In a culture of mobile connectivity, digital well-being is a hot topic. On the one hand, mobile connectivity offers plenty of opportunities. On the other hand, it can put a lot of pressure on individuals. Mariek Vanden Abeele (Ghent University, and the Tilburg Center of Cognition and Communication) received an ERC Starting Grant for the DISCONNECT project. From the perspective that digital well-being differs for individuals and from one time to another, she builds on a dynamic pathway model of digital well-being.

The mobile connectivity paradox

Mobile connectivity advances and threatens our autonomy: Smartphones enable us to perform our social roles, manage our social networks and access personalized information and services independent from time and place constraints. But smartphones also exert direct control over our behavior via the device’s reward infrastructure that stimulates addictive usage, and indirect control via normative pressure to be available and responsive. This mobile connectivity paradox prevents people from attaining a state of digital wellbeing. The urgency of this issue is visible in the myriad of (non-)technological interventions that aim to help us re-gain control over our digital media use, such as digital detox programs and digital tools that help disconnect.

A dynamic pathway model of digital well-being

Current scholarship lacks answers to these questions. It insufficiently integrates psychological, technological and social perspectives and fails to account for the dynamic nature of digital wellbeing. In this ERC funded project, Mariek Vanden Abeele, associate professor at both imec-mict (Ghent University, Belgium) and the Tilburg Center of Cognition and Communication, aims to fill this gap by building a dynamic pathway model of digital well-being.

Happy and healthy relationship with technology

Building on the computational turn in social sciences and the digital ethnographic turn in online culture studies, the research project develops an integrative pathway model to digital wellbeing by embracing a multi-method and multi-paradigmatic research design that unveils radically new insights of:

  • Which unique constellations of person-, device- and context-specific factors lead to digital wellbeing.
  • How these constellations produce individual understandings of digital wellbeing.
  • The implications of digital wellbeing interventions.

In addition, this research project brings new methodological toolboxes into the field that advance the study of both digital wellbeing and other phenomena related to digital media use. Armed with new evidence, users, technology developers and policy makers will more likely be able to make our relationship with technology happier and healthier.

Multi-method research design

The project combines (1) traditional data sources (survey and interview data) with (2) behavioral data gathered via smartphone logging and (3) dynamic data on users’ momentary states and contexts gathered via mobile experience sampling.

Funding and the project team

The DISCONNECT project is funded by an ERC Starting Grant. In addition to the PI, a postdoc and three PhD students will work on the project.

Mariek Vanden Abeele (Ghent University)

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