Digital akrasia: a qualitative study of phubbing

AI and Society 35 (1):237-244 (2020)
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Abstract

The present article focuses on the issue of ignoring conversational partners in favor of one’s phone, or what has also become known as phubbing. Prior research has shown that this behavior is associated with a host of negative interpersonal consequences. Since phubbing by definition entails adverse effects, however, it is interesting to explore why people continue to engage in this hurtful behavior: Are they unaware that phubbing is hurtful to others? Or do they simply not care? Building on interviews with students in a Danish business college, the article reveals a pronounced discrepancy in young people’s relationship to phubbing: While they emphatically denounce phubbing as both annoying and disrespectful, they readily admit to phubbing others. In other words, they often act against their own moral convictions. Importantly, participants describe this discrepancy as a result of an unintentional inclination to divert attentional engagement. On the basis of these results, the article develops the notion of digital akrasia, which can be defined as a tendency to become swept up by ones digital devices in spite of better intentions. It is proposed that this phenomenon may be the result of bad technohabits. Further implications are discussed.

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