Philosophising about Digital Well-Being

on my research

Improving Digital Well-Being

Strategies for societies and individuals


How will they transform the digital world?

on my research

Ethics of Self-Cultivation

Technologies and practices of character change

on my research


Using x-phi to understand digital fame & influence

on my research
How can we design online technologies in ways that improve our digital well-being?

The aim of my current work is to develop a theory of how to live well with online technologies. My recent publications apply these ideas to various digital technologies, including social robots, virtual assistants, and self-care apps. All these articles suggest ways to improve our digital well-being by thinking more deeply about how to design these technologies.

Since the COVID-19 crisis, I've focused on how the rapid transition to working, socialising, and entertainment online affects collective and individual digital well-being. My latest paper examines recent tech approaches to these topics (Google and the Center for Humane Technology), and suggests how they could be improved.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

"Digital Well-Being Under Pandemic Conditions."
M. J. Dennis (under review; submitted 25th May 2020).

In a matter of weeks the COVID-19 pandemic catalysed what may soon become a permanent digital transition in the domains of work, education, medicine, and leisure. This transition has also precipitated a spike in concern regarding our digital well-being. Prominent lobbying groups, such as the Center for Humane Technology (CHT), have responded to this concern in various ways. The CHT has offered a set of ‘Digital Well-Being Guidelines During the COVID-19 Pandemic.’ These guidelines offer a rule-based approach to digital well-being, one which aims to mitigate the effects of moving much of our lives online. This article interrogates the effectiveness of such rule-based approaches, and suggests that they should be complemented by a character-based approach (used by self-care apps) and a more systemic approach (used in the design of digital architecture).

Draft version of this article available on request.
"We Don’t Need Another Guru: AI Ethics and Digital Well-Being."
M. J. Dennis (under review).

AI continues to revolutionise the welfare and healthcare industries on multiple fronts. Recently, mental health and self-care app companies have begun employing rudimentary AI technology to radically improve the functionality their products. This use of AI has already transformed – often enhancing – how many users experience online self-care. By dramatically narrowing the gap between offline and online self-care techniques, apps that incorporate AI have come close to replicating much of the face-to-face and personalised input of traditional mental health practitioners and self-care gurus. App developers have spoken persuasively about the many benefits of online self-care, including how their products are liberated from cost and accessibility constraints associated with traditional practices. Nevertheless, using AI to mimic and replace human agents invokes a cluster of interconnected ethical concerns. This article surveys the benefits that various kinds of AI-enabled self-care products offer us.

Draft version of paper available on request.
"Social Robots and Digital Well-Being: How to Design Artificial Agents"
M. J. Dennis (under review).

Visions of future social robots may bear little resemblance to how these technologies will eventually feature in our lives. Understanding their future morphology is important, however, because it affects the values that we will require social robots to express and exemplify. One such value is digital well-being, a value that will increasingly determine our ability to live the good life in the 21st century. This article investigates how the design of social robots affects digital well-being, as well as how this concern should drive how we think about their future morphology.

Draft paper available on request.

Book Chapters

"Cultivating Digital Well-Being and the Rise of Self-Care Apps."
M. J. Dennis (in press, forthcoming 2020). The Ethics of Digital Well-Being: A Multi-Disciplinary Approach. C. Burr & L. Floridi (eds.). New York: Springer Publishing.

Increasing digital well-being is increasingly viewed as a key challenge for the tech industry, largely driven by the complaints of online users. Recently, the demands of NGOs and policy makers have further motivated major tech companies to devote practical attention to this topic. While initially their response has been to focus on limiting screentime, self-care app makers have long pursued an alternative agenda, one that assumes that certain kinds of screentime can have a role to play in actively improving our digital lives. This chapter examines whether there is a tension in the very idea of spending more time online to improve our digital well-being. First, I break down what I suggest can be usefully viewed as the character-based techniques that self-care apps currently employ to cultivate digital well-being. Second, I examine the new and pressing ethical issues that these techniques raise. Finally, I suggest that the current emphasis on reducing screentime to safeguard digital well-being could be supplemented by employing techniques from the self-care app industry.

Article available here.
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