The language of non-use: Of not-doing and/or doing

Next week This weekend! I [with other CSC Lab folks Charlotte Lee and Ying-Yu Chen, with whom I co-authored another position paper] am attending the CHI 2014 workshop Refusing, Limiting, Departing: Considering Why We Should Study Technology Non-use. Participants have been instructed to not-use some technology of our choice this week, and come to the workshop ready to discuss our experience. As I was making my To Do list this morning, I jotted Figure out tech to fastthen, thinking about all the work I had to do, and how easily I get derailed when I get online, I added – Email before noon ★ ★. Once I started doing work, I wisely went back and added /Facebook to the list item: Figure out tech to fast: – Email/Facebook before noon ★ ★. I had a brief thought in a few minutes, while I was busy doing real work (coding interviews), that I wanted to looking online to briefly shop for something, like shoes, or something totally unrelated and unnecessary. At that point, I realized I wanted to add General browsing to my list.

I decided to make a notecard with my non-use decision/goal for the week written on it, so I could display it on my desk:

Disambiguating technology non-use

As you can see on these three cards, I’ve been struggling with the language of my goal. Do I resolve to not-do something? Is it totally outlawed, not allowed? No X, Y, Z  before noon! Am I just “avoiding” it? No; I don’t want to use it. Am I resolving to Work – Only purposeful work before noon? Yes. I am also not doing email, Facebook, and general/aimless browsing.

I was struggling with whether I was making a decision to not-use technology, or to-do something else. I realize that I am resolving to do both, and that they are just twin sides of the same decision, a decision to be purposeful about my actions, complete with awareness about what purposefully acting means for what I do and what I don’t do.

It all makes me think of the language of technology non-use, and of what I wrote in my position paper for the workshop regarding the tech-centric focus of viewing a person as a technology non-user.” As I said in my position paper, non-user is still built on the discursive formation that is “the user [of technology].” Certainly there are things to be learned by investigating why someone chooses not to use a particular technology or family of technologies. And no doubt sometimes the decision about what someone wants not to do is a primary decision after which other, potentially more profound or significant (or not), decisions follow. Additionally, though, people make decisions about things they want to do, doing-behaviors that necessarily preclude other doing-behaviors, turning the latter doing-behaviors into not-doing: non-using.

Anyway, some take-aways:

  • People can be simultaneously choosing to-do something and to not-do other things. These paired decisions are artifacts of more fundamental choices about life living. Defining people by their to-do or not-do behaviors or decisions may give us something, but it may also miss the more fundamental motivation for why someone is choosing to-do or not-do (the how).
  • Negative language, e.g., “No email before noon,” can be oppressive. On the other hand, restrictive language, e.g., “Only purposeful work” can also be oppressive. In short, we should be mindful of the consequences of the language we use, different ways to frame the same decision.

This post originally appeared on Katie’s personal website. You can follow her blog at www.katieresearch.com/blog. View the original post.