New research directions

13 replies on “New research directions”

My Project Proposition

Digital clutter – Do we divest our digital belongings or hoard them out of sight in our digital devices? And why?

There is a large amount of research into the possession and divestment of tangible possessions but very little on the possession and divestment of digital products like apps, bookmarks, files and downloads, photos, messages, games etc.

As we are becoming more dependent on our digital devices, there is definitely a need to understand our relationship with not the device itself, but the storing or divesting of the items on it.
Do we divest in the same way as tangible belongings or are we digital hoarders?

If we divest…
• Why do we divest- because we don’t have the same need to divest to create room in our houses but is it still the case of making room on our devices? Or to forget memories? Or to move on from a previous self?(Lastovicka & Fernandez)
• Do we do a regular ‘spring clean’ that we often do with houses or is it random times, like when bored on the bus, or only when you need to e.g. there’s not enough space on your phone for photos so you need to delete some apps.
• And when we divest, do we actually divest or do we move it to a digital device we use less frequently?
• Or are we more willing to divest digital items, like apps, because we know we can easily download them back? Especially as some apps keep the memory from when you had the app before rather than you having to start from the beginning (only in some cases, not all). How often do you re-download that file/app etc? Or once divested is that usually gone for good?
• Do we divest intentionally? Or do we forget to move our digital belongings? Such as when getting a new phone/laptop or when you lose or break your devices without backing up?

If we hoard then…
• Why do we find it ok to keep hold of files even if we don’t use them? Is it because we can easily ignore them and swipe past?
• Are there some files we are more likely to keep even though we don’t use often? And if so is that because the memory attached to them is what is important, similar to tangible possessions – like digital photos and texts in the same way as photo albums and letters?
• Do we keep them as a reminder of an achievement? Like games scores.
• If we’re saving them in a way to pass some of the memory responsibility to the external components (Clark and Chalmers) then what happens when they disappear? Do we notice? Can we find them again? Or are we so dependent on the machine and the thought that ‘they’re always going to be there’ that we forget about them until we need them and forget about them if they disappear?
• Do we hoard to form a collection? Or is each file separate?

I think the last element of your post gives us a really good footing for a possible project into the how divestment is redistributed when mediated by digital devices.

I would like to research into an analysis of the benefits of digital objects for users in comparison to the benefits of their material objects, and which of the two brings more positive effects.

One journal article I found particularly interesting was Conceptualising the Ontology of Digital Consumption Objects by Watkins (2015). She suggested that people are less attached to their digital items than to their physical items, giving the example that people are less attached to their digital/online photographs than to their printed out photographs. However, she also stated that our digital objects are increasing, and our photographs, books and other ‘hard copy’ versions of items are being replaced by their digital counterparts. This gives indication to the benefits of our digital items compared to our material goods. Supporting this, research performed by Denegri-Knott et al. (2012) found that digital items may extend our sense of self and connect us to loved ones. They also argue that goods benefit us as we feel they may lead us to a sense of self discovery over time. I would like to explore in more detail the benefits that our digital goods bring compared to our material goods.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Hatton (1981), theorise that most objects that we buy do not improve one’s life directly, but instead stabilise and order one’s mind. An interesting research point would be to look into this argument further to see whether it applies to both our digital and material goods, and compare the effects that these have on people. Furthermore, Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Hatton (1981), put forward the idea that our items objectify us in three ways; by demonstrating the owner’s power/wealth, as time placeholders, and to define one’s social place in relationships. Although it is suggested that the researchers are talking specifically about material goods, a gap is highlighted where this research could be extended to digital goods, and then the positive effects of both the material and digital goods could be compared.

An idea could be to replicate Csiksgentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton’s study but focusing solely on digital objects. To my knowledge this hasn’t been done. Rebecca’s work can be used to help craft a justification for how this project extends our understanding of object self relations.

I would like to analyse the idea that digital objects have become a extension of ourselves both physically and cognitively.

Many objects used by the everyday person can be used to enhance physical abilities in which we become dependant on i.e. a car for faster, more efficient transportation, or a prosthetic limb for the physically handicapped. However up until the development of digital objects, not many other objects were capable of enhancing cognitive ability

I would like to analyse what effect do digital devices have on the consumer in terms of:

A) Being an extension of one’s self physically.

B) As a device to enhance the abilities of the user (Both physically and cognitively), or are they a hindrance/dependance to the natural development of those abilities.

Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Hatton (1981) focus on the idea that we do not hold full control over mental processes, and that we require the aid of external objects to stabilise and organise the mind. The idea of delegating cognitive tasks to objects in order to aid the user is interesting. However, as Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Hatton’s research was published in 1981, this would not have referred to digital objects that have a certain level of AI due to decades of development, meaning what tasks are we now delegating to our devices and is this morally correct? Will this lead to the dependence of digital devices for physical abilities as well as cognitive? (i.e transport)

Another source to look at for a more up to date point of view would be Watkins (2015), who explores the idea of attachment and sentimentality between that of physical and digital objects to consumers. It would be interesting to explore that whilst their may be a strong argument that physical objects still remain more attached to consumers than digital objects, are consumers in fact more dependant on digital objects.

Rather than comparisons between material and digital, perhaps a study that look at attachment towards category regardless of object constitution would be interesting, whether you frame the study as one that looks at individual meaningful objects or collections.

I would like to explore further how digital virtual consumption enable actualisation of ‘displaced meaning’ and its potential detrimental psychological effect.

‘Displaced meaning’, in the words of McCraken (1988), is “precious meanings which are purposefully removed from the here and now and placed in different out of reach locations in time and space, like golden pasts or exciting futures, or a different country, to avoid being tested or actualised’.

Sometimes, things are more precious when they are left as sheer ‘desires’. However, as achieving of those desires are critically facilitated through the means of digital virtual consumption, a wrong reflection of the self could be established from this practice.

For example, one might have amassed a great deal of respect and fear from others in an online gaming platform, building his/her new hierarchical status which isn’t necessarily in accordance with reality. Upon realising the discrepancy, this actualisation of desire could consequently have a harmful mental effect on the digital virtual consumer.

In summary, I intend to exemplify a few of the downsides that could be derived from digital virtual consumption practices, and suggest it is sometimes a vain form of consumption.

Whilst your intentions are driven by well placed curiosity, I think the problem may be that we there is a strong assumption here that digital virtual consumption is vain consumption. One may ask, what is vain consumption and how is this different to consumption? Much has been written about consumption as a form of narcissism (see Lasch’ The Culture of Narcissism for example) Rather than framing the study using a virtual/digital binary, it is best to focus on the intersection between digital technology and consumer practices, here a study that uses displaced meaning as a driving concept could be a really interesting one.

Gift giving in a virtual space – How does the digital and virtual nature of the gift affect how the gift and gift giver is perceived by the recipient?

Belk et al. (1989) describes how items given as gifts can become sacred to the recipient. The paper discusses how gifts can be a representation of the connection or relationship between the gift giver and the recipient of the gift. I would like to investigate whether this dynamic is altered if the gift given is a virtual digital good. I would also like to explore whether there is a change in the recipients perception if the gift is given in a virtual space, as opposed to a physical one.

Denegri-Knott et al. (2015) highlight an example involving a virtual avatar and the bond that the person who created it had developed. They highlight that the virtual avatar, in many ways, is an extension of the creators self. If a gift is given to the avatar in the context of its virtual world, will this have an effect on whether the avatar’s creator perceives the gift as sacred?

There is also an example of an individual that perceives his accomplishments within a digital virtual space to be sacred. This is because he has expended time, effort and cognitive energy to reach the goal or achievement. If this achievement garners a reward, is the reward perceived as sacred? If so, would someone who received this reward as a gift from someone else in the same virtual space find it sacred?

Finally, we see an example of collaboration between two people, who have an already established relationship, create an item in a digital virtual space. This item holds sacred meaning to them as it is a symbol of connection between the two collaborators. If one of the collaborators gifted the item to the other and gave them sole ownership over it, would their current perception of the gift change? How would the gift giver be perceived after this?

There are many unexplored areas within gift giving in a virtual space, which provides ample opportunity for further research.

I think there is some work that has examined the issue of gift giving at a collective level- for instance Giesler look at Naspter as a gift giving system, which could be revisited in order to help you craft a good justification for the need for further research. The focus on dyadic gift giving seems appropriate, but again will need to be justified. Do we know the extent of gift giving for instance? How big is the market? What qualifies as digital gift?

I would like to explore the consumer’s relationship with their possessions ‘post-divestment’, and how that can affect the consumer’s self-identity. I would like to touch on the differences between digital and physical possessions within that scenario, as well as the potential differences if the divestment decision was not the consumer’s.

