Technologies of avoidance: The swear jar and the cell phone

Ethan R. Plaut


Technologies of communication and use receive much scholarly attention while technologies of avoidance and non-use receive comparatively little. A framework for rethinking limitations we place on our own uses of digital media is developed through a case study of one apparently simple pre-digital tool of avoidance, the swear jar, paying special attention to the physical environments and social contexts that determine its power. Those insights are then applied to numerous digital examples, especially mobile technologies. Among other conclusions, we must expand the ideas of “communication technologies” and even “communication” itself to accommodate tools and practices both old and new for carving out quiet.

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