What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. danah boyd ‘It’s Complicated’

What might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and does such a thing exist?

I was a part of a discussion about technology and wellbeing today. It was framed around the work of Hugh van Cuylenburg and the Resilience Project. For van Cuylenburg our focus should be on gratitude, empathy and mindfulness.

The focus then moved to Common Sense Media and the addiction to phones. The need for ‘tech-free time’ was brought up. This reminded me of a keynote last year from NSW Secretary of Education, Mark Scott, and his push for deep work, a term attributed to Cal Newport. The suggestion was that to be mindful we need to put the screens away. I was therefore left with the question, what might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and can such a thing exist?

In an article for Common Sense Media, Elizabeth Galicia discusses some strategies families and tech companies can use to foster healthier habits. In addition to screen-free times and parental controls, there is discussion of ‘humane’ design and protection of data. The problem is that there does not seem to be any support for student action?

Maybe this action accounted for through the discussion of citizenship addresses this, but I feel there is a missed opportunity. Rather than wait for the ‘humane’ solutions to arrive, I wonder if there are opporrtunities to create deliberate safe spaces that can be used to support students in learning.

I did this myself with three classes connected together using Edublogs. One of the benefits is that comments were moderated, therefore if there was something shared that was inappropriate then it provided an opportunity for a learning conversation. As danah boyd points out in her seminal book It’s Complicated:

What the drive-in was to teens in the 1950s and the mall in the 1980s, Facebook, texting, Twitter, instant messaging, and other social media are to teens now. Teens flock to them knowing they can socialize with friends and become better acquainted with classmates and peers they don’t know as well.

Although teens will still most likely go online out of school, this safer space within school at least allows them a place to start. We are so adamant about enabling a generation of coders, yet overlook the importance of communication.

A further extension on this is the #IndieWeb and the Domain of One’s Own project. There is something about not only being a part of networked publics online, but also actively engaging with what that actually means. For me, that has come to include commenting, collecting and posting from sites that I have some sort of say over. Some who are currently immersed in what this might mean for education are Greg McVerry and Ian O’Byrne. Although I think that there are currently hurdles around ease and access, for me this is what it means to be ‘digitally mindful’. It is not always easy, but I feel that as I have stepped back from engaging  directly on social media I have become more aware of my presence online.

Although we can push for limited screen-time and better technology, I think that the challenge that faces many of us today is being more aware of the technology we have at our mercy and being more informed about what it all might mean.

What do you think? As always, comments and webmentions welcome.

Also posted on IndieNews

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Digital Mindfulness, Can It Exist? by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

42 thoughts on “Digital Mindfulness, Can It Exist?

  1. Hey Aaron,
    How are habits learned and unlearned? My work with adults reveals as much distraction as we find in our classrooms. Shifting our attention is a necessary skill in the modern world. We can help students be designating times for screen-free interaction while also providing times for students to check their notifications and messages prior to diving headlong into productive screen time. The key, as you mentioned, is creating the digital space for learners to connect and interact. My mind prefers to consider your question as one about human geography instead of digital tools. Yes, my thinking has been influenced by the work of many, including Stephen Downes, George Siemens, and David White.
    This is a timely and relevant topic – I am interested in reading what others have to say about “digital mindfulness”.

    • Thank you Bob for the comment. I too an intrigued by the notion of ‘human geography’, in particular the notion of networked publics.

      Two texts that have inspired my thinking is danah boyd’s It’s Complicated:

      Networked publics are publics that are restructured by networked technologies. As such, they are simultaneously (1) the space constructed through networked technologies and (2) the imagined community that emerges as a result of the intersection of people, technology, and practice.(Page 8)

      And Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas:

      I use the term “digitally networked public sphere” or “networked public sphere” as a shorthand for this complex interaction of publics, online and offline, all intertwined, multiple, connected, and complex, but also transnational and global. “Networked public sphere,” like the terms “digitally networked movements” or “networked movements,” does not mean “online-only” or even “online-primarily.” Rather, it’s a recognition that the whole public sphere, as well as the whole way movements operate, has been reconfigured by digital technologies, and that this reconfiguration holds true whether one is analyzing an online, offline, or combined instantiation of the public sphere or social movement action.(Page 6)

      This blend between online and off also reminds me of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of assemblage.

      Which particular texts have influenced your thinking on the subject Bob?

