Ulysses’ ropes and the inherent limits of digital self-control tools

Conference Paper
Author:Schwartz, R.X.University of Virginia

Millions of users install digital self-control tools (DSCTs) in order to limit their device usage. Previous inductive HCI research on DSCTs has shown that these tools are not always effective. However, it is unclear if these failures are inherent to DSCTs or merely incidental. In response, this analysis uses a deductive method to identify and classify the inherent limits of DSCTs. First, Homer’s siren story from The Odyssey is presented as an ideal form of self-binding. The ideal self-binding strategies used by Ulysses are then contrasted with the actual self-binding opportunities afforded by DSCTs. This contrast highlights several inherent limits of DSCTs: incomplete binding, inability to comprehensively detect or correct circumventions, inability to allow legitimate overrides, instability, and pressuring of users due to other embodied desires. Further implications of this analysis include that users must maintain a minimal level of self-discipline for DSCTs to be effective, and that recognition of legitimate DSCT overrides may become possible by incorporating other individuals.

human-computer interaction, attention, self-binding, social media, behavioral intervention, digital wellbeing, addiction
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Source Citation:

R.X. Schwartz. 2019. Ulysses’ ropes and the inherent limits of digital self-control tools. Presented at 5th International Conference on the History and Philosophy of Computing. https://doi.org/10.18130/v3-dfzq-ny16

University of Virginia
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