Digital Wellness and Persuasive Technologies


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.

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  1. 1.

    Persuasive technologies may be conceptually distinguished from technologies aimed at behavior change (Smids 2018). In this article, we use the two terms interchangeably in order to address both types of technological influence.

  2. 2.

    While maternalism carries gendered connotations of mothering as opposed to fathering, we do not intend to import essential assumptions about gender into our analysis. Rather, just as “paternalism” as a concept has become decoupled from gender in the philosophical analysis, so we aim to take the same approach with maternalism.

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Correspondence to Laura Specker Sullivan.

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Specker Sullivan, L., Reiner, P. Digital Wellness and Persuasive Technologies. Philos. Technol. (2019).

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  • Persuasive technology
  • Digital wellness
  • Paternalism
  • Maternalism