The endless scroll: screen time and digital well-being in pandemic space-times

Authors: Jacob Saindon*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Social Geography, Medical and Health Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: digital geographies, COVID-19, well-being, mobile media, digital technology, neoliberalism
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the space-times of a global health crisis, how have our relationships with smartphones changed? How are our mundane engagements with digital technologies understood as healthy or unhealthy, and how are these notions of wellness applied? This paper draws upon an online survey of smartphone users in Kentucky, as well an extensive review of marketing, journalistic, and academic literature to establish current understandings of ‘digital well-being’. The paper then analyzes 18 interviews with smartphone users in Kentucky who were asked to track their screen time for a one-week period. Together, the survey, literature review, and interviews form a robust dataset that reveals the normative conceptions of well-being and the role of smartphone and screen time metrics in producing ideas of digital wellness. The paper incorporates theoretical elements from disability studies, media studies, and STS to argue that the common heuristics of digital wellness are insufficient to either understand or improve subjective well-being. I show that smartphones are technologies which at once debilitate and capacitate their users, producing circuits of dependency while also offering avenues to manage that same dependency. Mobilizing analyses of neoliberalism to discuss this cycle of dependency and rehabilitation and its particular expressions during the COVID-19 pandemic, the paper awards particular attention to the consequences of spatial limitations and remote social practices on pandemic smartphone use.

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