Pulling the plug visually: Images of resistance to ICTs and connectivity
First Monday

Pulling the plug visually: Images of resistance to ICTs and connectivity by Ricardo Gomez, Kirsten Foot, Meg Young, Rose Paquet-Kinsley and Stacey Morrison

As information and communication technologies (ICTs) become ever more present and pervasive in daily life, the use or non-use of ICTs can provide choices as well as obstacles or exclusion. As people look for ways to reduce ICT use and push back on ICT immersion, some express resistance to ICTs via ICTs. Building on past scholarship based largely on interviews, surveys and textual analysis, this exploratory study analyzes a collection of images posted online that express a critique of the ubiquity and constancy of ICT use, in more dramatic ways than texts allow and in far more subtle ways than a binary division between users and non-users. Our findings of this visual content analysis of 233 images discuss the use of humor, metaphor and blurred boundaries between digital and non-digital worlds in images of resistance and show distinct patterns in representations of problems engendered by ICTs, their criticism and in the antidotes suggested in the images.


1. Introduction
2. Review of the literature
3. Research methods
4. Analysis of visual expressions of resistance to technology
5. Discussion and conclusions



1. Introduction

What do people do when they are overwhelmed by the growing expectation to be constantly connected to information and communication technologies (ICTs) [1]? Some drop out, some resist the constancy and ubiquity by carving out tech-free space and time and some push back through various forms of protest (Rainie, et al., 2013; Mejias, 2013; Foot, 2014; Morrison and Gomez, 2014). Expressions of resistance and pushback to ICTs are not new, but they may be growing both in variety and in number, as information technologies in general and use of social media in particular, become increasingly omnipresent among broader sectors of the population. The studies cited above evidence that resistance to digital media is not a Luddite call to reject all technology. Rather, it is often a technologically-savvy drive to better manage the use of ICTs to meet a fuller spectrum of the needs of an individual, family, community, workplace and/or society, rather than defaulting to digital network hegemony (Couldry, 2013; Mejias, 2013).

The phenomenon of resistance to ICTs is still understudied, but there is some exploratory literature by scholars of computer-mediated communication and others, which provided the foundation for the research reported here. Few studies of ICT use have included examination of technology non-use (Mitra, et al., 1999; Hargittai, 2007). Other studies focused on the motivations and strategies of resistance or non-use have been conducted via interviews (Portwood-Stacer, 2012; Woodstock, 2011), surveys (Clark Estes, 2011; Rainie, et al., 2013) and analysis of text (Foot, 2014; Morrison and Gomez, 2014). Similarly, textual representations of and strategies for resistance to digital/social media have received some scholarly analysis (Foot, 2014; Mejias, 2013), but to our knowledge, visual representations of resistance to ICT are a new phenomenon that has not been studied to date. Communication online is undeniably visual as well as textual, with people routinely sharing images across as well as within platforms to convey their ideas and concerns and to conduct “visual conversations” (McDonald, 2007). Therefore, we conducted this visual study of communication about resistance to digital media with the purpose of exploring how people express resistance to digital media visually, via digital media. In brief, our study sought to answer the following broad, foundational research question: how is resistance to ICTs represented in online images? By studying images of resistance, we uncovered new dimensions in the use of humor, and stronger emotional load and pathos in the expressions of resistance to ICTs than have been reported in prior analyses of texts, interviews and surveys. This exploratory study sets the foundation for future research to better understand and theorize the pathos and emotional load of visual expressions of resistance to ICT.

After a brief overview of literatures on analyzing visual communication and textual discourses of resistance to ICTs, we describe the research methods employed in this study. We then present our findings and discuss their implications for advancing scholarship on resistance to ICTs. We conclude with possible future directions for research.



2. Review of the literature

Non-use of technology

In HCI, much early work on non-use understood it as a function of barriers to adoption. Work on the digital divide, the diffusion of innovations (Rogers, 2003) and the technology adoption model (TAM) (Davis, 1989; Venkatesh and Davis, 2000) examined non-use as a problem of physical access. Diffusion of innovations, for example, relies on an underlying assumption that when barriers fall, all non-users will become users. These approaches ‘pathologize’ non-use, by tying it to a deficit in a user’s digital literacy, access or personality (Bauer, 1995; Selwyn, 2003). Cushman and Klecun (2006) point to TAM’s understanding of technology as something used instrumentally to a certain end by the user, instead of considering the impact of a technology in the context of the users’ life-world.

In contrast, Satchell and Dourish (2009) point out that rather than seeing non-use as an absence or gap, non-use is a form of use — “often, active, meaningful, motivated, ... directed and productive.” Thus, recent work refers to two kinds of non-use — ‘non-volitional’ and ‘volitional’ (Baumer, et al., 2013), and of the existence of ‘want-nots’ as well as ‘have-nots’ (Selwyn, 2003). Scholarship on the volitional non-use of ICTs has intensified lately. This work spans several forms of ICTs: devices (Aversano, 2007; Sambasivan, et al., 2009), social media (Baumer, et al., 2013; Brubaker, et al., 2014), especially Facebook (Portwood-Stacer, 2012; Rainie, et al., 2013), the Internet (Katz and Rice, 2002), and instant messaging (Birnholtz, 2010).

Other recent studies have centered on the motivations behind non-use. The object of analysis in such work is the individual (Murthy and Mani, 2013). Selwyn (2003) asserted that each individual weighs the “relative advantage” of the benefits of a technology’s use against its costs. Building on this early insight, a desire to reclaim productive time or avoid distraction is a commonly reported motivation for non-use (Baumer, et al., 2013; Birnholtz, 2010; Sleeper, et al., 2015). Furthermore, motivations for non-use have been studied in correspondence with a specific platform. For example, some users reported negative emotions and experiences on Facebook as a primary motivation to decrease use (Rainie, et al., 2013; Sleeper, et al., 2015). Other reported motivations are privacy concerns (Baumer, et al., 2013; Guo, et al., 2014), addiction (Baumer, et al., 2013) and disenchantment (Satchell and Dourish, 2009). Much of this work focuses on behavior change goals rather than user motivations for non-use as such (Birnholtz, 2010; Sleeper, et al., 2015). The findings we present below suggest that behavior changes — whether aspirational or actual — can be expressed visually as well verbally, such as through images of powered-down cell phones, unplugged computers, and cancelled social media accounts.

