RESTLESS DEVICES: Recovering Personhood, Presence and Place in the Digital Age

April 7, 2022

In an insightful study by Dr. Felicia Wu Song titled Restless Devices: Recovering Personhood, Presence and Place in the Digital Age, this professor of Sociology examines the impact of our ubiquitous and often devious devices.  Noting both their benefit and their peril, Song provides research, analysis and treatment for all of us.

Dr. Song says in part:

“What do we talk about now over two decades into the twenty-first century?   We still marvel over the efficacy of social media-driven campaigns like #metoo, still chuckle over the latest memes. But we are equally concerned about how our search engine algorithms results and social media feeds are driving our country toward increased incivility, polarization and extremism.  We examine the growing data on digital addictions from neuroscience and psychology research.  We wonder about the future of a democracy in a world where fake news is normalized, and we argue over the legal obligations of privacy protection: Who has a right to what information about us and when?…”

Noting the designed manipulation of social media users, Song writes:

“Tristan Harris…has been heralded as the ‘closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.’ For several years he has been calling out tech companies for their exploitation of users’ psychological vulnerabilities and actively campaigning for ethical design.  And if you watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma, you saw that Harris is just one of several Silicon Valley insiders who are choosing to tell all.  These are the people who literally engineered today’s Facebook, Google, and Twitter experiences…and ten years later have grown disaffected with the very products they created.  These individuals have seen the unintended consequences of addictive behaviors and imbalances of power between tech companies and users unfold and are deeply unsettled. They have each taken stark measures to abandon, block, or limit their personal access to the very platforms they helped make a success….”

Recognizing that we live in a society where “being productive” is how we most often find value and success she observes that we have become psychically and electronically tethered to our work. Song states:

“When we try to rest, we are restless.  And when we are restless, we reach for our phones and devices because in some curiously deep and unexplored ways, our bodies and our imaginations have forgotten what else there is to reach for…When we try even the smallest efforts to limit our social media consumption or resist the urge to check our devices, we are confronted with our weakness, our human frailty…What we need most is a realistic and motivating vision of our circumstances that helps us imagine what kind of life we are hoping to live and how it is we can get there.  This book’s goal is to help us start down that road.”

Organizing the book into two parts and providing a very practical and tested “Freedom Project” this professor has used with students, Song’s guidance not only turns to wisdom of research and analysis but to the importance of the Spiritual Disciplines that provide the strength and power necessary to overcome such a potent force in our digital lives.  Felicia and her family are members of the Free Methodist Church in Santa Barbara.

Taken from Restless Devices by Felicia Wu Song. @ 2021 Intervarsity Press Academic. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

This book it can be purchased here.