The Devil in the Digital: Techniques of Enchantment in Digital Detoxing
Theodora Sutton (University of Oxford)
Paper short abstract:
Based on an ethnography of 'digital detoxing' in the San Francisco Bay Area, this paper examines practices of enchantment at the intersection of technology and self.
Paper long abstract:
In the Bay Area, a community of digital detoxers gather for an annual, ritual removal of digital technology. Describing themselves as close witnesses to the unfolding story of Silicon Valley, they find that the digital world encourages transactional relationships, hierarchical and exploitative systems, and low self worth. In opposition to this, the community posit digital detoxing as a personal and spiritual critique of the digital economy, while engaging in a variety of New Age practices. Magliocco (2015) writes that in New Age Religion, an equivalence is placed between God, mind, and psyche. The work of the soul is no longer geared towards the attainment of salvation, but towards personal enlightenment and self-realisation, where Magic becomes "a technology for human growth and potential." As New Agers in a digital world, Digital detoxers position the spectre of digital technology as a psychospiritual threat to wellbeing. Forming an opposition between digital (disenchanted) and analog (magical) ways of being, they attempt to enchant their world through techniques that blur boundaries of the scientific, technical and religious. This paper explores how the community enact this enchantment in a highly performative way, utilizing conceptual techniques of opposition and irony, with aesthetic techniques of appropriation and carnivalesque. It will chart how enchantment is experienced by digital detoxers as a Religious transformation towards spiritual and pyschological well-being, as well as protection from digital evils. In turn, this paper raises questions about the value and practice of enchantment in modern society, at the intersection of technology and self.
Mobile materials and technologies of enchantment