  2. Digital Mindfulness, Can It Exist? by Aaron

    What might it mean to be ‘digitally mindful’ and does such a thing exist?
    I was a part of a discussion about technology and wellbeing today. It was framed around the work of Hugh van Cuylenburg and the Resilience Project. For van Cuylenburg our focus should be on gratitude, empathy and mindfulne…

    Aaron Davis had a comprehensive overview of what we might mean by “digital mindfulness.”
    I’ve been thinking a lot about how we interact with these digital tools and spaces, and the longterm impact they may have on our wellbeing. Perhaps just because we could allow these tools to be ubiquitous in our lives doesn’t mean that we should.
    What concerns me is that in my weekly newsletter, I often track intersections between our lives and technology. What concerns me is the onslaught of stories about perfectionism, or perceived perfectionism in social networking behaviors. That is to say that we think we need to look perfect, and have the most perfect life in order to be on social media. If you’re not perfect…then the depression works its way in.
    I’m also concerned as I see family members, especially my own children excited by these shiny screens…and become “blue” when they’re ordered to be done for the day.
    I recently was part of a special themed issue for Pediatrics in which we all examined different aspects of this screentime debate. You can read more about this work and some of our next steps here.
    The “truth” is that I think we’re actively experimenting with these texts and tools. With great power, also comes great responsibility. I’m actively questioning whether or not I’m seeing a lot of that responsibility.
    If this is the sort of topic you’re interested about…then we’re definitely interested in hearing more from you in our current research project.

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    • Thank you for the comment Ian. I think that perfectionism is an interesting area. I must say that I probably could do more to appreciate the transition to the visual medium. Is perfection in written different to that of visuals?

  3. An interesting read, Aaron. I think quality over quantity is a big factor too. It’s so easy to waste time being connected but not really doing anything. Having a project or purpose (e.g. connecting globally) is going to be better than mindless scrolling, taking selfies etc…

    • Reading “Twitter & “Tear Gas” and finding parallels to my research. I think it’s a mix of the why, what, and how. Also, wondering how much of the FOMO and zombie scrolling of social media is contrived motivation from a make believe stick (Skinnerian Box).
      via Twitter

      Also on:

  4. Some great points here Greg. I particularly liked your rephrasing of digital mindfulness as ‘being mindful of the digital’. This was epitomised to me on the weekend in a post on mindfulness that seemed to lack any awareness of the underlying data inherent within platform capitalism.
    I also agree about the finding the balance between the technology and the human. I have really enjoyed Douglas Rushkoff’s exploration of this area with the Team Human podcast. I look forward to reading the book too when it comes out.

  5. Cherie Lacey, Catherine Caudwell and Alex Beattie touch on the irony of the humane movement. Although those such as Tristan Harris are pushing back on the structures put in place by platform capitalism, they still fall back on traditional notion of a templated sense of identity and self. This has me thinking about digital mindfulness.

    Regardless of how worthy their causes may be, both these apps require the user to enter into a thoroughly designed user-position — the Perfect User — to even be recognized as a subject by the socio-technical apparatus. One cannot function as a user without conforming to the modes of use that have been designed into the system. Put differently, apps like Siempo and Add Intent are actively involved in producing the kind of subject with which they claim to interact. The user of these systems remains a docile subject to be brought under control and disciplined, but the fantasy-structure of intentionality masks the ideological functioning of the apps, not to mention the broader structures of wellness capitalism itself, by encouraging an aspirational form of digital consumption. Tech humanism more or less insists that one be a user to be recognized as human. This move keeps us tethered to classic humanist structures of categorization, whereby some users are considered better than others.
    The Perfect User may appear to be a self-evidently superior form of subjectivity well-suited to the pressures of our techno-social age, but that should not blind us to the relational politics and ideological entanglements that lie behind it. Though it seems rooted in wellness and empowerment, it implicitly retains the hierarchies and exclusions of enlightenment humanism by assuming the nature of the “human” subject it requires.

  6. Alexandra Samuel looks at the research into unplugging. She frames this around four questions:

    What’s the problem we’re trying to address by unplugging?
    What else would we (or our kids) do with this time?
    What do we give up when we unplug?
    How does unplugging help prepare us for our daily lives in a digital world?

    Maybe a part of the solution is not ‘unplugging’, but being more digitally mindful? Amber Case has listed some interesting strategies associated with this topic.

  7. Cliff Manning discusses the Digital Resilience Framework:

    The framework defines digital resilience and is designed to provide a simple process for organisations to assess for themselves whether different types of environments, content, online services and policies support, or hinder, digital resilience.

    This has me rethinking the idea of digital mindfulness and Ian O’Byrne’s point that it is a collective action.

    Resilience and recovery are not the responsibility of an individual, they are the result of collective action.
    @wiobyrne https://digitallyliterate.net/dl-276/

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