Non-use behaviors can include deactivating an account (Portwood-Stacer, 2012), blocking access to social network sites (SNS) on a computer (Schoenebeck, 2014a), or diminishing frequency of use. Depending on the context, a user may exhibit “various degrees of deliberate distancing and disengagement” (Sambasivan, et al., 2009). Often, these behaviors are ambiguous with respect to whether they constitute non-use. Negotiated use sometimes overlaps with non-use, such as through boundary regulation (Leavitt, 2014; Birnholtz, 2010; Vanden Abeele and Roe, 2008), lurking (Greger, 2011), habit change (Schoenebeck, 2014a) and obfuscation (Leavitt, 2014; Loder, 2014). All of these non-use actions may be temporary and/or episodic, as can the act of “leaving” a social media platform. Rainie, et al. (2013) talked with users about their “Facebook vacations,” finding that at 61 percent of current users report having previously “[taken] a break from using Facebook for a period of several weeks or more”. In her work on giving up Facebook for Lent, Schoenebeck (2014b) describes over-use and taking breaks as a cyclic pattern. Leaving can be a single, large event, as in a ‘Facebook suicide’ (Karppi, 2011; Stieger, et al., 2013) or a quieter, gradual withdrawal from regular use (Brubaker, et al., 2014). Thus, non-use should not be attributed solely to ‘non-users,’ but rather as a practice that commonly takes place as users negotiate and reclaim control over the role of technology in their lives.

Media resistance

Resistance, considered by Satchell and Dourish (2009) to be a form of non-use, can be understood as an active process of negotiation with the place of new technologies in society. Resistance to technology is often understood as rejection of the technology itself, when instead scholars have noted that it is a reaction to the social transformation it precipitates (Satchell and Dourish, 2009; Thompson, 1964). Recent studies have analyzed textual expressions of resistance to digital ICTs in the realms of personal life and relationships, work and organizations and politics and the military (Foot, 2014; Morrison and Gomez, 2014). However, resistance to ICTs is not new and not unique to digital ICTs: cautionary and critical arguments have been made concerning every new generation of communication technologies (Fischer, 1992; Kline, 2003; Mander, 1978; Wartella and Reeves, 1985). For instance, in various eras it was believed that printed books would be the end of the art of calligraphy, gramophones would be the end of symphony orchestras, phones would be the end of personal conversations and TV would be the end of children learning and playing outdoors. Research on resistance to television and its noxious effects on children were common in media studies in 1960s and 1970s (Wartella and Reeves, 1985). This historical perspective on resistance is reflected in our first sample image, Figure 1, which shows an archival photo superimposed with a caption that parodies the idea that digital technologies distract from interpersonal communication in the same way that newspapers did in the past.


Image composition of text and archival photo
Figure 1: Image composition of text and archival photo, parodying current expressions of resistance to technology mimicking how newspapers were also said to be making us antisocial (Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/736x/02/53/87/02538792412e03460839b12eca81df3e.jpg) [2].


Another, more recent, strand of ICT resistance is the “slow media” movement, described by Rauch (2011) as “a sub-cultural movement whose members reduce their overall time spent with media and/or their use of specific communication technologies in order to constrain the influence of digital devices and networks on their personal, professional and family lives”. Slow media is depicted in Figure 2 as a sloth inviting the viewer to join him in the slow media diet. According to Rauch, an early sign of the “slow media” movement was marked by a 2009 National Public Radio show that promoted the idea of “digital detox” or “unplugging,” suggestive of a back-to-nature movement or a cleanse for mental well-being.


Sloth invitation to join Slow Media Diet
Figure 2: Sloth’s invitation to join Slow Media Diet (Source: http://www.igoodie.ru/wp-content/uploads/sloth.jpg).


Figures 1 and 2 also serve as indicators that humor can be employed in expressions of resistance. Although resistance to media and technologies is not a new phenomenon and some types of humor such as carnival have been recognized as expressions of political resistance since at least the early 1800s (Foot and Schneider, 2002). The use of humor as an expression of resistance to digital media has been largely understudied to date.

Visual methods

Scholars of online communication have noted that digital media’s multimedia nature requires methods that attend to visual elements, aesthetics and architecture (Pauwels, 2012). While they are limited in number to date, there are excellent recent analyses of online images, such as Schwalbe’s (2006) study of how the Iraq war was framed through images on U.S. news sites and Boyer, et al.’s (2006) analysis of representations of diversity on colleges’ Web sites.

Visual analysis is a well-established approach in sociology and anthropology that is gaining strength in the fields of information, communication and cultural studies (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001; Barnhurst, et al., 2004; Pauwels, 2010; Margolis and Pauwels, 2011). In keeping with Mathison (2009), we agree that the credibility of visual analysis is enhanced by research design, i.e., clear and transparent justification for the selection of images; a description of how analytic categories are generated and used in the analysis; and positionality, that is, the personal account of how research was done, not just the techniques employed. Thus, the analytic categories in our codebook are primarily low-inference in their focus on subject matter (e.g., “Who or what is portrayed?’ [Mathison, 2009]).

Many of the images in our data corpus required cultural and other frames of reference, which are inextricable from the interpretive process. The essence of analyzing and interpreting images is

“... to examine the assumptions that we and others bring to them and to decode the visual language that they ‘speak.’ All images contain layers of meaning that include their formal aspects, their cultural and socio-historical references, the ways they make reference to the images that precede and surround them and the contexts in which they are displayed. Reading and interpreting images is one way that we, as viewers, contribute to the process of assigning value to the culture in which we live.” (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001)

Processes of visual analysis are based on assigning meaning to ambiguous signs. Thus, in the more interpretive components of our analysis, like the nature of the problem being critiqued, we embrace the images’ potentially ambivalent reflections on ICTs. While many scholars emphasize the importance of context in the assignation of meaning to images (Becker, 1995; Gombrich, 1977), for our corpus of images, which were largely re-circulated on social media platforms, the notion of images as context-bound presented unique challenges. Rather than treat images as single incontrovertible messages, we coded in recognition of the polysemicity of images divorced from their authorial intent and re-circulated. Our heuristic approach to the content analysis is based on theorists that assert that an image’s meaning is co-created by the viewer as it is consumed (Sturken and Cartwright, 2001).

In light of the richness in the field of visual analysis, the recent spate of scholarship on resistance to ICTs, and the vast array of images online, we offer this initial exploration of visual representations of resistance to ICTs. Public expressions of resistance to digital ICTs have coevolved with these technologies (Abbate, 2000; Turner, 2006) and posting and distributing images has become a very commonplace form of online communication.



3. Research methods

Increases in average bandwidth, falling prices for digital cameras and the emergence of Web 2.0 have precipitated an Internet that is richer with images than ever before. Users can create, copy, remix and share images as a means of expression. These images can represent personal, social, political and artistic expression, especially on social media and blogging sites, where posts are made to an audience and derive meaning from their social field. By collecting and analyzing images from online sources and social media such as Pinterest and Tumblr, we drew from these grassroots visual expressions of resistance to technology, looking for any images displaying a critical commentary on ICTs in order to explore how resistance to ICTs is represented in online images by answering the following exploratory research questions:

RQ1: Who are the main actors represented in visual expressions of resistance to ICT?
RQ2: What is the nature of the critiques that are represented visually?
RQ3: What are the main objects of resistance to ICT that are visually represented?
RQ4: What novel expressions of resistance are represented visually that are uncommon in texts or words?

