söndag 26 november 2017

Undesigning the Internet (paper)

We submitted a paper, "Undesigning the Internet: An exploratory study of reducing everyday Internet connectivity" to the Fifth International Conference on ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) more than a week in advance of the deadline. While the deadline had been postponed by two weeks, I have still never submitted a paper that much time in advance ever neverever before!

The paper is written by Kelly Widdicks (Lancaster, UK), Tina Ringenson (KTH, Sweden), Daniel Pargman (KTH Sweden), Vishnupriya Kuppusamy (University of Bremen, Germany) and Patricia Lago (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands) and it's a spin-off from the ICT4S summer school that was held in Leiden (the Netherlands) four months ago (July/August). I unfortunately did not write a blog post about the summer school back then, only a shorter notice on our MID4S team blog.

I have to give credit especially to Kelly Widdicks whom I met earlier this year for the first time (at CHI in Denver in May - another "missing" blog post). I'm pretty sure there wouldn't have been a paper without her persistence and drive and the paper is fortunately right in line with her research (so she could legitimately spend a lot of time on the study and on writing the paper). I dare to say this has been more of a "hobby project" for me and the other co-authors. Three of the five authors are currently ph.d. students while me and Patricia are "seniors".

My main contribution to the paper was in helping out in the planning of the study, in the process itself of writing the paper as well as in writing the major part of the discussion. I know I was involved in writing the introduction and the background too but can't really remember exactly who wrote what anymore since that's what Google docs does in a well-functioning process where everybody rewrites everybody else's text. I was however more or less out of the loop when it came to the heavy lifting of analyzing the data and writing up the results.

The premise of the (exploratory) paper is that we use the Internet (too) much. So instead of having Internet access by default, we asked informants (which included ourselves) to be disconnected from the Internet for two weeks by default and only reconnect when deemed "necessary" (as decided by each informant). Each informant wrote a daily diary and the paper is the result of this "Internet deprivation-light" study of ours. It doesn't build on a huge amount of empirical material but it does have a lot of interesting thoughts. When we started the process of planning the study we really had no idea if it would be possible to get a paper together but I think the end result was beyond our (or at least my) expectations.

Now we have to lean back and wait for two months until we know if the paper has been accepted or not. The ICT4S conference itself will be held in Toronto in May next year and I expect to go there! Below is our abstract:

Undesigning the Internet: An exploratory study of reducing everyday Internet connectivity

Internet connectivity is seamlessly integrated into many of our everyday habits and activities. Despite this, previous research has highlighted that our rather excessive Internet use is not sustainable or even always socially beneficial. In this paper, we carried out an exploratory study on how Internet disconnection affects our everyday lives and whether such disconnection is even possible in today’s society. Through daily surveys, we captured what Internet use means for ten participants and how this varies when they are asked to disconnect by default, and reconnect only when their Internet use is deemed as necessary. From our study, we found that our participants could disconnect from the Internet for certain activities (particularly leisure focused), yet they developed adaptations in their lives to address the necessity of their Internet use. We elicit these adaptations into five themes that encompass how the participants did, or did not, use the Internet based on their necessities. Drawing on these five themes, we conclude with ways in which our study can inspire future research surrounding: Internet infrastructure limits; the promotion of slow values; Internet non-use; and the undesign of Internet services.

Index Terms: sustainability; everyday life; reduced Internet connectivity; limits; slow values; non-use; undesign.

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