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The Political Economy of Distraction in Digitized Denmark

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - DISTRACT (The Political Economy of Distraction in Digitized Denmark)

Reporting period: 2021-07-01 to 2022-12-31

Bridging anthropology, sociology, economics, psychology, political science, and data science, DISTRACT combines advanced data science tools and established social science analysis to explore the political economy attention/distraction in the age digitized technologies. Combining qualitative and quantitative data from four case studies in the world’s most digtitized country (Denmark), DISTRACT aims to trace and analyse the mental, social and material techniques by which attention is captured, retained and deflected in digitized Denmark.

Subproject 1 - Distraction Politics explores dynamics of political attention among Danish politicians, political parties and other key agents and contexts of public debate. By combining qualitative data and methods and quantitative ditto, the ambition is to contribute to state of the art scholarship “issue attention” as well as event studies in relation to how politicians and the public interact and influence each other via digital means.

Subproject 2 - Coding Distraction. This subproject seeks to contribute to a detailed empirical understanding of the emerging software practices, infrastructures, and valuation regimes of the digital “attention economy”, from the point of view of its instantiation in and as code and coding practices. In terms of methods, the team deploys and combines combination of (n)ethnographic and computational approaches, taking the Danish app development market as its shared object of research and point of departure.

Subproject 3 - Defying Distraction explores the emerging digital backlash in Denmark and elsewhere, which takes the form of practices such as digital disconnection and digital detoxes, the moral panics and ethical discussions about what a good life means in the digital age, as well as the attentional technologies and practices that are part of such limitations of digital device and platform usage. Methodologically, digital detox and disconnection is investigated and analyzed from a variety of social science and data science angles, in order to chart these tendencies as matters of concern for different actors in society.

Subproject 4 - Regulating Distraction. Through a combination of quantitative (e.g. controlled experiments) and qualitative (e.g. ethnographic fieldwork) data and methods, the aim of this subproject is seek to contribute to an empirically informed understanding of how the attention of some actors (employees, students) is regulated by other actors (e.g. employers, teachers) to reach certain goals.
DISTRACT is delivering as planned in spite of the national and international restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in especially 2020 and 2021. Internal meetings and seminars have focused on research methodology, ethics and GDPR, theory, amongst others. In each of the four sub projects, qualitative data and methods are being combined with quantitative data and computational techniques. Team members are invited to partake in an increasing number of workshops to present their findings, just as Distract researchers have traveled abroad in conjunction with summer schools, conferences and invited keynotes.

Key achievements include:
(1) An international, method-focused workshop (held as a kick-off in late January 2020) with participants from Danish and international research institutions and consultancy companies involved in social data science/digital methods research, the result of which has been published in Big Data and Society, edited my MA Pedersen.
(2) Also based on a workshop held around the start of DISTRACT, a special issue on "Digital Trust" has been accepted for consideration by the Journal of Cultural Economy, co-edited by K. Albris
(3) Following a sustained collaboration with Tufts University, an article entitled “The Political Economy of Attention” has been published in the Annual Review of Anthropology.
(4) The unexpected research opportunities pertaining to political attention and smart phone use arising from Covid 19 especially for Subproject 1 (Political Attention) and Subproject 3 (Defying Distraction) have materialized in the form of articles published in or under review with leading anthropology and sociology journals such as Current Anthropology, Big Data and Society, The Sociological Review, and Journal of Cultural Economy.
(5) An article on the relationship between smart phone usage and academic performance co-authored by D. Dreyer-Lassen was published in Psychological Science, just as fresh findings from Subproject 4’s study of digital distraction mitigation workshops in Danish high school has been submitted to the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, the premier international HCI conference.
(6) Notable output from Subproject 2 included M. Jespersen’s talk at the ICA Preconference: Digital Disconnection Studies Beyond Borders in Paris, and workshop, hosted by the subproject team, entitled Studying the Digital Backlash, which brought together scholars from media and communication research, anthropology, computer/data science working on the so-called "techlash" or "digital backlash". The output from the event will be published in a book co-edited by K. Albris with Nordicom
(7) Two interdisciplinary workshops with participation of internationally leading sociologists and media scholars have been co-organized by E Otto and MA Pedersen and researchers from Dept. of Communication, UCPH, in relationship to Subproject 2. Entitled Coding Distraction. Post-platform Capitalism? – Rethinking the Political Economy of Digital Markets, the aim of the workshops and the planned edited volume (to which E Otto will also contribute her own chapter) is to rethink the relationship between digital markets and political economy and to foster interdisciplinary research on data economies.
(8) M. A. Pedersen was invited to give the annual Digital Anthropology keynote lecture at University College London in 2020, just as he has been by invited by AI & Anthropology researchers from the University of Bergen to lecture about “machine anthropology”. He is also invited to give a talk at the University of Edinburgh, just as he, alongside with several junior researchers from both Subproject 1 and 3, have been invited to the upcoming (Sept 2022) “Attention: An Interdisciplinary Workshop” event at the LSE.
In keeping with the original objectives of the project, DISTRACT is on track towards advancing the state-of-art pertaining to the political of economy of attention (understood in the broad sense of the term) within numerous scientific literatures and discussions cross-cutting anthropology, sociology, economics, political science and psychology. Methodologically, the project team has already accomplished the originally ambition set out by the project when it comes to bringing together and integrating in both novel and cogent ways disparate social and data science data, techniques and methods, ranging from sensor and meta-data logged on digital devices to text data scraped from social media, to ethnographic data gathered through fieldwork and other qualitative methods. This is testified by the several articles with a specifically methodological focus that have already been published. In addition, each of the four subprojects are deeply engaged in the data collection and/or early data processing phases, and therefore on track to embarking on the subsequent analysis- and publication phase, which is expected to fully kick in from spring 2023 onwards.

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