Given the exploratory nature of this study, we chose to collect a broad sample of images and perform an analysis of the trends and patterns that emerge in them as a body of work. In brief, we collected about 400 images, from which we selected a corpus of 233 unique images. We then conducted a systematic, structured content analysis of each image in this corpus.

Our initial pool of about 400 images was identified by performing combinations of keyword searches on Google, Bing, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram and Reddit, which are all commonly used sources of images online. Keyword searches included both individual and combinations of terms such as technology, media, ICT, resistance, pushback, rejection, addiction, abandon, overload, saturation, detox, unplug, mobile, cell phone, laptop, computer, social media, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, video games, etc. These search terms were chosen because they were closely associated with past research on technology pushback (Foot, 2014; Morrison and Gomez, 2014) or they simply helped identify useful images for the purpose of this study. Furthermore, some search results were used as a starting point for additional browsing of related content and similar images, in order to broaden the net for the collection of images for the study (snowball sample). The team of authors searched and browsed for online images over a period of about one month in early 2014. Collection of images continued until we reached a point of saturation: no new relevant images were easily found that were not already included in the collection at that time.

To form our final corpus for this study, we reduced the dataset by eliminating duplicate images (those found on multiple platforms and/or by more than one researcher). Images were also excluded if they required context from outside the image to understand the notion of resistance they conveyed. For example, images of a generic on/off button of a cell phone or a hand closing a laptop, which appeared in the context of an article or web posting about media resistance, were excluded from the corpus, because such a generic image does not in itself express resistance but requires the context in which it is posted to be understood as an expression of resistance. In the end, we retained a final corpus of 233 unique images that expressed some sentiment of pushback or resistance to technology or technology use. Images in the corpus were comprised of visual objects based primarily on illustrations (44 percent), photos (32 percent), images of signs (10 percent) or text (10 percent) or other (four percent).

In order to answer our research questions, we analyzed images as stand-alone visual objects by coding them qualitatively using a special purpose codebook developed for this study. The codebook was developed through an iterative process of individual and team coding and discussion, in order to determine salient features of the images. After several iterations, a codebook with 18 variables was defined, of which the analysis presented herein draws on 10. Of these variables, five were coded by identifying a predominant trait on the image and five variables were coded with binary (yes/no) response options for the presence/absence of particular elements. These binary coded images were sometimes used for secondary analysis to identify trends or clusters. Coders also recorded open-ended comments or notes. See code book in the Appendix.

To establish a measure of intercoder agreement, over a third of the images, 93 of 233, were coded redundantly by two researchers working independently and differences between their codes were assessed to establish intercoder agreement. Two commonly used measures of intercoder agreement were employed: percent agreement and Cohen’s Kappa. The high percent agreement ratio (between 84 percent and 97 percent) and the high Cohen Kappa index (between 0.66 and 0.91) both indicate reliable coding data. Intercoder agreement measures are included in the Appendix.

By performing a structured visual content analysis of this dataset we are able to provide an overview of some of the general patterns in the visual depictions of resistance to ICTs and connectivity. This includes the prevalence of specific themes across the collection of images and the relative proportions of categories in our measures. It was beyond the scope of this study to assess the relative prominence, reach or impact of any particular image. For example, we are aware that a cartoon published in the New York Times is likely to be seen by more people than one in a teenager’s Pinterest stream and that a single image could appear on both platforms at the same time. Future research could explore the issues of exposure, prominence, reach or impact of the images under study.

To present our findings, we group them by analytical categories, illustrated with examples of images typical of each category. Our results offer an emergent set of categories for future work on the nature of digital technology resistance, especially on ways in which problematic aspects of ICTs and connectivity are framed. This work provides baseline data which could be expanded through additional analytical categories, via in-depth analysis of the contexts of production, distribution and use of the images, and/or the breadth of their reach, popularity and impact. Because of the broad net we cast in our data collection phase and the emergent nature of our classification schema, we suggest that our findings offer initial insights into visual framings of technology resistance and non-use, insights that can be further refined and corroborated by future investigation.



4. Analysis of visual expressions of resistance to technology

We found that while some images convey powerful messages of critique, others offer subtle commentaries or invitations to change behaviors in relation to technology. We found symbolic representations of paradoxical relationships between ICTs and humans in different stages of life, from cradle to grave. These include images such as a baby mobile made of social media icons hung over a crib; satirical images, like a group of kids who don’t know what a book is, or a hospital bed with the dying patient connected to Facebook; and more realist, experiential images, as in an image of an adult who leaves his laptop to go to bed with his phone (see Figures 3–6). We note that these images mark all phases of a lifetime, together suggesting a sense of saturation with digital technology being expressed from birth to death, with many steps in between.


Example of different phases of life expressed in imagesExample of different phases of life expressed in images
Figure 3: Example of different phases of life expressed in images: Babies in relation to technology (Source: http://www.inmediatika.es/).Figure 4: Example of different phases of life expressed in images: Kids in relation to technology (Source: http://www.inmediatika.es/).
Example of different phases of life expressed in imagesExample of different phases of life expressed in images
Figure 5: Example of different phases of life expressed in images: Adults in relation to technology (Source: http://25.media.tumblr.com/44e5d9c91a937221816c0b8aff4ac45c/tumblr_mos9dsTpri1s954xeo1_250.jpg).Figure 6: Example of different phases of life expressed in images: Sick or elderly person in relation to technology (Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/).


The images we examined portrayed a variety of ICTs as the objects of resistance. We categorized images as either having a broad focus, (i.e., as focused on digital technology in general, social media platforms in general or video games), or a specific focus (i.e., computers or cell phones, and Facebook or Twitter). One-third (35 percent) of all of the images were focused on digital technology in general. An additional fifth were focused on mobile phone (15 percent) and computers (five percent). Fifteen percent of the images referenced social media platforms in general; a greater proportion (17 percent) depicted Facebook specifically and five percent depicted Twitter. Aggregating these, we found that one-third of the images focused on social media use. Only six percent of the images in our data corpus depicted video games. The summary of the types of technologies in question is presented in Figure 7:


Technologies in question
Figure 7: Technologies in question.


In the following sections we present findings from our analyses of:

  1. The nature of resistance: what is the problem being critiqued?
  2. Different types of actors: who resists technology?
  3. The types of resistance depicted: how do people resist technology?
  4. Is humor and/or metaphor used in visual expressions of resistance to technology?
  5. Does the image of resistance push or blur normative boundaries?

4.1. Nature of resistance: What is the problem being critiqued?

Each image of resistance to technology constructs the problem for which technology resistance is an antidote in a particular way. We found nine distinct themes; each reflected a different construction of the focus of resistance expressed in the images. We noted three distinct clusters in the way images portray the focus of pushback and resistance as a matter of: (1) Overload (37 percent), in which we group together depictions of unplugging (21 percent), metaphors of information overload (eight percent), and lost attention (eight percent); (2) Health (33 percent), which encompasses images of addiction (19 percent), individual mental health (nine percent), and social mental health (five percent); and (3) Relationships (19 percent), which includes relations with people (15 percent), with nature (three percent) and with religion or religious metaphors (one percent); the frequencies for the different types of issues portrayed in the images studied are summarized in Figure 8:


Nature of resistance
Figure 8: Nature of resistance: Subject critiqued in images of resistance to technology.


