear, and so on.
When you come back from a digital break, there could be a digital debt waiting for you. E-mail and messages may have amassed in your channels - you cannot get away from it. There is also an emotional aspect to consider. I have personally felt stressed when I have visited places where there is no connection. Has someone tried to reach me? Has something happened in my family? In the connected society it can be costly in many ways to disconnect, even for a short while.