‘Tech Resistance’ Movement Offers Freedom From the Web

Rethinking our relationship with technology.
‘Tech Resistance’ Movement Offers Freedom From the Web
We can choose to place limits on technology and and prioritize our relationships. (Biba Kayewich)
Walker Larson
6/11/2024
Updated:
6/11/2024
0:00

The internet is an astounding tool that links us to one another. It offers us an immense array of connections, ideas, and opportunities. But it’s also a web we can get stuck in.

From social media addiction to YouTube rabbit holes to the Tetris effect to cellphones that seem permanently lodged in our palms, technology is a sticky thing to detach yourself from, and it has a way of slowly taking over your life, like a spider’s web in an abandoned house.
With so much of our lives tied up with technology, what do we risk losing? An experience of simply living real life, perhaps? The formation of genuine, embodied human communities and relationships not mediated by the artificiality and alienation of a screen? A rootedness in our senses, and through them, in reality?

A Long, Hard Look at Screens

Many smart people are asking these questions. There’s MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who has written a number of books and articles about how technology usage affects society—such as the way it has dried up deep, face-to-face conversation. There’s journalist and tech writer Nicholas Carr, who wrote a book about how the internet has rewired our brains and shortened our attention spans. Historian Dixie Dillon Lane unplugs on weekends to live more fully and be more present with her family. And there are writers Peco and Ruth Gaskovski, who run a Substack dedicated to articulating a framework for healthier technology use and highlighting ways to recover goods lost to the techno-vortex.
Commentators such as these argue that we need to rethink our relationship with technology. That means placing concrete limits on its use to prioritize true human flourishing through presence, wholeness, focus, contemplation, and in-person connection. This is “tech resistance.” It’s a growing movement to reclaim our humanity from the over-dominance of machinery. In “The 3 R’s of Unmachining: Guideposts for an Age of Technological Upheaval,” the Gaskovskis argue, “somewhere in history, we took a wrong turn on the road of technology, and it’s time for a course correction.”
Why are tech resisters so concerned about our relationship to technology? They cite disturbing facts that indicate our tech dependence has reached unhealthy levels. In a recent TED Talk, Dino Ambrosi, a digital wellness speaker and founder of Project Reboot, offered a startling statistic. Today, in the United States, the average 18-year-old is on track to spend 93 percent of their remaining free time staring at a screen.

“Wrap your head around how sad that is,” Mr. Ambrosi continued. “Imagine getting to the age of 90, seeing ... how you spent all your time after the age of 18, and thinking about all the things you could’ve done that you did not do because you got distracted.”

All of this screen time takes a toll. There’s been a documented increase in loneliness in recent years, and it seems to correlate with social media use, despite the interconnectedness these apps allegedly offer. Research has also indicated a connection between tech use and higher rates of sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
A 2017 study by researchers at Florida State University found a link between high screen time use and increased rate of suicide among kids and teens. The researchers began with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing that from 2010 to 2015, the suicide rate of teenage girls skyrocketed 65 percent. Their research then found a correlation between this increase in suicide rate and cellphone ownership.
We can choose to place limits on technology and and prioritize our relationships. (Biba Kayewich)
We can choose to place limits on technology and and prioritize our relationships. (Biba Kayewich)
“There is a concerning relationship between excessive screen time and risk for death by suicide, depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal attempts,” one of the study’s coauthors, Thomas Joiner, said. In contrast, teens who spent more time doing real-life activities such as talking to friends in person, playing sports, or attending church were more likely to be happy. Overall, technology use seems to bear a disconcerting relationship to mental health issues.

Tone Down the Tech

Of course, tech resistance isn’t about rejecting all gadgets in a Luddite-type overreaction. Instead, it’s about placing rules and limits on devices to prevent negative effects from occurring. At the same time, tech resistance isn’t only about avoiding the negative; it’s also about recovering the positive: restoring attention spans, rebuilding community, and reviving meaningful memories and relationships.

“Because we’re urban dwellers and inescapably connected to the grid, we’ve not forsworn all technological communication but have focused on those forms that seem to undermine the bonds of community most directly,” one tech resister, Jeanne Schindler, said.

“These are the smartphone and social media; the former because it radically undermines the capacity for sustained attention and awareness of our surroundings, the latter because it reduces our capacity to build and sustain natural relationships in their proper shape and scale.”

Tech resistance is about restoring attention spans and sustaining meaningful face-to-face relationships. (Biba Kayewich)
Tech resistance is about restoring attention spans and sustaining meaningful face-to-face relationships. (Biba Kayewich)

Ms. Schindler helped create the “Postman Pledge.” The pledge, based on the work of Neil Postman, is a promise that parents make to restrict technology use for themselves and their children.

“We want our children to become the sort of people who can recognize and celebrate the goodness of the world, of what is real,” Ms. Schindler said.

“Our Postman Pledge group is attempting to foster our connections to real things, like the natural world, through face-to-face activities in beautiful settings (e.g., family picnics and field days in the park, Christmas caroling by lantern light under the stars, singing in front of the hearth).”

More families seek to create a less tech-dominated environment for their children, forming Postman Pledge groups or similar entities.

I’ve recently tried to reckon with the role of technology in my own home and family. We’ve experimented with household rules that exclude devices from certain rooms in our house, like our living room. That way, I hope technology won’t become the physical or psychological center of our lives.

Our daughter sees less of us with eyes glazed, staring at a phone. Though she’s only 1 year old, she’s at a very impressionable age and will imitate our tech habits. Already, she often holds up a book or other square object to her face and talks into it as if it’s a phone. If she sees us always on electronic devices, that will be her tendency as she gets older.

Technology isn’t going anywhere. It certainly can be used for good. But tech resisters suggest that we ask ourselves an important question: Will we master our technologies, or will they master us?

Walker Larson teaches literature at a private academy in Wisconsin, where he resides with his wife and daughter. He holds a master's in English literature and language, and his writing has appeared in The Hemingway Review, Intellectual Takeout, and his Substack, TheHazelnut. He is also the author of two novels, "Hologram" and "Song of Spheres."