During this session of OxDEG Theodora Sutton will present the tentative findings and methodological hurdles from research into a digital detoxing community in the San Francisco Bay Area. This community shun their technology and camp in the woods together once a year, before returning to their ‘real’ lives, when they congregate in a community Facebook group. The talk builds on a six month ethnography undertaken in 2017 as the central data for a forthcoming DPhil thesis.
The talk will primarily present a few of the ongoing questions that the research presents. How does this activity tie to the area’s history of New Age thinking, and can it be explained using virtue signalling, cultural appropriation, or even as a cult or religion? What can this in-depth study tell us about broader concerns around digital technology use, particularly those framed by health and spirituality? And does digital detoxing perpetuate problematic digital dualism and value judgements around technology?
Finally, the talk will cover some of the methodological hurdles faced throughout the ethnography: what it means to be isolated ‘off the grid’ with informants in a digital world, and the idea of using your personal social media as a research tool.
The hashtag to use for tweeting about this event is #OxDeg.
About the speakers
Theodora SuttonAffiliation: Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford
Theodora Sutton is a digital anthropologist and DPhil student at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. Her research focuses on a digital detoxing community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and explores the widespread moralisation of digital technology. She has also worked in user experience and used qualitative research methods with the Government Digital Service and The Science Museum. Her interests include perceptions of authenticity in a digital world, digitally mediated relationships, emotional relationships with devices themselves, and fears of ‘over-civilisation’ or what James Burke calls ‘The Technology Trap’.