What is ‘neo-luddism’, the rejection of modern technology?

Dec 25

Giving up smartphones, boycotting social networks, being distrustful of technology companies... In contrast to our ultra-connected lives, some people decide to turn their back on a society that seemingly constantly turns to tech. These individuals are referred to as neo-luddites and it’s a movement that is gaining ground, especially among younger generations.

Our society today is ultra-connected. New technologies emerge on a regular basis that appears to be accelerating and the use of social networks is becoming increasingly popular while younger and younger users get on board. According to a Pew Research study, 91% of 13-14 year olds in the US have access to a smartphone while research from 2019 has suggested that 90% of US teens use social media.

But this ultra-connected lifestyle is not to everyone’s taste. Some people want to free themselves from social networks, or even reject technology outright. This movement is being called neo-Luddism, or modern Luddism.

French historian François Jarrige described this movement to French publication l’Obs as “a nebulous group of people who think that technology is a form of alienation rather than a means of emancipation”.

What is neo-luddism? The term takes its name from the Luddite movement, named after Ned Ludd, an English worker who protested against the use of weaving machines at the end of the 18th century. He immediately initiated an underground movement, called “The Luddites” and nicknamed “the machine breakers”. Since then, the struggle against the mechanisation of work has evolved into opposition to new technologies as they progress through society.

In 1990, American activist Chellis Glendinnings revived the term “Luddite” in her book Notes Toward A Neo-Luddite Manifesto, which gave birth to neo-Luddism, an activist movement with a technophobic bent. According to French publication l’Observateur, neo-Luddism is in battle on several fronts: environmentalist battles against GMOs and nuclear power; calling out nanotechnologies; refusing data collection in daily life; resisting security initiatives they view as intrusive (such as bracelets for newborns, cameras in the streets). Today, Luddism, or neo-Luddism, is largely associated with fighting against government surveillance and a certain form of capitalism.

Rebellion and emancipation of the self Recently the New York Times arranged to follow the daily lives of the “Luddite Club”, a group of high school students in Brooklyn in the United States, who advocate for “a lifestyle of self-liberation from social media and technology”. Its 25 members have decided to give up their smartphones as well as social networks. They also offer one-hour digital detox sessions to other students.

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The students highlight the benefits of this lifestyle: better self-esteem, less anxiety linked to social networks, a growing interest in reading and nature. When they need to connect with others, they swear by physical meet-ups arranged with flip phones. One source of inspiration for this group is the 1996 book, Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, the true story of Chris McCandless, a young man who died trying to live in the Alaskan wilderness.

According to a study by US marketing firm Hill Holliday on Generation Z – people born after 1995 – half of those surveyed said they have stopped or are considering stopping at least one social media platform. In 2020, in the United States, a movement called “Log Off”, which defines itself as a youth movement by teens for teens, decided to provide a space for conversation about the harms of social networks and how to use them more healthily.

The movement has engaged with thousands of teens in more than a dozen countries, documenting the stories of a generation increasingly concerned about leaving their mental health in the hands of for-profit technology companies. – AFP Relaxnews

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