Keynote
Screen Time and Digital Detox
Speakers:
Safa Ghnaim
Katja Melzer
Profile:
Safa Ghnaim
Safa Ghnaim is a member of Tactical Tech, an international NGO that engages with citizens and civil-society organizations to explore and mitigate the impacts of technology on society. Lead of the Data Detox Kit and the forthcoming Digital Enquirer Kit project, before joining Tactical Tech Ghnaim developed partnerships and led workshops around the world.
Soundbite:
“I’m thinking about the big C, Corona—and everything that goes along with it. Not just the virus, but the news, the environment, and everything I have to take in when I’m doom scrolling. That’s why I’m here today, to talk about screen time and digital detox.”
Safa Ghnaim, on why the pandemic has made conversations about digital wellness more important than ever
Takeaway:
Pop-ups, prompts, notifications—smartphones are attention magnets that demand constant engagement and interaction. The business model of the internet is to capitalize on your attention. With some education and introspection we can regain some of our agency in this (over) stimulating media landscape.
Takeaway:
We no longer have a clean division between online and offline anymore. The lack of a distinction brings complications with it—today we’re convening to consider that, as citizens and users, we need a digital detox.
Takeaway:
Screen time is potentially nonstop and we have to reconcile that with the rhythm of the day, and our physiological need to rest and rejuvenate at night. You probably shouldn’t engage the internet the same way at 10pm as you do at 10am. Putting some thought into how and what you engage at night—setting limits—is an act of self care.
Soundbite:
“We’re not only talking about a digital detox for people that spend too much time on social media—this is about our broader reliance on digital technologies. The point of a digital detox is to acknowledge that the technology we carry in the palms of our hands and in our pockets is complex and multilayered.”
Safa Ghnaim, on how detox doesn’t necessarily mean ‘refusal’ or (techno) abstinence—just introspection
Project:
Collecting everyday steps you can follow to control your digital privacy, security, and wellbeing, Tactical Tech’s Data Detox Kit is a comprehensive and accessible resource intended to educate users of digital technology. Spanning data protection, misinformation, and mental health, the kit contains exercises and inventories that any individual (regardless of tech acumen or age) can go through to manage, moderate, and improve what and how they use the myriad apps and services in their lives.
Soundbite:
“We’ve seen during the pandemic that technology amplifies existing problems, rather than necessarily creating new problems. The creators of systems code their biases into them.”
Safa Ghnaim, on how human-designed technologies and systems reveal structural flaws
Soundbite:
“It’s not a foreign and distant land that we’re talking about, every country is having a critical conversation about technology use right now.”
Safa Ghnaim, on the global backlash against Big Tech
Project:
The Glass Room“ was launched by Tactical Tech at Berlin’s HKW in 2016. Fusing exhibition space with classroom, the initiative successfully combines a growing library of artworks that problematize digital technologies with accessible public programing. Several ‘editions’ of the space have been developed, addressing topics including the internet of things and misinformation. The exhibition has toured internationally with stops in New York, London, and San Francisco—and its future itinerary includes The Netherlands and Australia. The exhibition and a ‘pop-up version’ have reached an audience of 219,000, globally.
Soundbite:
“Take a pause and notice your body before sharing something online. Maybe you’re experiencing a negative red flag emotion. Find tools and practices that align with your vision. A digital detox shouldn’t be a checklist that you fill but a journey you go on.”
Safa Ghnaim, on how a simple self-check is a productive pre-post social media strategy
Commentary:
Ghnaim began by acknowledging that a “digital detox” is essentially impossible, since we increasingly rely on smartphones as a lifeline to connect us to essential services and to the social fabric of our communities near and far. We simply can’t just throw our phones into the ocean. Only folks in an enormous position of privilege can even entertain the notion, and, as Ghnaim pointed out—going cold-turkey isn’t sustainable, nor is it really the point. I couldn’t help but think of Jenny Odell’s book How To Do Nothing, which places digital detox culture in a historical lineage of absolutist refusal dating back to the Ancient Greek Epicurean garden school. The desire to drop out is all-too-common: Odell cites, too, the failed utopian communes of the ‘70s back-to-the-land movement and Silicon Valley’s current obsession with Seasteading. “Utopia,” of course, means “no-place,” and attempts to sidestep the world completely, however well-intentioned, lead to myopia, tyranny, and collapse. Instead of total renunciation, Odell argues instead for “refusal-in-place,” a way of “standing apart” from the world without running away from it. “To stand apart is to look at the world (now),” she writes, “from the point of view of the world as it could be (the future), with all the hope and sorrowful contemplation that entails.”