Furthermore, most of these foci were depicted as something negative that could be avoided by reducing technology use, such as addiction, compromised health (either individual or social), damaged relationships with people or lost attention (Figure 9 from a cover of Newsweek (July 2012) in which a person holds her head and yells in despair, with a title that says “iCRAZY”). A few of the themes depicted something positive that could be attained through technology resistance, such as internal peace and immersion in nature (Figure 10 of an invitation to Digital Detox Retreat with an image of a creek in a forest).


Example of negative depiction of resistanceExample of positive depiction of resistance
Figure 9: Example of negative depiction of resistance (Source: http://simplifyyourlife.tumblr.com/).Figure 10: Example of positive depiction of resistance (Source: http://www.lifeedited.com/).


Technology resistance and overload

We operationalized the theme of overload to include depictions of unplugging, information overload and lost attention. Images of unplugging generally contained something like a cut-off cord, or a cord unplugged from a socket, or the word unplug (Figure 11 of invitation to National Day of Unplugging). While clearly encouraging non-use of technology, several of these images were ambiguous regarding whether the purpose of unplugging was to avoid something negative (Figure 12 showing an outlet in the back of the neck of a person) or seek something positive (Figure 13 of someone meditating). Images of information overload include images in which the frame is packed with text and logos, sometimes contrasting this chaos to images of peace (same Figure 13 of a silhouette of a person meditating against a busy backdrop of words alluding to media and social networks). Information overload as a concept is well-known, such that we found an image warning of the threat of getting information overload from studying information overload (Figure 14). Finally, within a top-level category framing the problem as overload, we include images that depict lost attention and awareness in the midst of social media and information technologies (Figure 15 of a child texting while a goat takes his hat, captioned, “U could b missing something. Unplug. Be aware.”


Image of resistance to overloadImage of resistance to overloadImage of resistance to overload
Figure 11: Images of resistance to overload: Unplugging drawing (Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/).Figure 12: Images of resistance to overload: Unplugging photo (Source: http://listcrown.com/).Figure 13: Images of resistance to overload: Information overload (Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/).



Image of resistance to overloadImage of resistance to overload
Figure 14: Images of resistance to overload: Information overload due to studying information overload (Source: http://informationscienceantelope.tumblr.com/).Figure 15: Images of resistance to overload: Lost attention (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).


Technology resistance and health

The second theme that emerged in the images was that of health, which included depictions of addiction, (individual) mental health and (collective) social health. Images of addiction often crudely portrayed technology or social media as a negative habit that cannot be stopped: cocaine to be snorted (Figure 16 of woman snorting cocaine arranged to spell out “Facebook”), syringes to be injected (Figure 17 with logos of social media as different syringes) or cigarettes to be smoked (Figure 18 with Twitter brand cigarettes). Other images of addiction show individuals “hooked up” to the computer as if it was life-saving IV fluid (Figure 19 with a person injecting “likes” from the computer screen into his arm and having them come out of his mouth as flying snakes). Images of mental health other than addiction tend to show messages of despair and lost meaning (Figure 20 with a girl lying down in front of her laptop, staring blankly and wondering “What am I doing with my life”) or a longing for life before technology (Figure 21 of a sign with “I miss my pre-Internet brain”). Finally, images depicting pushback as an issue of social health tend to make broad generalizations about the negative impact of technology on society (Figure 22 quoting Morpheus, a character in the movie the Matrix (1999), on how most people in society are not ready to be unplugged). These images — framing media as addictive drugs, as the artifice of the Matrix or as dispiriting and disquieting — are among the most intense in our dataset and exemplify some of the salient features of primarily visual expressions of resistance. Images exhibit a pathos and intensity that is hard to match through words alone. To the extent some users create or post these images as acts of self-expression, visual forms of resistance to technology capture experiential and affective dimensions of ICT use that elicit critique and resistance in a very intense and dramatic way.


Depiction of addiction to Facebook as addiction to cocaineExample of image of resistance and healthExample of image of resistance and health
Figure 16: Depiction of addiction to Facebook as addiction to cocaine (Source: http://31.media.tumblr.com/).Figure 17: Example of images of resistance and health: Depiction of addiction to social media as addiction to intravenous drugs (Source: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/9c/75/f3/9c75f37b844f79f2ae525d45a50f543b.jpg).Figure 18: Example of images of resistance and health: Depiction of addiction to Facebook as addiction to cigarettes (Source: http://empresas2cero.com/).



Example of image of resistance and healthExample of image of resistance and health
Figure 19: Example of images of resistance and health: Depictions of addiction to the “Likes” of Facebook (Source: http://www.blogdumoderateur.com/).Figure 20: Example of images of resistance and health: Depictions of lost meaning (Source: http://24.media.tumblr.com/).



Example of image of resistance and healthExample of image of resistance and health
Figure 21: Example of images of resistance and health: Depictions of lost meaning (Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/).Figure 22: Example of images of resistance and health: Depictions of social health (Source: http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/).


Technology resistance and relationships

The third theme that emerged in the images concerned the breakdown of relationships. Images in which the dominant theme was the effect of technology use on relations with people typically depicted technology users ignoring their relations and friends as they gazed into their screens (Figure 23 of two kids back to back on their cell phones, with the title “Unplug”), or showed people enjoying each other’s company because their technology was unplugged or set aside (Figure 24 of two women holding a cup of coffee and a sign “We unplug to catch up over coffee.”). This way of framing resistance focuses on the premise that technology use distracts from in-person interactions and is less valuable than face-to-face interactions.


Example of image of resistance and relationshipsExample of image of resistance and relationships
Figure 23: Example of images of resistance and relationships: Negative depictions (Source: http://ecoike.blogspot.com/).Figure 24: Example of images of resistance and relationships: Positive depictions (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).


One specific aspect of the relationships theme in pushback images had to do with intimate relationships, whether in everyday life or at special events such as birthdays and wedding. Romantic partnerships and friendships are consistently depicted as having much to lose by the encroachment of technology in everyday life and the breakdown of personal communication that can result. Although there are few if any words employed, the images in this category depict experiences of isolation in the midst of a crowd, as personal mobile technologies isolate people from one another. For instance, in one of the few videos in our sample [3], “I Forgot my Phone” a young woman accompanies her romantic partner and other friends throughout a day — which is later revealed to be her birthday — without her phone (Figure 25 presents a screenshot from the video). The images in the video convey multiple moments of relational disappointment and loneliness experienced by the woman due to the cell phone-mediated preoccupations of the people around her, including the man with whom she wakes up, exercises and goes to bed with, and the women and men with whom she socializes throughout the day in a variety of settings. In one of the most poignant scenes she is surrounded by friends singing “Happy Birthday” to her while their eyes are fixed on their respective phone screens — no one looks at her as they sing.


