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Digital Withdrawal Solutions for “Digital Natives”

For the first time, a study by Chemnitz University of Technology investigates the reasons and strategies for deliberate internet avoidance among adolescents and young adults – a video presentation and podcast on the topic can be found below

So-called “digital natives” are considered to have a large presence on the internet, and they use it frequently, often continuously. This much is known. However, what has hardly been a focus of research to date is the criteria by which digital natives renounce internet consumption. In a study undertaken by Chemnitz University of Technology, Dr. Christian Papsdorf, Junior Professor for Sociology of Technology with a focus on internet and new media, and his team investigate the conditions with which adolescents and young adults would choose to abstain from using the internet. “Our study is the first empirically-based evidence of so-called ‘demediatisation’ in the form of voluntary and partial giving up of the internet,” says Papsdorf, summing up a central result of the study. The study, titled “Reasons and Forms of Voluntary Abandonment of the Internet”, recently appeared in the journal “Österreichische Zeitschrift für Soziologie” (Austrian Journal for Sociology).

Eight decisive reasons for changing internet usage

“In our study, we conducted qualitative interviews of 30 people between the ages of 14 and 25. The concept of ‘demediatisation’ served as the theoretical basis for the study,” explains Papsdorf. “Demediatisation” describes strategies and practices in dealing with media and digital technologies that users perceive as potentially problematic. Currently, the concept is discussed in everyday life via the terms ‘digital detox’ or ‘digital sabbath’. “It has to do with a conscious decision against digital media. We wanted to find out under which circumstances the users would choose to make this decision,” summarises Papsdorf. As a part of this study, the Chemnitz researchers found eight major reasons for ‘demediatisation’:

  • Disruptions in everyday life, for example, in work or situations that require concentration
  • Mismatch of information quality and quantity, for example, when there is a high quantity of information due to limited selection by the producers
  • Accessibility pressure, such as the expectation to respond immediately when contacted
  • Loss of privacy, including cases of companies tapping into the private data of their employees, for example, checking on their use of social media
  • Technical problems such as when devices do not work as expected
  • Internet dependency, or the danger that offline activities will be delegated to the background
  • Health impairments, when usage of devices leads to movement and sensory problems, and also exhaustion and concentration disorders
  • Ethical concerns

 

“The issue of ethical concerns is still relatively new, and describes the increasing political awareness of young people in particular, who as users want to either support or not support certain companies due to their business practices,” says Papsdorf. A recent example is Facebook, a company and social media platform that has been repeatedly cited in the past for its data security deficits.

Five strategies for dealing – no alternative to internet use

In addition to the eight problems, Papsdorf and his team also identified five solution strategies given by the persons interviewed:

  • Change of medium, for example, a switch to more direct communication such as messenger, or perhaps offline communication
  • A partial reduction of usage
  • Adaptation of technology, such as the use of ad blockers or restrictions on which users can see postings
  • Passive usage, not only in the form of pure consumption of content, but also through the conscious holding back of information
  • Reduction of media range, for example, the targeted thinning of friend lists

“We have seen that disturbances in everyday life, a mismatch of information quantity and quality, permanent accessibility pressure, the loss of privacy, technical problems, personal dependence on the internet, health impairments and ethical aspects are particularly problematic,” summarises Papsdorf. For many respondents, the simplest solution is a deliberate and voluntary renunciation of the internet and thus a shift to offline media such as personal conversation.

However: “It also became clear during the investigation that respondents did not see any alternative to using the internet, and did not fundamentally question it,” says Papsdorf. Thus, the solutions presented above were mainly selective approaches to problematic developments such as accessibility pressure, rather than generalisable solutions.

Multimedia

In a video clip, Junior Professor Dr. Christian Papsdorf discusses the results of the study. The clip is available on the Chemnitz University YouTube channel.

In the Chemnitz University of Technology podcast “TUCscicast”, Papsdorf gives comprehensive insight into several of his research projects on the subject of “digitisation”.

For more information, please contact Dr. Christian Papsdorf, Junior Professor of Sociology of Technology, with focus on internet and new media.  Telephone: +49 0371 531-38163, E-mail christian.papsdorf@soziologie.tu-chemnitz.de.

(Author: Matthias Fejes, Translation: Jeffrey Karnitz)

Matthias Fejes
11.01.2019

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