Trending: the desire to "pushback" against technology

Researchers at the University of Washington have identified the desire to resist constant connectivity and to step back from the online world. The authors of a paper to be presented at the Berlin iConference in early 2014 wanted to understand the overserved.

Richard Gomez, assistant professor in the UW Information School and co-author with Stacey Morrison, who graduated last summer with a master’s degree, are calling the expression of resisting, dropping off or reduction of the use of technology, pushback

Gomez had originally stared out wanting to study people who felt marginalized by technology and wanted to get more involved, instead he says, “If my main work is with the underserved, what is life like for the overserved?”

The researchers closely looked at instances of pushback against technology by reviewing 73 sources of online expression: personal blogs and websites, popular media sources and academic conferences and journals. As a result, they isolated two forces at work: 

-the motivations that drive users to stop or filter their use of technology

-behaviors, or the ways they make this change

While Gomez initially thought that pusback would be driven by costs of technology and the frustration with technology’s sophistication and the need to learn new skills, they found that the real reasons were pushback were mostly emotional. 

Users were driven to pushback for political, moral and religious concerns, as well as wanting to take control over their time and where they expended energy in their lives. Even though it seems logical to assume that privacy would be a motivator, it was a driver for pushback.

“We were surprised by the lack of concern about privacy,” Gomez said. “But people tend to take it for granted and don’t think it’s a big issue. They choose to disclose a lot of things online and do not think it will come back to affect or hurt them.”

The most significant act of pushback was users placing limitations on their exposure to technology through reduced time with apps and electronic communications. Also, users were prone to do digital fasts, completely foregoing some activities in a mirror of ways people deal with physical stress.

“Longing for connection to people is what makes it hard for users to push back on technology, what brings them back. But technology seems to overpromise and underdeliver in this respect,” the researchers summed up. “If technology both helps us to connect, and at the same time drives us apart, we need to learn to manage technology, and know when to push back.”