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The Paradox and Continuum of Digital Disengagement: Denaturalising Digital Sociality and Technological Connectivity

Kuntsman, Adi and Miyake, E (2019) The Paradox and Continuum of Digital Disengagement: Denaturalising Digital Sociality and Technological Connectivity. Media, Culture and Society, 41 (6). pp. 901-913. ISSN 0163-4437

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Abstract

This theoretical intervention puts forward a concept of ‘digital disengagement’ to discuss new socio-cultural, economic and political demarcations and implications surrounding the relationship between digital media, culture and society. At present, despite a proliferation of calls to reduce both the range of digital devices and communication platforms, and the time spent using them, and despite a growing body of academic work on disconnection or opt-out, disengagement from the digital is still conceptualised by media research as a spatiotemporal or an ideological aberration. To challenge this framework, we propose a paradigmatic shift. We invite digital media scholarship to denaturalise the digital by centring digital disengagement both as a complex phenomenon currently unfolding and as a conceptual entry point into thinking about sociality, agency, rights and everyday life more broadly. Mobilising digital disengagement as a theoretical lens, our piece provides the following: first, we critically assess the prevalent conflation of digitality with social networking, which leads to a limited understanding of disengagement as being only about disconnecting from social media platforms. Second, we challenge the normalisation of the technological in practices of disconnection, arguing instead that disengagement might be structured, but should not be determined, by the technological. Third, we demonstrate that digital disengagement is not a single phenomenon but a complex continuum of practices, motivations and effects. Understood as such, it has the potential to open new ways of imagining relations between technologies and freedoms, engagement and digitality and sociality and refusal.

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