Digital wellbeing, according to Google
Abstract: In May 2018, Google presented a new initiative called Digital wellbeing at their annual developer conference, Google I/O. Digital wellbeing consists of part a new design philosophy guiding the company’s products, part a set of tools to improve people’s relationship with digital technology. Using an STS influenced approach, this thesis seeks to better understand what role Google thinks technology should play in everyday life. This is done by analyzing the keynote presentation of Google I/O 2018, drawing from theories on the social shaping of technology and critical modernity theory, bringing a contextualized understanding of the visions presented on stage and their relation to the products and services that are shown. The analysis finds the relationship between humans and technology articulated in two different, and not so easily conjoined ways. One the one hand, the Digital wellbeing initiative presents digital technology as something one can step in and out of, a distinct domain of the everyday life, put in contrast to “the real world”. We can measure and limit our time spent with technology, and the applications provided by the Digital wellbeing initiative are presented as means for gaining control over our devices as well as ourselves. Wellbeing in this sense is to be an autonomous subject, able to use technological devices to increase efficiency, and to have the power to disconnect whenever needed. On the other hand, the overall vision brought by Google suggests a situation where digital technology is fully integrated into daily life, no longer bound to particular devices and always available by voice. It’s envisioned as an omnipresent servant that covers more tasks and domains with every software update. The ideals of efficiency and time-saving that permeates Google’s vision of technology encourage users to give away control to Google in order to gain control over their time. The lack of control over time spent with technology that users report, is turned into an argument for potentially giving up further control. In the first definition, AI means artificial, in the second, intelligence.
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