The past year has been interesting, to say the least. I am happy to say, though, that my past 12 months have not only been dominated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, I’ve learned a lot of new things and experienced a lot of new things in my PhD in these last 12 months. As you’ve been able to read in an earlier post, Quality Zooming, doing focus groups with young adults has been an awesome part of that.
Why, exactly, was I doing focus groups, you may ask? Well, as it happens, the start of the pandemic coincided—for me—with the birth of a new project, one that is a part of my PhD and yet is much more than that. This project, called Excavo, will require more than one post to explain everything, but I’m excited to finally be sharing some details about what Excavo is, and how it came to be.
Let’s start with its origin story. In my research at GEMH Lab, I’ve focused on youth social media use. Specifically, I’m interested in what young people do on social media, why they do it, and how it makes them feel. Early on in my PhD, I’ve made it my mission to get detailed, reliable data and I’ve had the pleasure of conducting intensive interviews with many young adults about the specifics of their social media use. I found it especially striking that young adults are generally drawn to social media, but afterwards may feel like they have wasted their time. This may seem like an obvious thing, but if you think about it, it suggests that there’s something weird going on.
Obviously social media offer tons of opportunities. In theory, social media present us with the opportunity to keep in touch with friends, find new friends, find jobs, share and find interests, find entertainment and develop our identities. However, as The Social Dilemma on Netflix has illustrated, there are some serious and valid concerns regarding how social media are designed. The young people I spoke to indicated they feel like they’re hardly in control of how much time they spend on social media, and how they spend this time. Notifications, an endless ever-refreshing feed and other design aspects of social media are part of the problem, but—call me cynical—I don’t think we’ll be able to change existing social media anytime soon. Putting aside all the theory behind what makes for good wellbeing (spoiler, a sense of agency (i.e., being in control of your choices) is important), it is clear that some (not all!) adolescents struggle with their relationship with social media, and something needs to be done.
From this realisation, Excavo (Latin: “I unearth”) was born. I’m beyond excited that this second half of my PhD I got the chance to turn science and data into something tangible and practical. Having gathered all these insights from over a hundred interviews with young adults, we decided to create a digital tool to help young adults take matters into their own hands and regain control of their relationship with social media. A crucial part of this app is about helping young people reflect on how their time on social media is spent exactly, and whether or not this is in line with what they find important and interesting in life.
Of course, this isn’t only tricky to know for our target audience, 17-25 year olds. Figuring out what you want and value in life ánd living by those things can be hard for anyone, which is why I hope that even if you’re not a young adult anymore, you’ll let me know in the comments what you think of our endeavour. (: I look forward to sharing more about Excavo in the future.