Screen Time and Health

In a fascinating addition to the screen time debate (aka is social media hurting the kids) Przybylski & Orben have published a study in Nature Human Behavior,  the study is based on massive amounts of statistical data and has once again shown that we shouldn’t be freaking out about screens or social media. Since the market for fear mongering books about technology that tickle parent paranoia are profitable, I doubt that this will settle the discussion.

Highlights from their study:

With this in mind, the evidence simultaneously suggests that the effects of technology might be statistically significant but so minimal that they hold little practical value.

While we find that digital technology use has a small negative association with adolescent well-being, this finding is best understood in terms of other human behaviours captured in these large-scale social datasets. When viewed in the broader context of the data, it becomes clear that the outsized weight given to digital screen-time in scientific and public discourse might not be merited on the basis of the available evidence.

More harmful than screens

For example, in all three datasets the effects of both smoking marijuana and bullying have much larger negative associations with adolescent well-being… than does technology use.

More important than reducing screen time

Positive antecedents of well-being are equally illustrative; simple actions such as getting enough sleep and regularly eating breakfast have much more positive associations with well-being than the average impact of technology use…

Best line in the paper…

Neutral factors provide perhaps the most useful context in which to judge technology engagement effects: the association of well-being with regularly eating potatoes was nearly as negative as the association with technology use…


Post Panopticon & Me

Teaching privacy and surveillance is a great reason to return to the theories that underpin everything, and I do enjoy introducing students to the history, function, and metaphor of the panopticon. While making myself rethink how it actually works.

The basic panopticon is nicely summarized by Jespersen et al in their 5-point list about the character of the panopticon in Surveillance, Persuasion, and Panopticon

  1. The observer is not visible from the position of the observed;
  2. The observed subject is kept conscious of being visible (which together with the principle immediately above in some cases makes it possible to omit the actual surveillance);
  3. Surveillance is made simple and straightforward. This means that most surveillance functions can be automated;
  4. Surveillance is depersonalized, because the observer’s identity is
    unimportant. The resulting anonymous character of power actually gives Panopticism a democratic dimension, since anybody can in principle perform the observation required;
  5. Panoptic surveillance can be very useful for research on human behaviour, since it due to its practice of observing people allows systematic collection of data on human life.

So last week I focused on privacy and surveillance in situations of “invisible” panopticons. Invisible panopticons could still be covered by point 2 above. In the panopticon we internalize the rules for fear of being watched, and ultimately punished for transgression. But I was trying to explain why there are situations of of self-surveillance where we could easily “misbehave” and nobody would punish us. A misbehavior that nobody cares about aside from maybe myself. If I binge cookies for dinner, drink wine for breakfast, watch trash tv, ignore my work etc nobody cares (unless its extreme) but I may punish myself. Where is the panopticon/power that controls my behavior.

In this case the panopticon (if we can claim there is one) is… my self image? We really have to contort Foucault’s ideas to make this fit under the panopticon. As he says in Discipline and Punish:

the Panopticon must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.

The power over ourselves in settings where there may be no real social harm if we were found out, is more about the conditioning and identities with which we conform. And our ability to act beyond them, to break free of the constraints of power represents the scope of agency we have.

To behave outside the norms that reside within me requires that I am aware of those norms and that I am comfortable to break those norms. That I recognize that there may be other actions I could be taking, and that I am comfortable enough to take them. So the way in which Butler argues that we are not determined by norms. We are determined by the repeated performance of norms. This is as Butler agues in the conclusion of Gender Troubles “…‘agency’, then, is to be located within the possibility of a variation on that repetition.”

Human Surveillance & Agency

Therefore I am being surveilled by the idea of me. How that me would behave in any given situation is limited by my ability to see myself behave.

Function of University

College Council meetings are rarely the source for inspiration but it’s always a good idea to keep alert because suddenly there are glimmers of light even in administration. Yesterday in came in the form of this quote from W. E. B. Dubois:

The function of the university is not simply to teach breadwinning, or to furnish teachers for the public schools, or to be a centre of polite society; it is, above all, to be the organ of that fine adjustment between real life and the growing knowledge of life, an adjustment which forms the secret of civilization.

