Commitments not to communicate before and after digital media [electronic resource] : a study of the will and ways to disconnect under changing conditions
- Ethan R. Plaut.
- Physical description
- 1 online resource.
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- "Information wants to be free, " goes the catchphrase of the information age. Falsely attributing agency to inanimate information by anthropomorphizing it wears away at belief in the role of individual agency in people's own communicative lives. So-called "internet addiction" is one prominent example of this in its displacement of responsibility from the will to the body. Neither engineers nor policymakers nor individuals adrift in the disorienting superabundance of digital communication claim responsibility for it, and few are proposing serious solutions. Communication scholars of various stripes offer theories of why we do and do not choose certain media, do and do not use certain devices, but there has been no systematic treatment of the myriad ways people deliberately structure quiet into their lives. This dissertation is such an analysis. The economic concept of "commitment devices" is applied to communication, generating a new definition of communication avoidance: the willful choice to limit one's own future communication choices. Our present motivations and methods for preempting communication of different kinds are illuminated through three historical chapters devoted to accounts of communication avoidance in the religious, public, and personal spheres. "Information overload" is a new term for an old phenomenon, and although masses of messages are today a quantitatively and qualitatively different problem, examples reaching back thousands of years to the seventh day—that of rest—help to frame contemporary problems within older concerns both technical and normative. A number of taxonomies are developed in order to better understand the diversity of and relationships between different forms of disconnection. In the digital case, this includes an analysis in terms of four different categories of means of disconnection: practices, software, hardware, and location. The book concludes with a discussion of the social and political project of destigmatizing avoidance and envisioning infrastructures that would empower people to better control the silences in their own lives.
- Publication date
- Submitted to the Department of Communication.
- Thesis (Ph.D.)--Stanford University, 2014.
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