Screenshot from video
Figure 25: Screenshot from video “I Forgot My Phone” (Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OINa46HeWg8).


Depictions of life events or milestones such as weddings, births, birthdays and deaths are often employed in visual critiques of ICT use. These milestone events are used to elevate the stakes of the situation at hand and to contrast “real” human experiences with virtual ones. In wedding scenes, the couples were often portrayed as participating virtually in the wedding ceremony, such as a by a priest asking a bride and groom (depicted in separate screens as if on a three-way video chat with the priest), to hit the “control” button to say “I do” (Figure 26). In other images in our corpus, marriage is depicted as an act which can only be consecrated via social media status updates, such as by a minister asking the groom to change his relationship status on Facebook as part of his vows (Figure 27). In addition to cartoons, our corpus also included photos of signs from “unplugged” weddings, wherein the hosts ask guests to put away or turn off their devices. For instance, in one pair of photos, two children dressed as flower girls at a wedding carry a pair of signs asking guests to turn off their phones (Figure 29). Another variant is a request to exclude personal ICTs as part of an invitation to be “fully present” at the wedding (Figure 28). While the cartoons in this category parody the place of social media and the virtual in contemporary romantic life by depicting extreme scenarios, photos of signs from seemingly real “unplugged” weddings convey the concerns of some wedding hosts that indiscriminate — or any — ICT use will detract from their wedding experience.


Example of image of resistance related to weddingsExample of image of resistance related to weddings
Figure 26: Example of images of resistance related to weddings: Couple on screen (Source: http://www.gocomics.com/).Figure 27: Example of images of resistance related to weddings: Couple to change status (in Spanish: “and you, Thomas, do you promise to change your status in Facebook to ‘married’ and to add a link to Jennifer’s Web page?”) (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).



Example of image of banned technologiesExample of image of resistance related to weddings
Figure 28: Example of images of banned technologies — wedding (Source: http://lovetoastblog.com/).Figure 29: Example of images of resistance related to weddings: Bride requests phones off (Source: http://techbrides.com/).


In addition to relationships between people, relations between people and nature and, to a lesser degree, between people and religion, are also themes that appear in the images of resistance to ICTs. Immersion in nature is presented as an alternative to strive for (or to go back to), a place for deeper connection (Figure 30 of a forest with no Wi-Fi but with more authentic experiences), unplugging and digital detox (Figure 31 of snail on green background with “Digital Detox” as title). Some images conveyed a religious motivation for resistance to technology (Figure 32 of Jesus asking a disciple to “really” follow him, not on Twitter). In other images, religion was presented as a narrative pretext or a pun (Figure 33 of a Buddhist monk saying it is OK to use e-mail as long as there are no attachments).


Example of resistance related to deeper connection to natureExample of resistance related to detox from technology by reconnecting to nature
Figure 30: Example of resistance related to deeper connection to nature (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 31: Example of resistance related to detox from technology by reconnecting to nature (Source: https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/).



Resistance related to religionExample of resistance with reference to religion
Figure 32: Resistance related to religion (literally, follow me vs. follow me on Twitter) (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 33: Example of resistance with reference to religion (pun on word attachment) (Source: http://www.chriscade.me/).


Resistance and reserved spaces

Another pattern we identified in the images of resistance to technology was in the circumscription of spaces to be technology-free. In addition to photos of signs banning ICTs at weddings, we found several other types of photos of signs that invite or command viewers to turn off or not use technologies. Some are designed to encourage rest or recreation, such as a “no cell phone” sign on a palm on the beach, with the legend “Vacations at work” (Figure 34) others encourage conversation, such as “no Wi-Fi, talk to each other” signs at restaurants, which we will discuss in greater detail later. In one case, a marketing campaign use of the “free no-Wi-Fi zone” sign invites people to disconnect, talk to each other and enjoy a chocolate bar (Figure 35). These off-line instantiations of technology resistance point to the stabilization of such resistance as a social value in some settings.


Example of image of banned technologiesExample of image of banned technologies
Figure 34: Example of images of banned technologies — beach (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 35: Example of images of banned technologies — no Wi-Fi (Source: http://www.jwtintelligence.com/).


In other cases, rather than excluding technologies, images depict spaces or tools in which technologies can be placed to be kept out of the way, such as cell phone sleeping bags (Figure 36); no-phone baskets (Figure 37); and phone piles on restaurant tables with instructions that the “first person to check their phone pays the bill” (Figure 38) Furthermore, in addition to having “no-Wi-Fi” signs, some restaurants offer a discount to patrons who entrust their phones to the restaurant staff during their meals (Figure 39).


Example of a place to put technologies out of the wayExample of a place to put technologies out of the way
Figure 36: Example of places to put technologies out of the way: Cell phone sleeping bag (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).Figure 37: Example of places to put technologies out of the way: Cell phone holding station (Source: http://www.dwellingsbydevore.com/).



Example of a place to put technologies out of the wayExample of a place and reward to put technologies out of the way
Figure 38: Example of images of places to put technologies out of the way or pay the bill (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 39: Example of images of places and rewards to put technologies out of the way: Restaurant discount (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).


4.2. Actors: Who resists technology?

In analyzing our collection of images, we tracked the types of people, if any, that were present in the images. Overall, we found that over half of the images (58 percent) depicted people. Nearly two-thirds of these (34 percent of the total corpus) feature one person (Figure 43 of woman with “I Unplug to ...” sign). About a third of the images show an individual as the main actor. Some of the individuals shown are celebrities, (Figure 40 of Captain Picard, of Star Trek: The Next Generation, asking to turn off the cell phone); others are rendered anonymous through hidden faces (Figure 41 of social networking addict sitting on a sidewalk). The anonymity in that image conveys the sense that the subject, a victim of technology addiction, could be anybody. Finally, some of the individuals are distorted actors, frequently shown as skeletons or zombies (Figure 42 of a skeleton of Facebook addict).


Example of an image of an individual celebrityExample of an image of an anonymized individualExample of an image of a distorted individual
Figure 40: Example of images of individual celebrities (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 41: : Example of images of anonymized individuals (Source: http://24.media.tumblr.com/).Figure 42: Example of images of distorted individuals (Source: http://i24.servimg.com/).


Around one-quarter of the images in the corpus included two or more people together. Twelve percent depicted people of different ages in a residential setting; we interpreted such images as depicting a family (Figure 44 of adults and kids sitting on a couch next to a dog, each with his own device). Nine percent of the corpus images depicted same age people in social or professional settings, connoting friends or coworkers (Figure 45 of adults in professional attire in an office setting). A very small proportion of the images, around three percent, depicted collections of people in generic communal or societal scenes (Figure 46 of a group of young adults or teens walking on a sidewalk with no apparent contact with each other and each one focusing on his or her screen).


Example of an image depicting an individualExample of an image depicting a family
Figure 43: Example of images depicting individuals (Source: http://www.pmap.co/).Figure 44: Example of images depicting families (Source: http://m.mediapost.com/publications/13/Family-Laptop-B.jpg).



Example of an image depicting coworkersExample of an image depicting broader society
Figure 45: Example of images depicting coworkers (Source: http://www.elignum.co.uk/).Figure 46: Example of images depicting broader society (Source: http://www.dumpaday.com/).


The frequencies of actor types are summarized in Figure 47.


Actors present in the images
Figure 47: Actors present in the images.


Because there is an extensive body of literature on how teenagers and children use and shape — and are shaped by — digital technologies and social media, we tracked whether or not an image depicted children (operationalized as people who appear to be 15 years or younger). We found that only 15 percent of the total number of images or 22 percent of the images including people, portray kids. Most images involving children present them as incapable of entertainment or diversion without digital tools (Figure 48 of kids “playing outside” with the TV console) or in interactions where the adult knows better and is correcting or lamenting the tech-addiction of the children (Figure 49 about how new markers used to be enough to be cool). One of only a few images that present the issue from the perspective of the children, the graphic in Figure 50 states: “My parents should be proud I’m addicted to Facebook not drugs.” However, we do not know the age of the original producers of that image. One direction for future research would be to analyze visual expressions of resistance to technology cross-generationally.


Example of an image depicting a kidExample of an image depicting a kidExample of an image depicting a kid
Figure 48: Example of images depicting kids: (in Spanish: “My mom told me to play outside.”) (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).Figure 49: Example of images depicting kids: All these nine-year olds with iPhones (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).Figure 50: Example of images depicting kids: voice of child: “My parents should be proud ...” (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).


Having presented patterns in the nearly two-thirds of images that included people, we must also note that one-third of the images (36 percent) did not depict anyone, but rather derived their meaning mostly from text and icons or branding connotations in which they are written. Examples of these included Figure 51 which states “I think we should meet in person, instead of connecting on Facebook” in a Facebook UI motif, objects (Figure 52 of Facebook pack of cigarettes) or signs (Figure 53 of no cell phones allowed).


Example of an image based on textExample of an image based on an objectExample of an image illustrating symbols
Figure 51: Example of images that are based largely on text in the absence of individuals (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 52: Example of images that are based on objects, in this case, an image of a Twitter brand of cigarettes, in the absence of individuals (Source: http://www.pinterest.com//).Figure 53: Example of images that illustrating symbols (in this case, crossed out social media icons), in the absence of individuals (Source: http://www.rcinet.ca/).


Finally, a small proportion of images (five percent) included other types of actors, mostly animals, both in drawings (Figure 54 of Snoopy for social blackout) and in photos (Figure 55 of a squirrel and Instagram). Many images of animals were anthropomorphized to represent people.


Example of an image depicting a cartoon characterExample of an image depicting an animal
Figure 54: Example of images without individuals that sometimes depict animals in drawings (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).Figure 55: Example of images without individuals that sometimes depict animals in photos (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).


4.3. Types of resistance: How do people resist technology?

We examined each image for the types of critique or resistance it expressed. We found four main types of critiques: 1) observations (i.e., sources of discomfort with technology); 2) invitations or commands to change behaviors; 3) messages to educate others about technology or resistance; and 4) nostalgia about past norms. About half of the images found were observational in tone; many images were classified this way when the criticism that they raised was implicit. Observations encompassed a range of critical voices, from humorous (Figure 56 of a boy in his front yard using a phone, a yellow street sign in front saying “Slow, children texting”) to foreboding (Figure 57 of a man who is a prisoner of tech devices, which have tied him to a stake with ear buds). Note that we included both literal and metaphorical expressions in this category, as we believe they served the same function. In both cases, the images draw attention to an observed facet of technology use that makes the author ill at ease. As we further examine in the next section, observations often take the form of satire or irony. Even subtle observations meet our criteria for inclusion in the corpus in that they frame technology as a problem. For example, in Figure 58, a child approaches a series of phones from different time periods, with the last one, a smartphone, set as bait for a trap. We interpreted this image as depicting technology as a consumer trap.


Example of humorous observation of behavior as a depiction of resistance to technologyExample of foreboding observation of behavior as a depiction of resistance to technologyExample of subtle observation of technology as consumerism
Figure 56: Example of humorous observation of behavior as a depiction of resistance to technology (Source: http://www.aaanything.net/).Figure 57: Example of foreboding observation of behavior as a depiction of resistance to technology (Source: http://www.dailymobile.net/).Figure 58: Example of subtle observation of technology as consumerism, a depiction of criticism and desistance to technology (in Spanish: “Falling in the trap of consumerism.”) (Source: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/).


We found that the second most frequent nature of criticism was an invitation or command to change behavior (22 percent). These images included signs encouraging people to talk to each other as well as ads for organized unplugging campaigns (Figure 59). Following these was an educational genre (12 percent), which most often offered data to readers to support the idea that technology use could be a problem. For example, Figure 60 states that “38 percent of college students cannot go 10 minutes without checking their e-mail, tablet or smart phone.” Fewer images commanded viewers to change their behavior (seven percent). Figure 61 illustrates a behavioral command, by placing a phone inside the universal “no” sign of a circle with a slash through it. The last category, criticism with a nostalgic tone (six percent of images), used the past as a model for social norms and mores (Figure 62 which shows a conversation between two persons who equate a “Netflix for books” with a library). As we indicated before, nostalgic criticism often coincided with images including children, as if (adults) were nostalgically longing for a different type of childhood than the one that they perceive children living in today (Figures 48 and 49, above).


Example of an image depicting resistance to technologyExample of an image depicting resistance to technology
Figure 59: Example of images depicting resistance to technology as invitation to unplug and “live life off-line”. (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 60: Example of images depicting resistance to technology as education. (Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/).



Example of an image depicting resistance to technologyExample of an image depicting resistance to technology
Figure 61: Example of images depicting resistance to technology via a command. (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 62: Example of images depicting resistance to technology as nostalgia. (Source: http://thisisnthappiness.com/).


4.4. Humor and metaphor in images of resistance

In striking contrast with academic papers, popular press or blogs that describe or analyze resistance and pushback to technology in more sober terms (Foot, 2014; Morrison and Gomez, 2014), images tend to make strong use of humor and metaphor as key narrative strategies. We found the use of humor in more than half (52 percent) of the images in our corpus. In general, humor was largely based on incongruity (the union of two disparate frames of reference), expressed in five distinct ways (these subcategories of “humor” were identified after the initial coding and are therefore not part of the codebook): 1) Absurd: digital and non-digital spaces being united absurdly (Figure 63 of crashed witch and “don’t text and fly” sign); 2) Surprise: disparate situations brought together by surprising use of technology (Figure 64 of a wedding couple and extra bride, where the groom asks “you didn’t get my e-mail?”); 3) Contrast: depiction of contradictory behavior or words (Figure 65 of a young woman who stages photos of a ‘restful’ evening while she, frustrated and lonely, uses Instagram and Facebook until nightfall); 4) Different perspectives: a situation is presented from different points of view (Figure 66 of what different people think the character is doing online and what he is actually doing); and 5) Extreme situations: images that present extreme situations as normal (Figure 67 of a young lady who says of Tumblr, “I haven’t slept in a solid 83 hours, but yeah, I’m good.”).


Humor in pushbackHumor in pushbackHumor in pushback
Figure 63: Humor in pushback images: Absurd (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 64: Humor in pushback images: Surprise (in Spanish: “You didn’t receive my e-mail?”) (Source: http://www.blogodisea.com/).Figure 65: Humor in pushback images: Contrast (Source: http://25.media.tumblr.com/).



Humor in pushbackHumor in pushback
Figure 66: Humor in pushback images: Perspectives (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 67: Humor in pushback images: Extremes (Source: http://mylifeisloved.tumblr.com/).


The use of humor can have multiple interpretations. For example, the image of a wedding couple and extra bride who did not receive an important e-mail message (Figure 64) could be alluding not only to the missed communication of an important message that should not have been sent by e-mail, but could also indicate a criticism of the phenomenon of multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships via ICTs.

4.5. Resistance by pushing or blurring normative boundaries

A final theme that emerged in the visual expressions of resistance to technology concerns pushing the limits or blurring the boundaries of what is commonly accepted as appropriate use. These expressions could be considered morbid, vulgar or out of place, but they represent different aspects of resistance to technology that are worth exploring further.

Pushing limits: Nearly one-quarter of the images (about 23 percent) push the limits of what is “acceptable” to illustrate ridiculous, unacceptable or awkward situations that are presented as natural, with an eerie sense of realism (Figure 68 of an unborn baby playing with a tablet in utero, accompanied by the legend “iPad Tiny”) or with dark humor (Figure 69 of a funeral service where visitors comment that the deceased had more friends on Facebook than are present there).


Image of pushing the limits in the use of technologiesImage of pushing the limits in the use of technologies
Figure 68: Images of pushing the limits in the use of technologies, beginning of life (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).Figure 69: Images of pushing the limits of the use of technologies, end of life (in Spanish: “He had over 2,000 friends on Facebook, don’t you think there should be more people here?”) (Source: http://www.pinterest.com/).


Blurring boundaries: Other images (about 29 percent) blur the boundaries between digital and non-digital life. For example, we demonstrated earlier how some images employ metaphors of computers, mobiles or social media as drugs that are snorted or injected (a person snorts a cell phone, or lines of white powder that spell out “Facebook”). Others extend the logic of the digital to the non-digital world (Figure 70 of a sign that reads “Video games ruined my life, good thing that I have two extra lives.”), or reverse them in a way that pretends the digital world is more attractive (Figure 71 of a basic computer drawing and the title “I went outside once, the graphics are not that good.”) or emphasizes that the “real life” is more attractive (Figure 72 of the pyramids and the title “Graphics are better in real life.”).


Images of blurred boundaries between digital and real lifeImages of blurred boundaries between digital and real lifeImages of blurred boundaries between digital and real life
Figure 70: Images of blurred boundaries between digital and “real” life: Extra lives (Source: http://images.addictionblog.org/cherrycake/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Video-game-addiction-Top-10-signs-and-symptoms-of-pathological-gaming1.jpg).Figure 71: Images of blurred boundaries between digital and “real” life: Graphics not that good (Source: http://it-lex.org/).Figure 72: Images of blurred boundaries between digital and “real” life: Graphics are better in real life (Source: http://thegirlintightshoe.files.wordpress.com/).


Transcending linguistic boundaries: A final dimension of pushing and blurring boundaries relates to linguistic boundaries. Even though we were not explicitly looking for images in different languages, we found a remarkable coincidence of visual expressions that use the same theme in different languages. In some cases, they even use the exact same image, only replacing the text on it with the same message in a different language. Not knowing where the images were produced or in what country they were posted, we don’t know for sure that there images transcend international geographic boundaries. But the linguistic boundaries are so clearly broadened that this merits further review.

One of the images that appears most frequently in different languages shows a board in a coffee shop with a hand written sign that says, “We don’t have Wi-Fi, talk to each other” (Figure 73). We found identical photos with the same text, translated via digital manipulation to make the sign appear in Italian (Figure 74) and in Spanish (Figure 75).


Chalk board with no Wi-Fi sign in a coffee shopChalk board with digitally remixed text in ItalianChalk board with digitally remixed text in Spanish
Figure 73: Chalk board with no Wi-Fi sign in a coffee shop: Talk to each other (Source: http://www.funcage.com/).Figure 74: Chalk board with digitally remixed text in Italian (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).Figure 75: Chalk board with digitally remixed text in Spanish (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).


The recurrence of the theme of “No Wi-Fi, talk to each other” remixed and portrayed in different formats and different languages (Figure 76 of clipboard, Figure 77 of frame, Figure 78 in German, Figure 79 of chalkboard, Figure 80 of chalkboard with doll or Figure 81 of chalkboard with apology for not having Wi-Fi ... and an invitation to get drunk!) tells us that the phenomenon is not limited to English-speaking places, but may represent a growing trend across different cultures and languages: Visual expressions of resistance to technology is a phenomenon worth further study.


No Wi-Fi, talk to each otherNo Wi-Fi, talk to each otherNo Wi-Fi, talk to each other
Figure 76: No Wi-Fi, talk to each other — clipboard (Source: http://baikaler.com/).Figure 77: No Wi-Fi, talk to each other — frame (Source: http://antiguadailyphoto.com/).Figure 78: No Wi-Fi, talk to each other — German (Source: https://twitter.com/).



No Wi-Fi, talk to each otherNo Wi-Fi, talk to each otherNo Wi-Fi, talk to each other
Figure 79: No Wi-Fi, talk to each other — chalkboard (Source: http://www.lily.fi/).Figure 80: No Wi-Fi, talk to each other — chalkboard with doll (Source: http://www.lolhome.com/).Figure 81: No Wi-Fi, talk to each other — chalkboard with apology (Source: http://media1.break.com/).


In summary, we found strong visual expressions of resistance to technology related to overload, health, relationships and reserved spaces. Each one of these is an important dimension where the role of technology is critiqued, with particularly strong imagery related to addictions, as depicted by images that compare Facebook or Twitter to cocaine, heroin or cigarettes. The pathos exhibited in such images is difficult to find in other textual expressions of resistance to ICT. The critiques are represented by people in all phases of life, from birth to death, with a particular focus on friendships and weddings. They portray individuals, couples and groups, as well as objects, signs, texts and even animals. The images of resistance we analyzed display critical observations of current behaviors with technology, invitations or commands to change said behaviors, educational messages to bring about better understanding about the need to change said behaviors or nostalgic references to past behaviors that are perceived to be better than current ones.

The unique salience of visual expressions of resistance to ICT is best exhibited in the use of humor. Humor rarely comes through as a way to convey criticism or resistance to ICT in studies of text (written text, interviews, surveys), but it is included in more than half the images we collected for this study. Visual humor can be poignant, multifaceted and concise in its rendition of expressions of resistance to technology and its encroachment in everyday life. There is humor in expressions of overload, lost health, failed relationships and reserved spaces. There is humor in groups of all sizes and actors of all ages. There is humor in the observations of what people do, the invitations and commands to change, the educational messages about the perils of technology and especially, in the nostalgic references to a past with fewer or no technologies.

The salience of humor is exacerbated when boundaries are pushed and blurred between what is real and what is virtual, between what is acceptable and what is wrong. The acid humor of the unborn fetus already playing on an iPad Tiny is as dark as that of the coffin in the funeral home surrounded by empty chairs: all other friends lived only on Facebook. At the beginning and the end of (real) life, we don’t have ICTs: we each make our own choices about how to use them at every point in between.



5. Discussion and conclusions

The types of actors, criticism, and behavior exhibited in these visual expressions of resistance to digital ICTs echo in some ways expressions of resistance to other media throughout history. Although discussions of technology resistance and non-use are starting to be more common in studies of computer-mediated communication, they tend to be based on analyses of text or personal experiences. Despite the growth and proliferation of image-based communication tools and practices online, we found no prior studies of images as expressions of resistance to technology. This study offers a first exploration of visual representations of resistance to technology as a growing phenomenon in society, and identifies the particularly strong expression of resistance associated with addiction to technologies and the exceptionally salient use of humor in visual depictions of resistance to ICTs.

We found that social media, particularly Facebook, was a prevalent focus for resistance, along with ICTs in general. The nature of the criticism of technology that was expressed in images we analyzed was either an observation that something is not quite right, an attempt to educate the viewer about it or an invitation or command to change a particular behavior in relation to technology use. The majority of images of resistance depict people, either individuals or family and friends. Less than half of the images do not show people but use texts, objects or signs. Children appear only in a small proportion of images and the discourse surrounding kids and their use of technology is frequently presented in a negative light and from an adult point of view.

Unlike other studies of documents or human behavior, our study of images does not attempt to analyze the motivations that prompt people to criticize or resist the use of technologies. However, the nature of the resistance to ICT that is exhibited in the images we studied does corroborate other studies of media resistance. Information overload, health issues (including addiction) and deterioration of personal relations are the most salient issues of concern with the encroachment of information technologies in everyday lives (Foot, 2014; Morrison and Gomez, 2014). Our findings are convergent with studies we reviewed earlier. However, our analysis of images offers new insights into several facets of resistance to ICTs: 1) unplugging from technology and returning to nature are presented as an antidote to information overload; 2) technology addiction is equated with addiction to drugs; and 3) the breakdown of relationships due to technology overuse touches on all stages of human life, including birth, childhood and adolescence, adult life, old age and death. Relationships between couples, both in everyday life and at the pivotal point of marriage, are of particular interest in the visual expressions of resistance to technology. These new insights into ICT resistance offer a fertile ground for future research in this field of technology use and non-use.

The use of humor and metaphor are distinctive characteristics of visual expressions of resistance to ICTs that emerged in this study. These forms of resistance have not been documented in earlier studies of digital media resistance. Humor offers opportunities for acute criticism of social conventions in ways that formal discourse cannot easily afford. Our analysis of humor suggests the use of absurd, surprise, contrast, different perspectives and extreme situations to depict dissatisfaction or resistance to ICT. Furthermore, blurred or extended boundaries between the digital and non-digital worlds we inhabit offer yet another avenue for acute criticism of the uncritical acceptance of technologies taking over our everyday life, from (before) birth to (after) death.

For this study, we collected images as stand-alone, pre-existing visual objects without delving in the details of the context in which they appear or their uptake and use. Also, we may have missed visual expressions of resistance to technology that were created by youth, due to the platforms we sampled. Future research can expand this work to include the ways in which images derive meaning from the context in which they are originally produced or disseminated, their estimated exposure or reach or their potential impact to influence social perceptions or behaviors. Future research can also explore the similarities and differences between adult and youth expressions of resistance to ICTs, among other topics. Such additional studies would augment the findings we have presented.


Irony of using technology to resist technology
Figure 82: Irony of using technology to resist technology (Source: http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/).


We are aware of the irony that we used ICTs to collect, analyze and communicate the results of this study of visual expressions of resistance to ICTs, as illustrated in Figure 82. Rather than advocating an impossible return to the past, our goal is to invite an informed and self-aware use of information technologies to improve our lives. End of article


About the authors

Ricardo Gomez is Associate Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington.
E-mail: rgomez [at] uw [dot] edu

Kirsten Foot is Adjunct Professor in the Information School at the University of Washington.
E-mail: kfoot [at] uw [dot] edu

Meg Young is a Ph.D. student in the Information School at the University of Washington.
E-mail: megyoung [at] uw [dot] edu

Rose Paquet-Kinsley is a Ph.D. student in the Information School at the University of Washington.
E-mail: rosepk [at] uw [dot] edu

Stacey Morrison is Clerkship Coordinator, Family Medicine Clerkship in the University of Washington School of Medicine.
E-mail: fmclerk [at] uw [dot] edu



1. In this exploratory study, we use a broad definition of ICTs that includes networked computers and mobile devices, as well as social media applications.

2. Please note that sources given do not represent the host where images were first accessed. Where the original image location links had broken, a replacement image host location has been located for publication.

3. Although we were not specifically collecting videos, this one became viral during the time we were collecting images; we therefore include it as an example of audiovisual materials that could warrant further systematic research.



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Codebook and intercoder agreement measures
Codebook variableIntercoder agreementCohen’s Kappa
1. Nature of resistance:
What is the predominant problem for which technology resistance is an antidote?
2. Actors:
Who are the predominant actors that resist technology?
3. Kids:
Are children present in the image? (yes/no)
4. Nature of criticism:
What is the predominant expression of how people resist technology?
5. Humor:
Is humor present in the image of resistance? (yes/no)
6. Metaphor:
Does the image make use of metaphor? (yes/no)
7. Pushing limits:
Is the limit of what is considered normatively “acceptable” pushed? (yes/no)
8. Blurring boundaries:
Are the boundaries between non/digital lives blurred? (yes/no)
9. Tech in question: What is the predominant technology being resisted?84%0.77
10. Image based on:
What is the image of resistance predominantly based on?



Editorial history

Received 2 October 2015; accepted 22 October 2015.

Creative Commons License
This paper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Pulling the plug visually: Images of resistance to ICTs and connectivity
by Ricardo Gomez, Kirsten Foot, Meg Young, Rose Paquet-Kinsley, and Stacey Morrison.
First Monday, Volume 20, Number 11 - 2 November 2015
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v20i11.6286

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