Philosophising about Digital Well-Being

on my research

Improving Digital Well-Being

Strategies for societies and individuals

on my research


How will they transform the digital world?

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 are emerging technologies changing how we understand the good life?

Emerging technologies are redefining the most basic ethical questions. These are not only questions for philosophers, but questions that affect the daily lives of all of us. How much should I use my smartphone? Is an AI-agent capable of offering meaningful recommendations? Should I be concerned about my privacy when using a track-and-trace app?

Much of my recent work focuses on the power of technologies of the self to improve our lives.

Peer-Reviewed Articles

"Unique Ethical Challenges: Online Technology and Virtue Education."
M. J. Dennis & T. Harrison (2020). Journal of Moral Education. Taylor & Francis. Online first.

Living well in the 21st century will present human beings with a unique set of demands and ethical challenges, many of which will require a rapid response to developments in the online space. Online activities increasingly permeate our practical lives. Although there is every indication that this activity will intensify, even experts on digital technology recognise that the precise effects of future emergent technology will be uncertain and remain unknown. We argue that education directed at the cultivation of cyber-wisdom and other cyber-virtues provides our best chance of creating a moral vocabulary that can guide us towards living well in the 21st century. The aim of this article is to offer the first outline of an educational model, founded on neo-Aristotelian theory, that illustrates how these qualities could be cultivated through moral education.

Article available here.
"Technologies of Self-Cultivation: How to Improve Self-Care Apps."
M. J. Dennis (forthcoming; accepted 27th April 2020). Human Affairs: Special Issue on Philosophical Reflection and Technological Change .

Recently practical philosophers have become increasingly interested in self-cultivation, both in our moral development and in how we shape our passionate characters. While self-cultivation is a relatively new topic in analytic philosophy, continental ethicists have been interested in it far longer. Thinkers in this tradition, notably Michel Foucault and Pierre Hadot, have claimed Hellenistic conception of self-cultivation can be applied to problems in contemporary practical life, although precisely how they envisage this has so has so far confounded commentators. This article offers one way this could be done by exploring how Hellenistic practices of self-cultivation can be combined with emergent online technologies. To do this, I examine how online technology companies have recently attempted to use app-based technology to cultivate our passionate attachments. This makes good on Foucault's and Hadot's claims about the contemporary importance of the Hellenistic tradition, although does so in a way that they could not have anticipated themselves.

Draft article 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.

Opinion Articles

Cultivating Character and the Promise of Online Technologies
Insight Series, Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtue, University of Birmingham, UK.

Over the last decade, techniques of self-directed character change have undergone a revolution, one that promises to fundamentally rewrite the way we understand the cultivation of character. This revolution has been supercharged by rapid advances in digital technology, as well as increasing public attention regarding the benefits of tracking, monitoring, documenting, and shaping the self. Part of the difficulty in following the march of this zeitgeist is that it is so ubiquitous and diffuse. It infuses our perceptions and values of healthcare, education, business, leisure, in addition to fuelling our seemingly insatiable appetite for the ‘self-care’ industry. The idea that our characters can – indeed should – be actively cultivated is now so integral to the 21st century experience that it would be hard to understand a host of contemporary human practices without this assumption. In this paper, I explore how technology can help us change or improve who we are through digital regimens of self-cultivation.

Self-Cultivation  ▶︎