On Teenage LudditesDecember 16th, 2022 · 20 comments
Back in 2019, when I was on tour for my book, Digital Minimalism, I chatted with more than a few parents. I was surprised by how many told me a similar story: their teenage children had become fed up with the shallowness of online life and decided, all on their own, to deactivate their social media accounts, and in some cases, abandon their smartphones altogether.
Ever since then, when an interviewer asks me about youth and technology addiction, I tend to adopt an optimistic tone. “We’re approaching a moment in which not using these apps will be seen as the authentic, counter-cultural move,” I’ll explain. “We don’t need to convince teenagers to stop using their phones, we just need them to discover on their own just how uncool these online media conglomerates, with their creepy geek overlords, really are.”
According to a recent New York Times article that many of my readers sent me, we might finally be seeing evidence that this shift is beginning to pick up speed. The piece, written by Alex Vadukul, and titled “‘Luddite’ Teens Don’t Want Your Likes,” chronicles a group of Brooklyn high school students who formed what they call the Luddite Club, an informal organization dedicated to promoting “a lifestyle of self-literation from social media and technology.”
The article opens on a meeting of the Luddite Club being held on a dirt mound in a tucked-away corner of Prospect Park. According to Vadukul, some of the members drew in sketchpads or worked on watercolor painting. Books were common, with one particularly precocious teen reading “The Consolation of Philosophy,” while another was — honest-to-God — whittling a stick. Kurt Vonnegut is popular in the club. As is Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild.
The group’s founder, a 17-year-old named Logan Lane, said she had a hard time recruiting members. But the word seems to be spreading. The crew gathering in Prospect Park had heard of three different nearby high schools that were rumored to be starting their own chapters. Lane showed up to her interview with Vadukul wearing quilted jeans she had sewed herself. She explained that once she was freed from her phone, she had started learning what life as a teenager in the city used to be like. She took to borrowing books from the library to read in the park. For a while, she fell in with a crew that taught her how to graffiti subway cars. Her parents were upset they didn’t always know where she was at night.
Here’s my carefully considered response to all of this: Yes. Very much, yes.
This is exactly what teenagers in Brooklyn should be doing: Reading books they don’t understand, getting into trouble, trying on intellectual identities without worrying about widespread scrutiny, sewing their own jeans, and yes, if they want, whittling sticks. How long did we really think young people would be willing to give up all of this wonderful mess in exchange for monotonously boosting the value of Meta stock?
There was, however, one passage in particular that gave me the most hope that a shift in teenagers’ relationships with their phones might actually be imminent. “My parents are so addicted,” said Lane. “My mom got on Twitter, and I’ve seen it tear her apart. But I guess I also like [being offline], because I get to feel a little superior to them.”
Zuckerberg is screwed.