Media technology permeates our social, leisure, and work life, and the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic has proven that interactive and mobile technologies are not only deeply absorbed in, but also increasingly indispensable to everyday life. Although these technologies are promoted and widely adopted as means to connect people, support everyday activities, mitigate specific problems, or merely make life easier and more enjoyable, they just as often “get in the way” by being perceived as troublesome, counterproductive, or in other ways catalysts of struggles. These specific struggles require our attention and force us to reflect – more or less consciously – on our often-unnoticed relation to media technology. Our aim with this special issue is to shed light on the different encounters and the users’ sense-making and reflection within such lived experiences of struggling with technology.
The struggles in focus exceed issues of functionality. Rather, they emanate from or revolve around the experiences of and responses to how different technologies enable, frame, or restrain practices, relationships, and communication in our everyday lives. These are struggles that raise complex questions of human identity and existence and how to live life and respond to changes and challenges in a digitally saturated world.
The contributors to this special issue explore and discuss the cultural, social, and temporal understandings of the numerous complex ways in which people engage with and make use of different media types and technologies. The chosen overarching theme and concept of struggling enables a shift of perspective from the actual technology to aspects of everyday life where digital media technologies become pressing and pertinent, because they are troublesome or imbued with conflict, create discomfort or uncertainty, or lead individuals and groups to struggle. This special issue provides a critical look at how users exhibit agency and creativity in the ways they respond to these circumstances, and, furthermore, how media and technology use is associated with struggle in different parts of everyday life, at different stages of life and between different actors and social groups. With this special issue, we aim to facilitate a nuanced debate and discussion, on a theoretical as well as an empirical level, in order to contribute to a broader understanding of the roles different media and technologies play in different parts of everyday life.
We adopt an inclusive understanding of everyday life as a concept that refers to both the mundane social world and our relationship with that world. Everyday life thus comprises a variety of behaviours and activities, a world of practice, as well as distinct attitudes and forms of consciousness (Schutz & Luckmann, 1973) that allow us to select the objects, events, and processes based on relevance in relation to the given temporal, spatial, and social context and the project we plan to carry out (Schutz, 1971). On this basis, studies of the use of media technologies in everyday life may include a focus on routinisation, repetition, habits, or rhythms as well as actions and reflexivity related to the changing or uncertain nature of our media-saturated everyday life in both private and professional contexts (Ayaß, 2014).
This is illustrated in the articles by two of the contributors to this special issue – Grønning and Simonsen, respectively – who examine different aspects of patients’ and health professionals’ use of communication technologies. Here, technology functions as a mediator between different actors in specific contexts, and the struggles they experience may more or less overlap. The same can be said about parents and children in the, perhaps most common, arena of everyday life: the home. Although parents and children share not only this arena, but often also an interest in specific technologies such as computer games, their individual aspirations, motivations – and not least understandings – of what technology is and should be used for can lead to conflict and struggles. Ask and colleagues examine this specific perspective in their article.
By illuminating key aspects of how digital technologies pervade everyday life, this special issue contributes new insights to current debates about societal implications of media and technology through analytical, empirical, and conceptual discussions of how individuals and groups experience “struggles with technology”. A further goal is to examine how discourses and metaphors concerning our engagements with technologies influence understandings of digital media and technology.
In parallel with the fast-paced development and adoption of ubiquitous Internet services and devices, the field of media and communication research has expanded its scope to include digital technologies (Hjarvard, 2012). Current scholarship of media life (Deuze, 2012) and mediatized worlds has raised questions about and stimulated theoretical discussions on how digital technologies are woven into the fabric of our everyday lives and the cultural spheres and institutions they are embedded in and rely on (Hepp, 2010; Hepp & Krotz, 2014).
Some research in the area of mediatization might indicate that digital technologies are seamlessly integrated into everyday practices through processes of domestication. When applying a perspective of domestication (Hartmann, 2009; Silverstone et al., 1992; Sørensen & Lie, 1996), empirical studies enable us to shed light on how humans make technology their own, through ongoing negotiations and continuous adaptation. By turning our attention to struggles, we can identify nuances, conflicts, contradictions, and ambiguities, and thereby make room for a broader understanding of user perspectives in academic discussions; this includes discussions of how technology is not only incorporated into everyday life, but also in different ways resisted, avoided, or rejected through strategies of disconnection or digital detox (Light, 2014; Syvertsen & Enli, 2020). This aim has been a driving force in our work with this special issue, and we are happy to present the work of authors who represent different research strands, methods, and theoretical and empirical focal points, but have found a shared inspiration in the concept of struggle.
The articles in this special issue are organised into four overarching themes. This is not an exhaustive list of themes for which struggling with technology might be a relevant framework. Rather, the articles represent highly important and relevant aspects of life where digital technology has a tendency to get in the way or at least present itself in significant ways in certain situations.
The articles therefore focus on how people struggle with technology in various well-known everyday situations, such as medical settings (Part 1), for example, in encounters with the public health system; in everyday family contexts (Part 2), for example, in parents’ daily attempts to regulate their children's use of digital media; in vulnerable and intimate life circumstances (Part 3), where people immerse themselves in or seek to escape digital technologies; or in organisational contexts (Part 4), when it comes to privacy and autonomy in relation to technology use in organisations.
In her article, “Struggling with and mastering e-mail consultations”, Anette Grønning examines the use and perception of e-consultations from the patients’ perspective. Drawing on an analysis of qualitative interviews, Grønning demonstrates that e-consultations are more than solely a digital access point to the healthcare system, as they tend to afford both struggles and care.