Going from Cszikszentmihalyi’s (1981) stating that “we need objects to magnify our power”, I want to ask what happens to that magnification of power when that object or possession is divested. We still have had the relationship with that object in our memories but has it a much lesser effect once we no longer are in possession of it? Can the consumer still draw on the ‘power’ of an old sports trophy if it is destroyed in a fire, would the consumer lose that part of their identity? Could a woman who felt gorgeous in a particular dress still access that same feeling of beauty when that dress is given to a charity shop? Does the ‘power’ that a possession holds over each of us be inaccessible when it is not with us anymore?

This challenges McCracken (1986) when the study talks of the two divestment rituals, of redecorating a newly bought house of the “meaning created by the previous owner” and of selling your house to “erase the meaning” of perhaps a bad memory or time in your life that occurred within that house. These both offer the consumer closure in one form or another, whereas I would like to explore whether there isn’t closure even after divesting – how much can you really erase? Especially when the divestment was not in the consumer’s control.

Additionally, I would like to see if the effects on the relationship would be the same if the possession was digital. Perhaps the consumer feels very accomplished because they have beaten their high score on a gaming app or achieved a high number of social ‘likes’ on their Instagram post. Does that person feel less successful when they delete that picture, or lose their gaming progress due to a malfunction?

I think that this would be a great area to study and further our knowledge on post-divestment relationships.

There is something in your first idea. This paper may be useful in helping refine the idea further: Value-in-disposition: Exploring how consumers derive value from disposition of possessions.
By: Türe, Meltem. Marketing Theory. Mar2014, Vol. 14 Issue 1, p53-72. 20p. DOI: 10.1177/1470593113506245. , Database: Business Source Complete. There is something appealing in asking the question, not in positive terms, as in successfully transferring goods from one stage of their biographies to the next, but rather looking at the failures. This may shed light light on the processes themselves and give us a better idea of the core function they fulfill.

Forced divestment seems

I would like to delve into consumers’ relationships with their digital possessions specifically focussing on the intentional and/or unintentional accumulation/hoarding of ’Digital Clutter’. I would like to provide an understanding into their accounts of digital clutter, its emergence and persistence, its meaning and value and the consumers’ experiences of living with digital clutter.

Basulto (2014), writing for the Washington Post states, “We have become a nation of digital hoarders. We save everything, even stuff that we know, deep down, we’ll never need or be able to find.” I want to explore the true meaning behind the term ‘Digital Hoarding’ and why the current generation ranging from millennials, who have a strong attachment to their digital objects and the content saved on them, to elderly individuals who perhaps are not as tech savvy but have gained some form of knowledge and understanding of the technological phenomenon and have started to accumulate a digital library of their own. I will aim to unpack the differences between the meanings behind physical possessions and digital possessions and which holds greater significance in the lives on these individuals.

It will be interesting to investigate the meanings of objects and the biographies they develop among their owners. Kopytoff’s (1986) speaks about the objects being defined as ‘non-human entities’ and Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Hatton (1981) as an ‘extension of the self.’ Kopytoff (1986) goes on the explain how as these objects progress through their individual biographies, they gain a certain level of meaning and values. As Kopytoff (1986) looks at these theories through the means of physical objects, it will be useful to identify the significance the ‘digital objects’ and whether similar theories can be applied to them.

I would also like to focus on the aspect of divestment among digital objects and whether there is a ‘solution’ to the ongoing accumulation of digital clutter. After gaining an understanding of the meanings and significance these objects have for their respective owners, it will be interesting to look at Lastovicka et al. (2005) who speaks about the importance of the different modes of divestment. He comments on the various divestment rituals that are attached to objects that hold different meanings. I would like to investigate this with a focus on digital objects and whether the modes of divestment have similar connotations and can thus fuel a means of generating a ‘solution’ to the problem that is digital clutter.

However, it would also be interesting to research into whether owners of these digital objects (and in turn forming a digital library/digital clutter) actually feel that they need to get rid of their digital possessions. The word ‘Clutter’ tends to have a negative connotation when dealing with physical objects however, is the same true for digital possessions? Do people still feel like their digital libraries are getting to big even though there is no ‘limiting space’ for them? Is the phenomenon of ‘Digital Clutter’ actually seen to be a ‘real’ problem in today’s generation?

I would like to focus on these areas for my project and I think that it poses some very interesting questions and arguments.

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