1. Internet Rehab

MA Applied Imagination for the Creative Industries
University of the Arts London, Central Saint Martins

How can we identify and address the anesthetized way we engage with conventional social media platforms?


This research examines the role social media has played in transforming our collective behavior and our understanding of how we relate to a community. By investigating the architecture of these platforms, Internet rehab explores the micro behaviors developing in our unconscious after the long term exposure to representations of social life online. This study examines why instead of questioning the cause of these growing behaviors or demanding alternative models, our tacit reaction has become to go offline

Following American whistleblower Edward Snowden’s reveal of widespread surveillance online in 2013, the debate about the future shape of social media has focused almost exclusively on privacy rights. What this debate fails to address is the architecture of these platforms employing addiction as a design principle, which breeds unconscious habits that are rapidly altering the way we engage with the world around us. Internet Rehab’s goal in identifying this gap is to evolve the debate to include the functionality and infrastructure of these platforms to look at what potential these networks once held at cultivating authentic social bonds.

Drawing on Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head, Internet Rehab argues that by creating the classification of social media addiction, a profound amount of responsibility falls to the individual user to manage their level of engagement with these manufacture environments. Instead the responsibility needs to be shifted to the producers of this technology harvesting these addictive habits and turning them into a profit. Internet rehab advances the understanding of these subliminal habits, and demands that we have a role in the dialogue concerning the future construction and deployment of social media technology.

To illustrate these concepts, the framework for an alternative social media model was developed to disrupt the repetitive process of interacting online. This intervention was conceived by scrutinising the fluctuation of social rules between the real and the virtual worlds and applying those findings to the fundamental pillars of social media, accessibility, memory and validation, identified through the analysis of literature encompassing social media infrastructure. This application of research generated outcomes such as the listening prompt, which demands some form of explanation upon liking or sharing content online, or the accessibility schedule, which gives access to certain functions of the interface at certain times.

Having limited technical abilities, the outcomes that built the framework for the alternative platform had to be translated into an analog and low-fi medium. This forged the next intervention, the Internet Rehab Starter Pack. The starter pack consists of numerous reflective scenarios for a user to apply to their present relationship with social media. The scenarios were developed by further dissecting the fundamental pillars of social media. They employ grounding techniques used in cognitive behavioral therapy to be used to circumvent the architecture of existing social media platforms, to heighten the user’s awareness of the subliminal behaviors being cultivated through the use of these interfaces.

The starter pack was tested in various environments like The Anarchist Bookfair at Central Saint Martins, and the Mindshare Huddle social media conference in London. The findings from this testing showed not only an inability to perceive the source causing the fatigue encompassing social media, but also hesitancy to look for alternative models. These tests validated the gap identified at the early stages of research and exhibited the need for a repositioning of social media in our society.

The feedback I received from expert Geert Lovink, founder of The Institute of Network Cultures, helped me see the role Internet Rehab will play in the future. His feedback explained the power of Internet Rehab lies in its concept. There is only a small body of work that approaches the unconscious behaviors growing out of a relationship with social media, and it is imperative to look at, to psychoanalyse, why these behaviors are being repressed.

Ideally, the future application of Internet Rehab, will be a concrete theory from which people can shape their perception of their “techno-unconscious”, according to feedback from Geert Lovink.

A theory that could influence the movement towards a social network that challenges you to ask how does consuming this information make me feel, is it necessary to share this experience, or simply what do we owe one another when interacting on the internet.

Internet Rehab Reflections on Reflections