Line Maria Simonsen, in her article “Hybrid presence”, analyses questions in relation to how health practitioners adapt to, struggle with, and manage the changes entailed by new digital media in everyday social interactions. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, Simonsen concludes that health practitioners’ struggle with technology is more a matter of normative preconditions than their ability to manage social interactions while using technology.
In their article, “eHealth platforms as user-data communication”, Martina Skrubbeltrang Mahnke and Mikka Nielsen examine how citizens access their personal health data in relation to the idea of patients being equal partners in the medical system. Mahnke and Nielsen argue that although immediate access to health data may enhance patient empowerment, such access often also falls short of patient expectations.
Helena Sandberg, Ulrika Sjöberg, and Ebba Sundin contribute the article “Toddlers’ digital media practices and everyday parental struggles”, in which they focus on the media environment of toddlers and their families. Through in-depth observations of the everyday life of two young children, Sandberg, Sjöberg, and Sundin show how parents balance ideals and everyday practicalities in their children's use of media and technology.
In their article, “The ambiguities of surveillance as care and control”, Sarah Widmer and Anders Albrechtslund examine parents’ use and non-use of location-tracking applications to monitor their children. Widmer and Albrechtslund emphasise that tracking technologies hold the potential for negotiation, contestation, and resistance, and thereby bring nuances to the techno-pessimistic accounts of child tracking.
Thomas Enemark Lundtofte, in his article “Contesting digital leisure time”, looks at parental struggles in relation to children's tablet play. Based on an analysis of empirical data on a micro level, Lundtofte looks at parental practices related to wanting to keep children “on the right track”, as well as parents’ struggles with setting meaningful boundaries.
Kristine Ask, Ingvild Kvale Sørenssen, and Stine Thordarson Moltubakk, in the article “The struggle and enrichment of play”, examine how parents, who are gamers themselves, struggle with their children's gaming practices. Ask, Sørenssen, and Moltubakk use the theoretical concepts of domestication and overflow to grasp the quality of the experiences and difficulties the parents have.
Helle Breth Klausen explores the characteristics and challenges of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) video use in her article, “The ambiguity of technology in ASMR experiences”. Based on an analysis of user comments on ASMR videos on You-Tube, Klausen contributes a conceptualisation of four types of intimacies and related struggles associated with users’ efforts to gain experiences of intimate and parasocial interaction in the technologically mediated ASMR context.
Minna Vigren and Harley Bergroth, in the article “Move, eat, sleep, repeat”, investigate the impact of proactive self-tracking technologies on users’ everyday activities. Drawing on new materialist ontology and findings from their collaborative autobiographical study of fitness watches, Vigren and Bergroth argue that rhythmicity and dressage are fruitful concepts for grasping the human–technology attachments and struggles inherent in these practices.
In their article, “Going cold turkey!”, Cristina Ghita and Claes Thorén explore so-called dumbphones, mobile devices used by people wishing to escape a hyperconnected lifestyle. Drawing on a new materialist perspective, Ghita and Thorén present a content analysis of advertising material for dumbphones as well as a collaborative autoethnographic study.
Kristina Stenström and Teresa Cerratto Pargman contribute the article “Existential vulnerability and transition”, in which they investigate the communication practices of involuntarily childless women on Instagram. By adopting a conceptual lens of digital existence, and based on qualitative data from interviews and online ethnography, Stenström and Cerratto Pargman explore the struggles these women experience with and through technology.
Christoffer Bagger, in the article “An organisational cultivation of digital resignation?”, investigates how knowledge workers perceive and respond to the implementation of enterprise social media (ESM) in their workplace. Drawing on findings from a qualitative interview study, Bagger concludes that employees express resignation toward the implementation of ESM. This resignation is not only fostered by the characteristics of ESM platforms, but is also organisationally cultivated.
The contributors to this special issue look at the different ways people struggle with digital media and technology. They aim to bring nuances into the debate on the social implications of technology and show that digital media and technology provoke conflicting experiences and feelings, but also that people respond creatively to their affordances and the challenges they encounter. The special issue raises many interesting questions around digital media and technology, especially with regard to our everyday lives: How is it possible to live life in a digitised world? What do the different struggles reveal about the role of digital media and technology in how we construct, reconstruct, and negotiate identities and social and cultural values and their meanings? It is important to shed further light on these issues pertaining to human experience and resistance. Much is said about the functionality of technology; however, less is known about how it affects our being in this world.
This special issue forms the final part of an ongoing discussion that has taken place over several years, including three NordMedia conferences. In 2015, at NordMedia in Copenhagen, we launched the temporary working group “Media Across the Life Course”. The group's aim was to initiate discussions of media use and meaning-making across often preestablished definitions related to age, gender, media platform, and so on. The working group continued its discussions at NordMedia in Tampere in 2017, where the term “struggling” was introduced in a presentation by Martina Skrubbeltrang Mahnke and Sander Schwartz. This formed the subtitle of the third – and final – temporary working group at NordMedia in Malmö in 2019, where the Call for papers for this issue was also launched. Our aim with these working groups has never been to launch a new grand theory of media use, but instead to use the term “struggling” to tweak and twist our own (and the group participants’) preconceptions of media engagement at a generic level, including our understandings of how specific research questions, methods, and approaches might be categorised as belonging to specific parts of media and communication research.
Looking back, we want to express our heartfelt appreciation to everyone from the Nordic media and communication research community – and beyond – who has participated in our discussions. A special thank you goes to Anne Cecilie Givskov and Anne Leonora Blaakilde, who were part of the organising team of the first temporary working group in 2015. We also want to thank all the participants in the workshops, and, finally, we want to send a big thank you to the authors of this special issue. You have made us struggle in more inspiring and rewarding ways than we ever imagined.