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

Schwartz, R.X.
Conference Proceeding
Schwartz, R.X.
Consumers often wish to limit their use of digital devices; millions of users install digital self-control tools (DSCTs) in pursuit of this goal. Previous inductive HCI research on DSCTs has shown that these tools are not always effective at limiting user behavior. However, it is unclear if these failures are inherent to DSCTs or merely incidental. In response, this analysis uses a deductive method to identify and classify the inherent limits of DSCTs that cause tool failure. First, Homer’s siren story from The Odyssey is presented as an ideal form of self-binding. The ideal self-binding strategies used by Ulysses are then contrasted with the actual self-binding opportunities afforded by DSCTs. This contrast highlights several inherent limits of DSCTs: incomplete binding, inability to detect or prevent circumventions, inability to allow legitimate overrides, instability, and pressuring of users due to other embodied desires. Further implications of this analysis include that users must maintain a minimal level of self-discipline for DSCTs to be effective, and that recognition of legitimate DSCT overrides may become possible by incorporating other individuals.
University of Virginia, 2019
Published Date
Libra Open Repository
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