Rethinking Disconnectivity: Norms, Agency and Affect of Wechat Circle Quitting


In the “always on” networked culture enabled by the Internet and other information and communication technology (ICT), the technology non-use and the discourse on disconnectivity has provoked academic interest and debates on the motivations of and resistance in technology non-use. In the current body of empirical studies on disconnectivity, however, the affect and detailed context of technology disengagement lack enough scholarly attention, which may risk ignoring the structure of feeling enacted by disconnectivity. This article focuses specifically on Wechat Circle quitters for that Wechat Circle is unique as it is the dominating social media platform taking up a vital part in Chinese people’s everyday social life and online self-representation. This paper first delves into the various public discourse on disconnectivity and discuss how these discourses and norms have been articulated to form disconnectivity as a neoliberal lifestyle. Based on 13 semi-structured interviews, this article examines how Wechat Circle quitters narrate their experience, motivation and perception of connectivity and disconnectivity in the digital era. Following Selwyn’s typology (2006), I separate Wechat Circle quitters into lapsed users, rare users and non-users. Despite various motivations and reasons argued by informants, a common observation of the social environment shift in Wechat Circle from a close-relationship-based community to mass media platform formulates a structure of feeling. Early adopter or young users in Wechat Circle conceive the generational or class difference in affordance as a disruption of their affordance and strategically adopt the disconnectivity affordance as a new form of connectivity or online existence. Also, disconnectivity is contextual and profoundly affected by significant shifts in the life course. In this sense, disconnectivity is not only a representation of certain kind of affect or lifestyle but also the representation of media resisters’ reflexivity on subjectivity and networked life in the digital era. As this paper will argue, micro-level studies on disconnectivity should bring affect and life course into research to understand contextually and diachronically the norms, affect and agency of media resisters’ engagement and disengagement of ICTs.