This ability to limit one’s own uses, to control one’s own silences, relies on elements including individual will, social norms, particular technologies, and more.
Here I focus on those “technologies of non-use,” or what one might more broadly call “tools of communication avoidance.” This introduction sets out a theoretical framework for thinking about “communication avoidance,” technologies thereof, and the inherent difficulties of studying it.
Today’s technologies of digital avoidance automatically block messages based on content, time, location, and many other criteria.
So I begin instead by examining a single technology chosen for its apparent simplicity: the glass “swear jar” into which people toss pocket change as punishment for their foul language.
The swear jar’s use as a point of reference is not due to some particular features it shares with digital media; it is useful precisely because of its of features.
Shorn of technological complexity, this analysis is able to focus on the basic mechanisms of avoidance and social contexts in which they take shape.
This produces a number of preliminary conclusions about technologies of avoidance.
Although the jar itself is simple, its effects vary depending on factors including the physical embodiment of the device, its location in space, the rules and other cultural context within which it functions, the particular people using it, and the idiosyncratic flows of communication that the jar more and less successfully impedes.
This prompts a reevaluation of the very concept of “communication technology,” which has implications for both the engineers who design these technologies and the scholars who study them.Then, in the following section, I examine more technologically complex digital devices in light of this changed perspective, setting out a new research program on communication avoidance.This analysis is grounded in a number of new technologies that are already available to the public but concludes with a glimpse into the patent-application imaginary from which one can deduce both the ways in which engineers have conceived the devices we already have and their visions of what might come next. Technologies of communication and use receive much scholarly attention while technologies of avoidance and non-use receive comparatively little. Research interests include digital media, disconnection, silence, avoidance, remix culture, transparency, propaganda, journalism, media ethics, and humor. in communication in 2014 from Stanford University, where he continues his research as a postdoctoral fellow in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric.