“Technology Fast” Assignment

(Note: There are two versions of this assignment, one for my STS class, and one for my Digital labor class. Please see below for the version of the assignment that applies to your class. Both classes will upload their responses as comments on this post.)

Digital Labor Technology Fast Assignment

In an unbroken period of 24 hours, do one thing that does not involve digital labor anywhere in the supply chain. And, write down as many things that you can think of that you did in these 24 hours that did involve digital labor. Make sure you write down your findings so that you will be prepared to talk about them in class.

Once you’ve done the mental and physical part of this exercise, your assignment is to write a 500-800 word essay and post it as a comment on this post. It should discuss what you did (or didn’t do) and why, and talk about what kinds of questions you had to ask yourself to do this assignment well. Did this assignment allow you to come up with any new insights? If so, what were they? Post your short essay by April 9th at 6pm.


STS Technology Fast Assignment

Choose a 24 hour period during which you will abstain from any non-essential use of computing devices. This means that you will try to abstain from using computers for, among other things, entertainment,  convenience, and non-work/school tasks. You will have to decide how far you want to take the “fast” and how you will define “computing device” and “essential.”

Some examples and guidelines:

-Watching TV on the internet is out, since it clearly requires a computer, but even watching TV “the old fashioned way” via over-the-air broadcast requires the existence of electronic technology and computerized systems—both for the TV itself and at the stations that produce the signal. This is an example of how fasting will require you to think  about how to define computing technology.

-Using a technology like a car to have fun might be permissible, or it might not be: unless you drive a very old car, then there’s a significant amount of electronic technology enabling it to work, from the navigation system to the ECU (engine control unit). Do these count as a computing devices for the purposes of your fast? Why or why not?

-Is using an app that, for instance, displays maps or gives you directions an essentialuse of computing technology? Or a convenience? Think about how you’d make the case one way or the other.

-What about if you want to buy something? Can you use a credit card? Computers are involved in every step of the process of paying by credit or debit. In addition, the items in the store are probably automatically tracked and replenished using computerized inventory systems.

-What about watching a film at a theater? Most movies are no longer actually on 35 mm film, but are projected digitally (or even streamed directly from the production company’s servers). Would this count against your fast, or not?

-Is using a very old technology, like the ‘L’ or other public transit, possible without somehow using computing devices somewhere in the chain?

These are the sorts of questions you should ask yourself before you do any kind of “non-essential” activity during your fast.

As you go about your day (and night) keep a notebook with you to record what you’ve done. Later, go back and analyze each activity to see whether you’ve inadvertently broken your fast. Write an essay in which you discuss what you did during your fast and what you learned. How did it go? How did you have to define or redefine “computing devices” and “essential tasks” in the course of doing the fast?

Your essay should be between 400 and 600 words, uploaded to the appropriate post on digitalhistorylab.com by the deadline of March 21. As mentioned in class, you will be writing this essay individually (rather than collaboratively as stated on the syllabus).

Bonus: If you manage to go through your chosen 24 hour period without breaking your fast in any way, then you get the opportunity to design one of the midterm questions!


  1. I’m not a stranger to taking a break from technology. I’ve grown up exploring nature, a place where technology doesn’t yet reign. For instance, in high school it was easy to agree to 28 days without any devices because I got to see national parks and surreal sunrises; it was all the entertainment I needed. Then yet again I didn’t see a problem giving it all up for a mere 24 hours because I’d be distracted touring Costa Rica! However, after defining technology in a more specific way, a lot more can be considered technological than what the average person would know. For example, if one has to use a car to get around, or even a train, the likelihood of avoiding computer use is zero with the current technology. This means aside from the camping trips I spent in one spot, all of my adventures are plagued with transportation technology even if I avoid all other electronic devices.

    Ignoring transportation as a factor in my tech fast, I can still reflect on what it’s like traveling while avoiding technology. It’s refreshing, empowering and overall no big deal, but it’s also almost impossible. While it may have been easy in the past, this tech fast has shown me how intertwined our lives are with computers. Even in a second world country, all hotels have electric door locks, most all stores take credit cards, big and small restaurants have their own wifi, and although plenty use bikes, most middle class citizens own cars or tractors with computer components. It’d be easy to say I spent a day or two without a camera, Netflix or cell phone, but it’s not so easy to say I could avoid all technology. I feel that the only way to do that today would be to do exactly what I did in high school, spend a week on the Green river in canoes; and even then you have to keep your flashlights pocketed.

    For my day of fasting, I chose my busiest day where my tour took me to hanging bridges and zip-lining. I went to bed early so I’d wake up naturally and I left everything off in my room as I got ready. I was quite optimistic by the time I got to the bus (granted I knew the bus was cheating) because I left my camera and phone stored away. It was a lovely day not worrying about documenting the scenery. I spotted some animals on the trail so our guide could pause and talk about them, and overall I learned a lot about a country I didn’t expect would amaze me. On a tour, I was doomed to fail though. I completely forgot about the devices they gave us to stay together. Sure, people can remember where to meet and at a certain time, but why shouldn’t we just make everything easier by having a device do that? At the end of the day, I knew I could relax in the hot springs and think about my adventures, but I also knew I had to use a computer to get in my room to sleep. It was probably a bad idea to choose this trip for a tech fast, for it would have been easier to find a book and sit by Lake Michigan all day. Then again my apartment doors are also electric so maybe I just can’t succeed at this after all.

    Even just attempting a tech fast can show someone a lot about how technology is part of everyone’s daily life, especially including the more hidden computer devices. Further, after seeing the big hassle it would take for me to avoid it all, I now know technology is never going to go away; it’s become a part of the human culture.

  2. Julie Kipta-Skutnik
    Marie Hicks
    HUM 354
    March 21, 2017

    Technology “Fast” Essay

    During my fast I determined what technology could be used and which technology is used for entertainment. My finalization was that my laptop is only used for online homework and writing papers, my iPad is off limits, and my phone was used for communication through texts, call, and emails. I barely ever watch movies or TV shows, so television was not a huge problem for me. My transportation was my car which was only used for necessary transport, without the use of GPS. However, I listened to the radio for news updates. My biggest concern was that I used my phone way too often to keep myself busy or to update my strict mother every few hours. This causes me to keep checking my phone in case she calls.

    Cell phones are critical our daily lives, making it close to impossible to spend a 24-hour period without it. My daily routine would consist me of playing my games on my iPad and skimming through Facebook for gossip to keep up with society’s trends. For instance, Facebook for me would only be used for times where I’m bored or want to distract myself for an hour or so. I realized that gossip and entertainment could be replaced with other tasks which would help me be more productive in college. I realize that Facebook is mostly a waste of time because I’m only being amused by people’s arguments and memes – I’m not communicating with anyone. Interacting with people outside of technological boundaries are both better and healthier.

    During my technology “fast,” I enjoyed the transitioning spring weather of Chicago. I rested on my balcony with my cat, or relaxed in my chair for most of my day. I used my phone to call my friends over to spend time with them. My fast started from midnight and ended at midnight. Because I woke up late, most of my day was already gone, so that by the time my friends came over, it was almost nighttime. My friends and I talked for what seemed to be thirty minutes or so, but I realized that time flew by and that once my friends left, I had about an hour before bed time. That hour took so much discipline to not use my iPad for games or phone for Facebook.

    During my fast, I realized that technology has evolved to the point where everything we do is related to it. From purchasing items online, paying bills, watching current events on the news, to phones which are mini computers that are always in use, forms of technology are in nearly everything. Our society has been controlled by technology to which people cannot go through life without it.

    During my technology “fast” I was redefining “computing devices” as phones, iPads, laptops, etc., But after my technology “fast”, I found that “computing devices” are integrated indirectly into other forms of technology, essentially binding them to that category. I was either thinking of texting people I haven’t contacted recently or reply to my friends that constantly message me. Experiencing this technology “fast” taught me that I also must be busy with something; as if I cannot relax and enjoy the moment of being alive and safe at home. I reflected off this experience where children in poverty have so much fun with their friends, and even though their lives compared to mine are far more than worse, those children have a better social and entertaining life.

  3. Miguel Paloma, A20347225
    HUM354, Spring 2017
    Technology Fast

    In order to even properly begin this technology fast that we were assigned, I had to decide exactly what that meant. In class, before taking this assignment home with me over spring break, we talked about defining “technology” depending on what degree we wanted to complete this assignment. For my fast, I decided that I would avoid using electrical devices. This means that I could use anything that was mechanical or even that was produced using technology.

    The hardest part of the fast was the first half hour of the day. First of all, I had a hard time waking up at the hour I intended two for a couple reasons. One, I didn’t have an annoying alarm going off three feet from my head, and two, I was about to brew a pot of coffee when I realized my coffee maker was going to be pulling electricity. Disappointedly I had to splash some water on my face over and over again, and a glass of ice water later, I actually felt like I could open my eyes fully again. After that, since it was spring break, I decided to get out of the house, probably one of the easiest ways to avoid using some technology. I rode my bike around town for a bit, met up with some people to get some food for lunch, which I paid for in cash. After a while, I ended up at home again during the afternoon. Keeping busy from then until I went to bed proved to be not as difficult as expected either. I spent the day cleaning up around the house, to my mother’s surprise. I swept and wiped down furniture and cleaned up in the kitchen a bit. Washing dishes killed a decent chunk of time as well. I also played some cards and some chess with my brother, that was more fun. I spent some time reading and messing around with Rubik’s cube. For dinner, I had a simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After dinner I was running out of ideas of things to keep myself busy with. I ended up sitting in the backyard when my dad stepped out and proposed I set up a fire, which got me through the rest of the night. After I cleaned up the pit, I felt my way through the house to my room, and laid down. I must have fallen asleep pretty quickly, without a fancy little light in my face.

    Admittedly, it’s not a perfect fast. Obviously, technology had some presence throughout the day. I was in my house for a good chunk and my parents had the heat on. I pulled some ice from the freezer in the morning, but to be fair I was not really quite conscious of what I was doing at the moment. I was more concerned with waking up and remembered something I had read a while back that ice water can have similar effects as coffee in the early morning. I ate some food that was probably prepared with some electricity at lunch. I think, however, that I pulled a significant amount of technology from my day. Doing just that is difficult in such a technologically advanced society. Everyone has a cell phone buzzing in their pocket, free wifi is everywhere, radio and tv dominate media outlet. Speaking of media, the presence of social media in the most people’s lives is tremendous. I know that I myself don’t use my social media accounts much, mostly Reddit, partly for news, partly for other interesting and funny posts, so avoiding that wasn’t too difficult.

    The night before, I wasn’t really sure how long that I would be able to do this. I really thought that boredom would get the best of me and I would click on the tv in the living room and start streaming Netflix. But I think I did well, at least avoiding what I meant to and, at the very least, not intentionally using any of the technology that I defined for myself.

  4. For nearly the entirety of this past week, I have been extremely sick, so I decided I would attempt to take care of myself for 24 hours without doing anything that involved digital labor. The task was daunting, but I managed to do so without breaking the rules for the most part. Although I tried my best not to do anything involving digital labor, there were some things that were unavoidable, and there were many other things that could be linked back to digital labor if one chose to trace it back far enough. After having conducted this assignment, I realized just how much digital labor is involved in my everyday life, even when I don’t actively try to do so.

    The first part of getting better required me to go to the doctor, which seemed straightforward to begin with but I realized quickly how much digital labor was involved in such a simple task. To make an appointment, I had to go online and schedule one through the school’s website, which broke the rules immediately. There was a simple solution to this, however, since all I had to do was walk in to the on campus health and wellness center. Despite all my efforts to avoid it, though, once I got to the health and wellness center I had to fill out several forms online before I could be seen by a doctor. This led me to thinking about whether this could really be considered as digital labor, since it was essentially the same as filling the forms out on paper. As a result, I decided that I wouldn’t count that as a form of digital labor.

    At the doctor’s, I was told to get rest and take over the counter cold medicine as necessary, which proved to be my next challenge. How could I get the medicine without partaking in anything involving digital labor? I almost exclusively communicate with my friends through web based apps, so I couldn’t ask one of them to buy it for me. Even if I could have done so, I wouldn’t have been able to pay them back since I use Paypal and other similar sites rather than carrying cash around. So, I had to go out on my own to buy my medicine. Once again, there were some things I couldn’t avoid, like using my UPass to get on to the train and my debit card to purchase the medicine. This brought up the question of whether the use of a card really counted as digital labor, since there was bound to be someone maintaining and monitoring the system down the chain. Because of this, I decided that using my cards did count, but it was unavoidable because the alternatives were impractical and perhaps even impossible.

    For the rest of the day, all I had to do was rest, which once again seemed straightforward but ultimately involved far more digital labor than I intended it to. First, I had to do homework, which meant going online, but since there was no way it could’ve been done otherwise and it was mandatory for me to do, I decided I just had to do it. Once my homework was done, it was only a matter of keeping myself entertained for the rest of the day. Obviously my phone, laptop, and computer were out of the picture, but there were several other forms of entertainment that I hadn’t even thought about that involved digital labor. For example, I use a Roku to watch TV, and since it is connected to the internet and has apps that are all web based, I couldn’t watch TV. At the end of the day, I decided to just sleep since I needed the rest and there wasn’t much else I could do.

    After conducting this technology fast, I realized just how much of my life involves digital labor and how dependent I am on it. Even when I was actively trying to avoid it, there are so many small things that I do that involve digital labor, and most of those things are nearly impossible to avoid in the digital age. This made me realize just how quickly technology has made its home in people’s everyday lives. Just 10 years ago, many of the things that I struggled to do today without involving digital labor would’ve been very simple to do. Although they may make life easier for the people using them, these technologies do come at a cost. That cost includes becoming completely dependent on said technology, not to mention the human cost of having people in the background maintaining everything. Ultimately, the most important insight I had was the fact that technology has taken over my life, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

  5. Travis Smith

    Digital Labor

    Marie Hicks

    8 April 2017

    A day without digital labor

    This was a very difficult exercise for me, not because I had to do one thing that did not involve digital labor in the supply chain, but instead because I had to find something that did not involve it anywhere. Every day I use a wide variety of different technologies and services that involve digital labor due to the major that I am pursuing. I am majoring in Computer Information systems and minoring in Cyber security so on a daily basis I am using computers to create programs, analyzing large amounts of data, and studying the entire entity that is security in both the digital and physical sense. In order for me to complete this exercise, I first spent some time to identify all the aspects of digital labor that applied to the things that I did, and I asked myself these questions for each one. First, “what makes this object work?”, “who was the one who assembled it using those components?”, “How did this product get to me?”, and “Is someone actively working to allow me to keep using this product?”, and “Is this product benefiting me for its physical use, or its mental utilization.”
    From the moment that I woke up I used a vast amount of resources in a digital labor sense. I silenced my alarm clock and then immediately checked my phone for notifications. The alarm clock that I own was made in China, and was purchased on Amazon. Both of these are related to digital labor and reminded me of the “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave” by Mother Jones and the “Inside Amazon” article by the New York Times. Someone down that supply chain enabled me to get my product through getting paid low wages for long hours, whether that was located in the Chinese manufacturing plant, or the local Amazon warehouse facility. The phone that I used was an IPhone that was manufactured in China and more than likely went through similar importation procedures as my alarm clock, or for that matter anything that I have purchased on Amazon. Continuing on with my day, I went to all my classes and used my Dell laptop to take notes on, and during my downtime I browsed social media. Inevitably the rare earth metals that make up the computing chips in the laptop had to be mined, and Dell has manufacturing plants all over Asia, in Japan, China, India, and Singapore, as well as call center support lines that are outsourced to those countries. This reminded me of the article about the CCM and call center workers located in Taiwan, where employees were mistreated and looked down upon by western culture, and the CCM workers even in their own society by those very call center workers. This also ties into my use of social media that day, I browsed reddit, facebook, twitter, and instagram. All of which have to use some form of human content moderation in order to keep my feed clear of illegal and disturbing content. In my consumption of social media I was also met with very political forms of digital labor. There were many different news outlets reporting on varying political issues here in the United States and also abroad. All of these outlets had differing titles and bold catch phrases to draw in attention. This reminded me of the wired.com article on the macedonian teen who published fake news on his website to make money off of Google Adsense traffic while he was in high school, as well as the article on Paul Horner and his Facebook fake-news empire that gave false and positive light to aspects of the Trump campaign. It is extremely easy to fall for these fake news stories because they are so prevalent, and there are so many of them shoved in our faces each day, and unfortunately many people believe them due to their prevalence. I then came to an interesting comparison. Whenever we use technology for entertainment it can be compared to the use of PARO in nursing homes. We use that technology to help us forget our problems, and alleviate stress on a daily basis. Whether that be through browsing social media, watching youtube videos and netflix, or through digital forms of therapy like the PARO Therapeutic robot for the elderly in nursing homes. Technology gives us something to do and is all around us in many forms, which is what made it so difficult to find something that did not involve digital labor
    After some long thought I decided that the closest that I was going to get to doing something that did not involve some form of digital labor anywhere in the supply chain was going on a bike ride to Navy Pier, and then back again without using my cell phone. I was successful in completing that task but looking back at it caused me to come up with a new insight about digital labor. It seems like no matter what you do, in some way digital labor was connected to it, and here is why. When I went on that bike ride I obviously used my bike, which had to have been manufactured and shipped to the store in which I bought it from. Somewhere there technology was used and labor was performed to get me that product. On my ride I used crosswalks that had electronic signs for when I could cross the street. Those had to have been installed by someone and programmed to function properly, not to mention it had to be manufactured and shipped here to Chicago. On my ride I also came across many pedestrian cameras, which have been shown to be tracking and logging people in databases that are used by the police force and the government. Digital labor is used there for someone has to be maintaining that database, and raises problems in regards to cyber security and confidentiality of people.
    I may be thinking too far into this, but it seems to be that it is next to impossible to do something that doesn’t have to do with digital labor anywhere in its supply chain. Everything that we see, touch, taste, or feel has been influenced by technology in one way or the other in order to get to us, or vice versa.

  6. (Apologies for the lateness of my post, I mistakenly thought we were to bring our responses to class.)

    I found doing one thing in a 24-hour span that did not involve digital labor anywhere in the supply chain a very difficult task.

    My mother-in-law was visiting during the weekend when I chose to keep track of my actions for 24 hours. She, my wife, and I went to a White Sox game on Saturday, and rather than buy tickets online or use a credit card at the box office, I decided to pay cash—that removes digital labor from the supply chain, right? Wrong, the box office uses computers and printers to produce the tickets, which are then scanned using a barcode reader when you enter the park. Same thing with buying a beer and a hot dog, even if paying cash—the cashiers use computerized registers and the menus are projected on flat screen TVs.

    While my mother-in-law was visiting she and my wife attended the musical Hamilton, having bought the tickets in an online sale months ago. Digital labor is involved there, for sure. While we were at the baseball game, each of us commented on the gigantic, electronically projected advertisements and game statistics in the outfield, especially on how they made the task of following the game more difficult due to the rapidly changing pace of the information portrayed. Walls of digital labor surrounded us!

    My guess is that nearly everything commerce-related, whether going to a game, eating out, or buying groceries at the local store is going to involve digital labor at some point in the supply chain. We’ve learned this semester just how entrenched different forms of digital labor have become in the worldwide economy and this exercise provides a clear example of this phenomenon.

    When I shifted my attention outside the realm of commerce, however, doing something that does not include digital labor seemingly became quite easy. I played two rounds of the board game Ticket to Ride with my wife and mother-in-law, no bits or bytes involved there—unless you count buying the game in the first place (paying with a credit card) or perhaps the production process of the board or cards—designed and printed, no doubt, on computerized systems.

    Much like our earlier class discussion of “what is digital labor” I find that this exercise loses value if everything can be reduced to involving digital labor. Does the simple act of taking my dog for a walk remove digital labor from the equation, even though the plastic bags I use to clean up his poop were most likely made using automated, computerized machines? At what point can we call any process completely divorced from the digitally influenced supply chain?

    This is my biggest takeaway from this exercise: How far do we have to look to find digital labor influencing our activities? Is there a cutoff point where the influence wanes, and how do we determine that point? If I were to sit down and read an old book, using only sunlight to illuminate the page, would that eliminate digital labor? Or would the fact that the book came to be in our apartment because we used a moving truck (booked online) and carried the book in a box (bought online) mean that digital labor had left its mark?

    Recognizing the influence of digital labor is a first step, to me. The following steps of recognizing power, exploitation, and environmental consequences inherent in the results of digital labor are far more important.

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