Digital Detox: The Politics of Disconnecting

ISBN: 978-1-78769-342-5, eISBN: 978-1-78769-339-5

Publication date: 30 March 2020


Syvertsen, T. (2020), "Prelims", Digital Detox: The Politics of Disconnecting (Society Now), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. i-x.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020 Trine Syvertsen

Half Title

Digital Detox


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Title Page

Digital Detox: The Politics of Disconnecting

Trine Syvertsen

University of Oslo, Norway

United Kingdom – North America – Japan – India – Malaysia – China

Copyright Page

Emerald Publishing Limited

Howard House, Wagon Lane, Bingley BD16 1WA, UK

First edition 2020

Copyright © Trine Syvertsen, 2020.

Published under an exclusive license

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No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without either the prior written permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying issued in the UK by The Copyright Licensing Agency and in the USA by The Copyright Clearance Center. No responsibility is accepted for the accuracy of information contained in the text, illustrations or advertisements. The opinions expressed in these chapters are not necessarily those of the Author or the publisher.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-78769-342-5 (Print)

ISBN: 978-1-78769-339-5 (Online)

ISBN: 978-1-78769-341-8 (Epub)

Further praise for Digital Detox:

‘Trine Syvertsen has again fascinated us with a reflexive and nuanced discussion of our guilt-ridden and ambivalent engagement with digital media. Situating the phenomenon of digital detox in the much longer history of media resistance, and its roots in the perceived pervasiveness of digital personal and mobile media, Syvertsen discusses how “the problem” is framed, who is held responsible for solving it (spoiler: you!), what “solutions” are offered, and how these are received among digital media users. A must-read for anyone who has ever owned a smart-phone!’

Göran Bolin, Professor, Södertörn University, Author of Media Generations and Value and the Media: The Shaping of Culture in Media and Society

‘Trine Syvertsen wisely considers the significance of both the societal and the individual dilemmas and influences. The author looks at the huge pressure on economic, political and culture-driven influences and, at a micro level, at the daily life anxieties and demands for detox periods, that can rely on ambivalence, self-determination and work. This tackles the need and struggle for an identity, often different from the mainstream digital culture, even with the most intimate persons as family and friends. Another aspect that that is very interesting is the reflection on the three Ps motivation for detox: Presence, Productivity and Privacy. Finally, I consider of extreme relevance the discussion on digital policies and on how they are driven to get us online at all time, without discussing how this might affect (negatively) our life.’

Maria José Brites, Associate Professor at the Lusófona University of Porto (ULP) and Researcher at the Centre for Research in Applied Communication, Culture, and New Technologies (CICANT)

‘Syvertsen offers a valuable look at the social dimensions of digital detox, explaining why it is more than just a lifestyle trend or a tool for self-optimization. Her work confirms that we have much to learn about presence, productivity and privacy from media resisters who engage with devices and networks on their own terms.’

Jennifer Rauch, Professor, Long Island University, Author of Slow Media: Why Slow is Satisfying, Sustainable and Smart

‘In this timely and critical analysis of the growing industry of digital detoxing, Trine Syvertsen provides a compelling, historically informed account of how the commercial and political push for 24/7-connectivity intertwines and clashes with personal strategies of resistance. Locating digital detox in broader trajectories for responsibilizing individuals in digital society, this book is a must-read for anyone interested in the everyday politics of digitalization and the digital battle for our attention.’

Stine Lomborg, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Author of Social Media, Social Genres: Making Sense of the Ordinary, Editor of Ubiquitous Internet


About the Author viii
Acknowledgements ix
1. ntroduction: Do we have a Problem? 1
2.  What is the Problem? Intensifying the Quest for Attention 25
3.  You Are the Problem! Everybody Online and Self-regulation 49
4.  Managing the Problem. Disconnection and Detox 73
5.  the Problem is Personal - and Social: Making Sense of Digital Detox 99
References 125
Index 149

About the Author

Trine Syvertsen is Professor of Media Studies at the University of Oslo. She has published extensively on topics of online media, television, media policy and media history in international journals. Syvertsen is author of several books including Media Resistance: Dislike, Protest, Abstention (Palgrave, 2017) and co-author of The Media Welfare State (University of Michigan Press, 2014). She is currently chairing a four-year research project on invasive media and digital detox (Digitox 2019–2023). Trine Syvertsen has held a range of academic leadership positions, serves on editorial boards, contributes to public debates and is an experienced public speaker.


For over a decade, I have been interested in media resistance: how people express dislike for and ambivalence towards mass and digital media. I have talked to numerous people who have described their experiences, offered their views and inspired me to delve deeper into phenomena such as digital detox. Life as a media researcher is privileged – there is no shortage of fascinating topics – but none of my previous research interests has been met with a similar level of engagement. A heartfelt thanks to those who have shared their ideas in formal interviews and informal conversations.

I am indebted to colleagues who share my interest in digital detox. Faltin Karlsen is a long-time collaborator, and more recently, we have teamed up with Gunn Enli, Brita Ytre-Arne, Hallvard Moe and Ole Jacob Madsen to conduct a larger project. Many of my ideas are products of discussions with these colleagues, and I am especially thankful for feedback on chapters. I am grateful to the Norwegian Council of Applied Media Research and the Norwegian Research Council that have funded our research. Our current project Digitox: Invasive media, ambivalent users and digital detox is funded by the Norwegian Research Council and runs until 2023. I am also grateful to our research assistant J⊘rgen Bolling for gathering data, transcribing and organising.

The leadership, colleagues and students at the Department of Media and Communication, University of Oslo, have been supportive and taken a keen interest in digital detox, Marika Lüders and Petter Bae Brandtzæg have been particularly helpful. At Oslo Metropolitan University, Curt Rice has been a rich source of input on social and digital media use. During my research leave, I have had an opportunity to present ideas on digital detox to staff and students at the University of Westminster, Free University of Brussels, Århus University, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University, Kristiania University College and the University of Bergen. I am thankful for invitations, feedback and criticism, and particularly want to thank students who have shared ideas and experiences. Nils Petter Str⊘mmen and Kantar media have encouraged my research ideas and provided valuable survey data. I am thankful to Arild Asp⊘y for all the small and large conversations and for accepting that our lives sometimes turn into a digital detox laboratory.

Last, but not least, I am grateful to the anonymous reviewers at Emerald who provided critical and useful feedback and to my editor, Jen McCall, who has been great fun, tremendously supportive, and a great reader and discussion partner.

Trine Syvertsen, Oslo, August 2019.