The Digital Exhaustion blog explores the sociopolitical, environmental and health-related consequences arising from the ever-expanding presence of digital technologies in daily life. The blog is edited and curated by social anthropologists and cultural critics working across disciplines and institutions.
We welcome pitches for short posts (c. 400–1000 words) — including essays, news commentary, provocative thought pieces, images or multimedia — that critically engage with and explore our tech-saturated moment.
The inspiration for developing this publication came after observing the impact of the mass adoption of digital ‘solutions’ throughout the social field during the COVID-19 outbreak. Videoconferencing tools like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have swiftly become part of the fabric of daily working life. With work, job interviews, schooling and social events now taking place through these platforms, for many, the coming months look like they will unfold within the retina-wrecking blue light of digital screens. The pervasive use of digital platforms has reconfigured boundaries between home, work, and leisure and, in doing so, has facilitated exhausting forms of invisible and unpaid digital labour. The impact on human health and wellbeing arising from the normalisation of platform-based remote working has been captured by the popularisation of terms such as ‘Zoom fatigue’ or ‘Zoomed out’ to describe the mental exhaustion and energy depletion that accompanies online videoconferencing. New horizons of exhaustive data extraction have been opened up by contact tracing apps that governments and technology developers have quickly rolled out with little time for public debate or discussion. Social media platforms have experienced huge increases in usage as families and friends labour to stay in touch.Streaming platforms have seen record surges in traffic as those in lockdown binge on Netflix and YouTube or turn to cloud gaming services to distract themselves. Exploitative app services have also thrived, with many laid off or furloughed workers turning to exhausting, technoprecarious app-driven delivery jobs to make ends meet.
If crises produce unprecedented economic opportunities for strategically positioned actors, then the tech sector has emerged as one of the major profiteers of Covid Capitalism. At the same time, the pandemic has, in many ways, accelerated and intensified already existing forms, feelings and experiences of digital exhaustion — evidenced by the pre-pandemic popularity of digital detox retreats, device-free’sabbaths’ spent offline,national days of ‘unplugging’, media disruption movements and other practices of digital disconnection.
While the possibilities of disconnection seem increasingly tempting, as digital technologies infiltrate deeper and deeper into our personal and professional lives, it is due time to engage in sustained dialogue about how these are being deployed, embraced and opposed.
Posts for the Digital Exhaustion blog may focus on the coronavirus crisis but do not need to be restrictedto this topic. We offer ‘exhaustion’ as a broad and versatile conceptual prism for thinking through human-technology relations in the current climate of digital overload: the fatigue arising from Zoom calls; the ‘burnout’ that comes from social media overuse; the weariness of managing ever-overflowing inboxes; the ‘exhaust’ produced by carbon-fuelled data centres as internet ‘traffic’ increases; the exhaustion of planetary resources generated by the accelerating demand for digital products and services; the exhaustive efforts of tech corporations to extract data from every inch of our daily lives.
If you are interested in contributing to the blog, or if you would like to learn more about the series, as well as opportunities to get involved with its development, please contact a member of our Editorial Team:
A.R.E. Taylor is a social anthropologist based at the University of Cambridge and the University of Winchester. Follow him on Twitter at @alexretaylor
ESRC postdoctoral fellow based at the CAMEo Research Institute for Cultural and Media Economies, University of Leicester