By Casper Frohn, Lab TA
In the autumn of 2021, ETHOS Lab hosted two workshops under the title “Digital Self-Care” carried out by Post.doc Michael Hockenhull, Lab Manager Merethe Riggelsen Gjørding, and Lab TA Casper Frohn. In this blogpost, Casper invites you into the process of how this came to be, reflections on what digital self-care entails, as well as the takeaways from shaping and reshaping this collective space.
Establishing a Concept
As with many other events, the precise format of our workshops did not immediately present itself. Rather, it was the result of an abstract idea, a set of discussions, inspiration from the work of others, and a practical trial-and-error approach. In other words, how to construct a “digital self-care workshop” was not a given from the beginning.
The initial idea stemmed from an observation from our own lives. We had noticed that we do not intentionally reflect on our digital lives and habits as well as correspondingly act on those reflections to the degree that we would like.
Against better knowledge, we continue our online practice, regardless of our (various) awareness of how the digital platforms that make up most of our digital infrastructures (e.g., social media and search engines) not only collect data on us, but also track and monitor our behavior, and often are designed in ways that make us act in accordance with others’ interests rather than our own.
We agreed that ETHOS Lab would be a fitting community to provide a space for doing exactly this: assess our own digital behavior and address these matters together.
However, first we had to take another step back to articulate what ‘digital self-care’ entails for us. Is it about caring for our ‘digital selves’? Or is it about caring for our ‘analogue selves’ in a digitalized world? Does this distinction between the digital and the analogue even make sense in a context of self-care? And what does self-care in and of itself even cover?
We had various ideas, ranging from yoga to reflexive journaling to deleting cookies in our internet browsers. All these various thoughts pointed to the multifaceted nature digital self-care as a concept. In the end, however, we decided on focusing on our encounters with and in the digital world.
With this outset, we were highly inspired by Tactical Tech’s Digital Detox Kit, an online repository aimed at raising awareness about the conditions and consequences of surfing the internet and operating through digital devices. They have offered a generous contribution to the world in form of a range of various guides covering practical steps to navigate the internet while taking care of oneself.
Based on their Digital Detox Kit, we envisioned two different tracks for our event-series. One would be oriented towards informing and having discussions, with the goal of raising awareness. This could be presentations on phenomena such as ‘dark patterns’, ‘surveillance capitalism’ and online security. However, we assumed that people who would be drawn to this type of event in the first place were probably already informed about these matters. Thus, we instead wanted another direction emphasizing action with hopes of having a greater impact by doing digital self-care together.
The ‘togetherness’ was important to us, as doing activities together would create a space where interaction and a shared experience could provide the foundation for actually ‘getting things done’.
More so, combatting a structural issue in an individual manner feels even more ill-fitting than doing it collectively. In the world of big tech-companies making money by extracting parts of us – our digital behavior tracks – we are vulnerable. By creating a platform to create alliances and share insights, we attempted to meet that inequality embracing the insufficient quality in that attempt.
Eventually, we put together a set of activities that we thought resonated with our ideas of a collective space for getting things done. These entailed a combination of some of the tangible, however not too time-consuming, activities from the Data Detox Kit, as well as a set of reflection exercises aimed at contextualizing these activities within our everyday analogue and digital lives.
At this stage, we needed to settle on just one more thing: who did we want to feel invited? We talked about what it meant for ETHOS Lab to be the organizer of the event and eventually decided to do two separate workshops: one taking place at ITU aimed at ITU students and staff, and one taking place at Studenterhuset aimed at reaching a broader engagement beyond those affiliated with ITU.
Learning From Experience
We then felt ready to try it out in practice!
Soon, we, however, came to experience that having a vision of an event doesn’t necessarily equate to how it will turn out. The first workshop was at Studenterhuset in October, and it didn’t take many minutes before we realized how our experience and our expectations did not match.
There were various reasons for this, some based on practical issues such as event promotion (resulting in an attendance much lower than expected), while others were more directly tied to our execution of the workshop. Most striking to us was an uneasy atmosphere that heavily contrasted our vision of a relaxed space of taking care of ourselves. We found that the size of the room and its spatial setup in combination with the low participant turnup made for a too formal and, in effect, tense setting.
On top of that there was an unexpected silence during parts of the workshop, and though we eventually tried to counter the silence with music, it only seemed to further emphasize the forced feeling of the event. Lastly, it was also striking to us that although we internally had discussed and found consensus on what we understood by ‘digital self-care’, the same could not be expected from the participants.
We thus considered the first workshop a chance to learn and improve, and we made a series of adjustments before executing the second workshop at ITU.
First of all, we decided to get hold of a more relaxed space to host the event, arranging with Café Analog to take place there. Scared that a lack of participants would again hinder the event in reaching the potentials we saw in it, we also created an event on Facebook to attract more people (this reliance on Facebook was something that a participant at the workshop later pointed out the irony in). We then prepared a playlist with relaxing background music that we thought would alleviate any silences that might take place at the next workshop.
Most importantly, however, we decided to articulate the metaphor of ‘self-care’ much more explicitly. As self-care has connotations to pleasure and treating oneself, we decided to offer a wide range of luxurious snacks and drinks typically associated with a spa treatment: assorted berries, dark chocolates, lemonades, and cucumber water.
We also articulated to a greater extend our vision and hopes for the workshop as well as contextualized our idea of self-care in the times of digital surveillance and lack of regulation with Audre Lorde’s famous words of: “self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
We embraced not being experts. Our goal was from the start to facilitate a space to get things done, and as such we reminded ourselves that the workshop was a collective achievement where everyone was invited to share their experiences and knowledge. Through this embrace, we created space for much collective sharing and peer presentations.
The second workshop went beyond our expectations on every level. The participant turnout was high, the engagement was great, and the new framing of the event helped ease a natural and casual atmosphere where people truly together could get things done. The event that we had first envisioned came to life, and it was a joy to see it unfold.
The Future of Digital Self-Care
Having turned the concept of digital self-care into a workshop series, we note the potential in spaces like this to protect our data and actively care for our digital self, which we otherwise never(?) would come around to. It makes sense to take care of ourselves together and to provide that space on a continuous basis to stay in touch with our own wellbeing, contain our data tracks, and stay updated on ways of maintaining privacy.
We hope to continue providing events in this manner – whether it will be similar to the format as described here or shaped into a different type of event. Only time will tell. Regardless, we are convinced that as a collective endeavor, digital self-care makes a lot of sense.