Three Cheers for the Luddite Club!
As a member of Generation X, my life has been measured in technological arrivals. I was in junior high school when Apple launched the Macintosh with its famous 1984 advertisement.
When I arrived at college six years later, I received a primitive email account. As I graduated from college in the mid-1990s, the Internet and Netscape Navigator entered the public conscience. Having lived through all those additions to modern life, as well as the arrival of the flip-phone and Blackberry, I am acutely aware that each new technology impacts society in profound ways, both good and bad.
The State of Technology for K-12 Kids
In my opinion, we are at an inflection point. The “digital divide” still exists and it has its own unique set of problems which I will not address here. For families where technology has become ever more pervasive in kids’ lives, it has become pernicious in ways we did not anticipate.
Clearly children’s education and mental health go hand in hand and children currently coming of age face a technology double-whammy.
The first is the introduction of smartphones. We have been living with smartphones since Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, and now we are approaching the moment where all school age children will have been born into a world of smartphones. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s not. All our daily interactions, and especially how families interact with babies and toddlers, have been impacted by smartphones. Adults' level of attentiveness has slowly eroded, and what that means for eye contact and dinner table conversations should not be underestimated. Additionally, allowing children on smartphones to serve as a distraction and/or entertainment may have impacted neural connections and brain development.
The second part of the equation, unfortunately, comes from the pandemic. As we retreated into quarantine, children’s lives and worlds became even more inextricably linked with screen and technology. When we could not be in rooms together, we had to make do with Zoom classrooms and FaceTime calls with extended family. As adults we know the toll this took on us. We don't yet have any measures on the long-term impacts on the youngest among us.
This is not meant to paint a picture of doom and gloom. We have an important opportunity to think about the kinds of questions we need to ask, not just of smartphones, social media and artificial intelligence, but also to reflect upon a basic question: Accommodating for technology, what is the role of education in the development of healthy, engaged children?
The Luddite Club
I found hope last week listening to a New York Times First Person podcast titled “The Teenager Leading the Smartphone Liberation Movement.” In the interview Logan Lane, a high school senior, explains the “Luddite Club” she started in her school in Brooklyn. Logan only uses a flip-phone, and started the club with a friend after they nearly had a “missed connection.” Serendipitously, they ran into each other in the Brooklyn Library a few weeks later, a lucky coincidence Logan describes with passion in a way that may sound familiar to those of us old enough to remember our own adolescent lives before smartphones.
The Luddite Club meets weekly. Poignantly, Logan described the club’s activity as: “interweaving conversations. Usually, it’s like an hour to two hours. Sometimes it leads into other things. Like, this one time we went to the beach.” Ultimately, Logan summarizes their activity as something quite basic: “really, it’s just like a group of friends talking.”
As I listened to Logan telling her story with all of the unique speech patterns of her generation, she became my hero. She explained that, “the people I know in the Luddite Club might — the way that I see them and the knowledge I have of them is completely offline. There’s no premeditated Instagram knowledge, and there’s no me knowing things about them that they don’t know that I know. So they share what they want to share.” For those of us who lived healthy offline lives prior to the pandemic, we are reckoning with what it means to return to in-person life. For Logan and her peers, for whom an online presence is more universal, this is a more novel experience. This new phenomenon is growing Logan’s strengths: courage, emotional intelligence and gratitude.
As an educator and positive psychologist living in these complex times, I find great optimism in the Luddite Club, and what its members are learning. In a world where technology can isolate us, the Luddites are gaining fundamental insights abandoning their smartphones. Logan explained, “it’s also made me more appreciative of attendance… it’s made me more appreciative of the physical act of showing up somewhere for someone.”
In my scorebook, that’s technology 0 - humanity 1.
Screenshot from Robert Cole's YouTube Channel video the iconic 1984 Apple Computer Macintosh commercial conceived by Chiat/Day and directed by Ridley Scott (YouTube)