We are not here to be the centre of polite society…. Let that sink in.

WTF? The great question of our age

How media has changed and what it means, by David Roberts

The internet changed all that. There are no longer supply constraints — it is trivially cheap and easy to publish something on the web — and there are virtually no constraints left on the supply of information. Libraries are online. Government records are online. Every public figure’s every move is blogged or tweeted.

Two things follow. First, with supply constraints gone, there is no reason to confine web journalism to the length and formal constraints of journalism developed for paper. Any story can be as long as it needs to be, whether it’s 200 words or 2,000. Not every journalist must choose between the view-from-nowhere voice of the objective journalist and stale aphorisms of major newspaper editorial pages. There is room for a greater variety of length, form, tone, voice, and subject on the web.

And second, there’s more need for explanation. Because they were supply constrained, newspapers and newspaper journalists focused on what was new, what just happened, the incremental development. But lots of times, readers had no way of making sense of those developments or contextualizing them. They were getting the leaves, but they’d never gotten the trunk.

Especially as information and incremental developments explode in quantity, there is increasing public hunger for understanding — not so much what happened, but what it means.

The great question of our age is simply, WTF? WTF isn’t asking after what happened. It’s easy to find out what happened these days. Rather, it’s pointing at what happened and asking, well … WTF?

What’s the deal with that? How does it work? How good or bad is it, really? How does it connect with these other things? What can we learn from its history?

People want to know how the world works. They want to know why the things that are happening are happening. They don’t stop wanting to learn when they get out of school.

So journalism is inevitably shifting. These days, it is less about producing new information than it is about gathering information already on the record, evaluating it, and explaining and contextualizing it for an audience, perhaps with some analysis and argumentation for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong: There’s still plenty of information to be dug up. Investigative journalism still very much exists, though it is under-funded everywhere. I look on it with great admiration and some awe, but it’s not what I do. And though many are loathe to admit it, it’s not what most US journalists do these days

Digital Resistance Call for Papers

Digital Resistance: Call for papers

Special thematic issue of the Journal of Resistance Studies

Editors: Nora Madison & Mathias Klang

This call as a pdf is available here

In many spaces, mobile digital devices and social media are ubiquitous. These devices and applications provide the platforms with which we create, share and consume information. Many obtain much of their news and social information via the personal screens we constantly carry with us. It is therefore unsurprising that these devices also become integral to acts of social activism and resistance.

This digital resistance is most visible in the virtual social movements found behind hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter, #TakeAKnee, and #MeToo. However, it would be an oversimplification to limit digital resistance to its most popular expressions. Video sharing on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook have revealed abuses of police power, racist attacks, and misogyny. The same type of device is used to both record, share, and view instances of abuse. The devices and platforms are also used to organize and coordinate responses, ranging from online naming and shaming, online protests, physical protests. The devices and the platforms are then used to share the protests and their results. More and more the device and the platform are the keyhole through which resistance must fit.

Our devices and access to platforms enable the creation of self-forming and self-organizing resistance movements capable of sharing alternative discourses in advocating for diverse social agendas. This freedom shapes both the individual’s relationship to both power and resistance, in addition to their identities and awareness as activists. It is somewhat paradoxical that something so central to the activist identity and the performance of resistance is in essence created and run as a privatized surveillance machine.

Digital networked resistance has received a great deal of media attention recently. The research field is developing, but more needs to be understood about the role of technology in the enactment of resistance. Our goal is to explore both the role of digital devices and platforms in the processes of resistance.

This special edition aims to understand the role of technology in enabling and subverting resistance. We seek studies on the use of technology in the acts of protesting official power, as well as the use of technology in contesting power structures inherent in the technology or the technological platforms. Contributions are welcome from different methodological approaches and socio-cultural contexts.

