Unplug? The Digital Detox

It’s Friday night, and you’re out on the town with your best friends. You’re having a blast with the people you enjoy the most, likely doing what you enjoy the most. In the midst of all the excitement, one of your friends suggests that the moment must be captured for the books. Huddling up into a clump dictated by best angles and personal preferences of which side is one’s “good side” multiple photos must be taken, a task that the IPhone has made easier with it’s photo burst option, so that they can be reviewed and filtered before being posted on Instagram. See, the photo was initially intended to capture a memory, but it will actually function as a metric of popularity and social relevance, as our generation’s obsession with likes continues to promote social insecurities online. In line with this obsession, photos are strategically posted to encourage the best reception from followers; a well-versed Instagramer knows that uploading during “Prime-Insta-time” is crucial. The photo taken on a Friday night should not be posted on the night it is taken, simply because less people are likely to be on Instragram at that hour which would result in fewer likes. There are countless resources dedicated to analyzing profiles and providing tips for users. A graphical representation of a users strongest response times is listed below thanks to an Instagram analytics service known as Statigram.

Social media has extended beyond the apparent cries for attention that most naysayers highlight. In Roots and Revelation: Genetic Ancestry Testing and the YouTube Generation” Alondra Nelson and Jeong Won Hwang discuss the parallel emergence of direct-to-consumer genetic ancestry testing (GAT) and social networking technologies (SNS) like Facebook and Twitter. Through this intersection of technologies, the authors argue that the way we define race online and offline is determined by the interactions seen on these sites. Essentially, someone tests their DNA with the aid of a geneticist, and then these results are publicized on a SNS like YouTube. The results allow one to better define their identity, but the “networked interactions that occur between broadcasters and their audiences” offer a community wide understanding of their race. Nelson and Hwang suggest that we are on our way to a race-based but non-essentialist understanding of identity that is negotiated through connections and interactions. Social media in this case presents people with an audience of people with whom they can connect with and establish bonds based off of newly discovered ancestral ties.

So are we doing too much on social media websites and apps? Are people posting their genetic ancestry in hopes of mimicking the dramatic “reveals” shown on shows hosted by Maury Povich or Jerry Springer? Are we losing sight of what makes us authentic and true to ourselves? Can we undo what we have already begun?

A great deal of attention has been placed on initiatives that encourage what disconnectionists are calling a digital detox. According to disconnectionist theory in Nathan Jurgenson’s work, “casting off the virtual and re-embracing the tangible through disconnecting and undertaking a purifying ‘digital detox’” can result in the rediscovery of what is real, meaningful, and important to one’s true self. The Huffington Post has released a number of articles pertaining to the topic, and this video (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/09/unplugging-from-technology_n_4570556.html) features Kate Johnson, a teacher with The Interdependence Project, who speaks about a three-month meditation retreat that kept her unplugged. There are also videos like the one below, that have served as reinforcing forces showing that our generation has become dependent on social media.

Though all of these examples and arguments demonstrate and inextricable link between social media and communities, it is important to understand that social media doesn’t explicitly lead to a world of fantasy or carefully doctored profiles. The desire to be perceived in a certain light by others is not a new occurrence. Humans have always cared about their appearance, but the ease at which one can take charge of their appearance via social media makes some uncomfortable and concerned.

Jurgenson does a great job of deconstructing the arguments in support of unplugging and undergoing a “digital detox” to expose the flaws and assumptions involved. In accord with his statements, referring to digital consumption as healthy or unhealthy, real or fantasy, taps into a realm of social construction and neoliberal ideologies focused on dictating which desires or pleasures are acceptable to be pursued. His reference to Foucault’s statement about how rules reinforce what is dubbed to be right more so than what is actually wrong supports the argument against the diction used in these crusades because the word detox implies that social media consumption is a disease or sickness that needs healing.

Go ahead and unplug. I don’t doubt that you will find yourself engaging more with the people around you. But with these new interactions comes a loss of accessibility to connections with others that are not a part of one’s community based on geography. Technology serves as a tool to increase efficiency in our day-to-day lives. A morning jog can be timed and planned out perfectly to fit into a morning schedule before work, lying down in the park without a book can quickly turn into a relaxing reading moment, and cooking a meal with friends can become an exciting experience all because of the accessibility to all that the internet has to offer. In the case of the YouTube users and their genealogy, they are using social media to strengthen their sense of identity. We cannot determine the “realness” or authenticity of ones life based on the past and how people interacted prior to the ubiquity of the Internet. . We cannot place limits on people’s desires according to an arbitrary judgment of how “real” their interactions with the rest of the world are. So detox if you’d like, but don’t assume that all of your insecurities or desires will disappear with your Facebook account.

Question 1: In response to Nelson and Hwang, does the necessity of an audience during the big “reveal” of one’s ancestral ties encourage an attention seeking approach to what is described as a integral aspect of determining identities?

Question 2: What would result from a universal detox from social media? If everyone manages to steer clear of digital connectons, do we actually think that there will be a movement towards “realness”?

Question 3: Encouraging a detox reinforces a lack of autonomy on the part of users. Should these people who lack autonomy be forced into a cycle of actions that continues to take away their autonomy or will they by virtue find their way back to their “true self” as mentioned in Jurgenson’s work?

Works Cited

Jurgenson, Nathan. 2013. “The Disconnectionists.” The New Inquiry, November 13. http://thenewinquiry.com/essays/the-disconnectionists/

Nelson, Alondra and Jeong Won Hwang. 2012. “Roots and Revelation: Genetic Ancestry Testing and the YouTube Generation.” In Race After the Internet. Lisa Nakamura and Peter A. Chow-White, eds. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 271-290

Buxton, Ryan. “What I Learned From Unplugging From Technology For 3 Months (VIDEO).” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Jan. 2014. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

Titlow, John P. “When Is the Best Time to Post on Instagram.” ReadWrite. N.p., 15 Aug. 2012. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.

“I Forgot My Phone.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2014.


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