Vast amounts of research studying the use of social technologies have helped develop a deep, rich understanding of how such technologies mediate and are embedded in complex sociotechnical milieux. Technology use, however, is but one aspect of such systems. A less-studied complementary aspect is technology non-use. In instances where particular technologies become seemingly nearly pervasive, intentional and pointed absence of that technology becomes both analytically conspicuous and potentially informative. Examining the non-use of certain social technologies and the ramifications thereof may provide important insights to help develop a fuller understanding of the nature of sociotechnical systems.
This project focuses specifically on non-use of the social networking site Facebook. We are studying various forms of non-use, from those who deactivate or permanently delete their account, to those who actively resist having an account, to those who are for various reasons prevented from joining the site. While the work proposed here focuses primarily on Facebook, the findings of this research and the implications thereof apply rather more broadly. Form Luddites to the Amish, modern history includes many examples of people explicitly avoiding or rejecting technologies. We suggest that such technology non-use can be leveraged as a novel, potentially transformative lens, allowing us to explore long-standing questions in human-computer interaction and sociotechnical systems research in a new light. Specifically, we highlight three thematic research foci.
Use and Non-use – How can our understanding of technology use and “the user” be advanced by exploring its relationship with different types, degrees, and varieties of non-use?
Privacy – How exactly is privacy conceptualized and enacted through non-use, and how do those practices help us reconsider the definition and constitution of privacy?
Groups and Communities – As a complement to existing work studying group and community formation, what are the processes and experiences of leaving such online groups?
Eric Baumer, Shion Guha, Emily Quan, David Mimno, Geri Gay
NSF Cyber-Human Systems (CHS) Grant
This work is based in part upon work supported by the NSF under Grant No. IIS-1421498. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Baumer, E.P.S., Ames., M., Brubaker, J., Burrell, J., and Dourish, P. (2014). Refusing, Limiting, Departing: Why We Should Study Technology Non-use. Workshop at ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). (Toronto, ON). [ ACM | PDF ]
Baumer, E.P.S., Adams, P., Khovanskya, V., Liao, T., Smith, M.E., Sosik, V.S., Williams, K. (2013). Limiting, Leaving, and (re)Lapsing: A Survey of Facebook Non-use Practices and Experiences. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 3257-3266). [ ACM | PDF ]