Unplugged: Media Ambivalence and Avoidance in Everyday Life

The contemporary age has been described as an age of media saturation. If the day once was previously demarked by moments when we turned on mass communication media such as the radio in the morning to hear the traffic report, or the television in the evening to watch the news, today the media is so ubiquitous that our days are increasingly punctuated by the moments when we turn off the media: "please turn off your cell phone," or the familiar shut-down of the computer at the end of the day.

This research project examines media practices by trying to understand avoidance and ambivalence. In the age of technological convergence, when our cell phones allow us to photograph, text message, email, browse the internet, watch television programs, and even telephone, and users seem to have unlimited “access” too all media all the time, there are also users who self-consciously choose to limit or avoid certain aspects of media consumption at particular moments. We are interested in understanding these acts of media avoidance as well as other expressions of ambivalence about media. Toward that end we are conducting qualitative interviews with families who define themselves in terms of their media consumption as ambivalent users or avoiders.

Drawing upon previous studies of media practices and domestication of technologies, Unplugged compares and contrasts the ways in which users discuss their use, non-use, and limited use of television, internet, and cell phones.

The study has both theoretical and practical implications for media education and media policy-making. More specifically, understanding media ambivalence and avoidance sheds light on the choices that users make when deciding to embrace or avoid a particular medium (an issue which has been very central to the discussion about the digital divide).