Digital Wellness and Persuasive Technologies

Philosophy and Technology 34 (3):413-424 (2021)
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The development of personal technologies has recently shifted from devices that seek to capture user attention to those that aim to improve user well-being. Digital wellness technologies use the same attractive qualities of other persuasive apps to motivate users towards behaviors that are personally and socially valuable, such as exercise, wealth-management, and meaningful communication. While these aims are certainly an improvement over the market-driven motivations of earlier technologies, they retain their predecessors’ focus on influencing user behavior as a primary metric of success. Digital wellness technologies are still persuasive technologies, and they do not evade concerns over whether their influence on users is ethically justified. In this paper, we describe several ethical frameworks with which to assess the justification of digital wellness technologies’ influence on users. We propose that while some technologies help users to complete tasks and satisfy immediate preferences, other technologies encourage users to reflect on the values underlying their habits and teach them to evaluate their lives’ competing demands. While the former approach to digital wellness technology is not unethical, we propose that the latter approach is more likely to lead to skillful user engagement with technology.

Author Profiles

Laura Specker Sullivan
Fordham University
Peter B. Reiner
University of British Columbia


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