We are looking for contributions addressing resistance, power, and technology. This call is interested in original works addressing, but not limited to:

  • Problems with the use of Digital Resistance
  • Powerholders capacity to map Digital Resistance-activists through surveillance
  • How does Digital Resistance differ and/or function compared with Non-digital Resistance?
  • Problems and advantages with combinations of Digital Resistance and non- Digital Resistance?
  • Resistance to platforms
  • Hashtag activism & hijacking
  • Online protests & movements
  • The use of humor/memes as resistance
  • Selfies as resistance
  • Globalization of resistance memes
  • Ethical implications of digital resistance
  • Online ethnography (testimonials/narratives provided by online participants)
  • Issues concerning, privacy, surveillance, anonymity, and intellectual property
  • Effective rhetorical strategies and aesthetics employed in digital resistance
  • Digital resistance: Research methods and challenges
  • The role of technology activism in shaping resistance and political agency
  • Shaping the digital protest identity
  • Policing digital activism
  • Digital resistance as culture
  • Virtual resistance communities
  • The affordances and limitations of the technological tools for digital resistance

Abstracts should be 500 – 750 words (references not included).

Send abstracts to noramadison@gmail.com

Important Dates

Abstracts by 15 January 2019

Notification of acceptance 15 February 2019

Submission of final papers 1 April 2019

  • Max 12000 words (all included)

Statistical Noise, Self Harm, Social Media

Social media gets blamed for a lot of ills, but sometimes the results are exaggerated. Here is an interesting quote from The truth about the suspected link between social media and self-harm

While some studies have found a link between social media and suicide, Przybylski’s colleague Amy Orben has noted that the correlation with mental health issues is tiny. In one study, social media use explained only 0.36 per cent of a girl’s depressive symptoms. That figure is so low, it could just be statistical noise.

International Symbol of Protest

Margret Atwood’s handmaids have become a global symbol of protest:

When US vice-president Mike Pence visited Philadelphia on 23 July, he was greeted by a now familiar sight: a wall of women dressed in scarlet cloaks, with oversize white bonnets obscuring their faces.

The outfit worn by Margaret Atwood’s handmaids in her 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale and its recent TV adaptation has been in evidence from Argentina to the US, the UK and Ireland, and has emerged as one of the most powerful current feminist symbols of protest, in a subversive inversion of its association with the oppression of women.

Margret Atwood says to The Guardian

“The handmaid’s costume has been adopted by women in many countries as a symbol of protest about various issues having to do with the requisitioning of women’s bodies by the state,” she told the Guardian.

“It has even been used on posters in the context of the Trump-Putin relationship, with Trump as the handmaid. Because it’s a visual symbol, women can use it without fear of being arrested for causing a disturbance, as they would be for shouting in places like legislatures.

This is an interesting example of how popular media are creating a symbol of protest that can be readily understood as such across the world.

What is platform literacy?

Anyone who is trying to think about platforms and their impact should be following Mark Carrigan. His Platform Capitalism Reading Group includes key readings and is a discussion I wish I could have attended. And then their is this simple text What is platform literacy? in connection with a call for reading materials. This is why this is a fascinating question:

“In the last couple of years, I’ve found myself returning repeatedly to the idea of platform literacy. By this I mean a capacity to understand how platforms shape the action which takes place through them, sometimes in observable and explicit ways but usually in unobservable and implicit ones. It concerns our own (inter)actions and how this context facilitates or frustrates them, as well as the unseen ways in which it subtly moulds them and the responses of others to them.”

Nothing is more beautiful (and frustrating) to an academic to read a simple paragraph that nails the questions rattling around in your own mind. Thanks Mark!

The goal of platform literacy is to be able to identify the subtle ways in which actions are directed, controlled, regulated and censored in the online environment. To mangle the great “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (Wittgenstein) – We cannot protest that which prevents us from protesting.

New Activism Writing Project

Yesterday we go the good news that the book proposal by Nora Madison and myself has been accepted by Rowman and Littlefield’s Resistance Studies series. The working title is “Everyday Activism: Technologies of Resistance” (but this will be changed later) and looks at the ways in which technology assists, mediates, and hampers acts of resistance. Tentatively the book will be published in the end of 2019. We are really excited about this project and happy to be able to focus on a long term project. 

In conjunction with this I shall be using the blog to throw out ideas/updates about the project and generally return to using the blog as a more integral writing tool.