As the end of year approaches, now is the time to come up with New Year’s resolutions to make 2023 a better year. And while there are the usual resolutions to lose weight, read more, and cut down on bad habits, one resolution everyone can make is getting off their screens. However, the trick to making this work is to do this as a community, not alone.
Curiously, one group that’s leading the charge on this effort happens to be teenagers in New York City. In an ultimate act of rebellion, Logan Lane decided to found the Luddite Club at her high school, an organization devoted to the screen-free life. Instead of constantly huddling over their phones like their peers, members of the Luddite Club can be seen in the park, drawing, watercoloring, meditating, and reading classic books.
During meetings, and presumably most of the day, many of them either put their iPhones out of reach or use a flip phone. In other words, they live like teenagers did in the past. They have deep conversations with one another, have hobbies, and spend much of their time distinguishing themselves from the rest of their classmates. For those of us who grew up without a smartphone or a high-speed internet connection, much of what Logan and her friends talk about will sound very similar to the types of conversations we had at that age.
Less Depression, More Individuality
Besides rekindling a bit of nostalgia, what the Luddite Club demonstrates is just how much screen attachment has alienated people from one another as well as squelched any genuine individuality. Logan relates how she became addicted to her phone during the Covid shutdowns: “I had this online personality of, ‘I don’t care,’ but I actually did. I was definitely still watching everything.” Other members of the club report the same, reevaluating their relationships and their own personalities in the context of physical reality instead of virtual reality.
It’s also encouraging to see the reduction of depression and anxiety when one cuts the cord. Members of the Luddite Club reported feeling happier and liberated. Students on the “Unplugged Scholarship” at Franciscan University of Steubenville, in Ohio, say they have personally benefited from ditching their smartphones. They feel freed from the constant peer pressure of social media and the crippling obsession to check their phones every minute.
Benefits of a Group
That said, considering that the “unplugged,” “Luddite” lifestyle was the norm not so long ago, some might question the decision to create a scholarship, much less form an official club to bring about a societal change in attitude. Even if screen addiction has become widespread enough to require serious intervention (as I argue here), shouldn’t this just be a choice made by the individual — at least when it comes to adults? Is this really a founding principle or framework for an organization or one’s identity?
According to the popular self-help book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, this is precisely how one should approach the problem of screen addiction. Habits are the byproduct of one’s identity, which are then reinforced by one’s peers. By joining the Luddite Club, members will identify as Luddites (as opposed to screen-addicted teenagers) and are held accountable to their commitment by their fellow Luddites. This identity is further strengthened by the adoption of screen-free habits like reading and meditation that replace the old habits of surfing the net and watching TikTok.
In light of this, it’s not idealistic or naive to think these efforts to create screen-free communities can actually succeed in helping those who join them as they spread across the country. Most people struggle to ditch their screens if they try to do it alone, but if they had a group of like-minded people doing the same thing, this difficult task becomes possible.
Adults Need to Get On-Board
Surprisingly, the main hurdle would be convincing adults to follow the children’s lead and confront their own screen addictions. Instead of having the encouragement and support of their parents, many of these kids in the Luddite Club had parents who seemed baffled by the idea and worried that they couldn’t monitor them all hours of the day — “we don’t know where our kid is. You follow your kids now. You track them. It’s a little Orwellian, I guess, but we’re the helicopter parent generation,” said one parent. No doubt they’ve been led to think (or rather feel) this way because they’ve become too distracted by their own smartphones to appreciate what their children are doing.
As it happens, this is one of those times when the kids are on to something. Perhaps it’s easier for younger people to give up their screens since they don’t have jobs and responsibilities that tether them to the digital world. Still, this doesn’t mean they’re wrong but that today’s world is profoundly opposed to human flourishing. For adults hoping to be happy, they will have to rediscover their inner adolescent and defy the machine.
If New Year’s Day is too far away to start, people can start limiting their screen time this Christmas break with their friends and family and form a Luddite Club of their own. This will increase the likelihood of effectively diminishing screen time. And, more importantly, it will remind them why they’re breaking the habit in the first place and help them celebrate the holidays in the proper spirit.