I have some thoughts about the Luddite club.

First, I don’t have a problem with people switching to flip phones. I do have a problem with the implication it makes them morally superior to people who use smartphones.

I think one of my biggest problems with the article is the feel of the writing: a sense of awe, a focus on fashion, a vibe that reads to me like “Ooh isn’t it amazing that these kids wear Doc Martens and read books?”

I fully support the desire to break free of slot machine dopamine hit features of social media. But here are activities that, in the article, read as though they require giving up your smartphone but that I, a person with a smartphone, sometimes do:

  • Draw
  • Paint
  • Close my eyes outside
  • Read books
  • Sew
  • Borrow books from the library
  • Go to parks
  • Fall asleep away from the glow of my phone
  • Read in hammocks

I’m glad teens do these things. And if they can only do them without smartphones, okay. But let’s not act like these activities are inaccessible to people with smartphones.

One of the most concerning things is the veneration these kids seem to feel for Chris McCandless. One of them says, “…that guy was experiencing life. Real life.” But actually, what he experienced was death. This dude might have been sympathetic but I know I don’t want my kid holding him up as a role model. If you’re going to go off the grid, learn how to take care of yourself BEFORE you get there.

I’m also not convinced that this is the beginning of a social movement. The founder of the club was discouraged when people suggested it was classist, but she says, “[my advisor] told me most revolutions actually start with people from industrious backgrounds, like Che Guevara.” I think the word we might be looking for here rather than “industrious” is “privileged,” “middle class,” “bourgeois,” or “capitalist.” But also, Che Guevara was motivated by witnessing other people’s misery and took action directed at alleviating it. I hope Luddite club kids use some of their screen-free time to benefit others. The article doesn’t make it clear whether they do, so I don’t know how apt the comparison to Guevara is.

Meg Pillow pointed out that for some of us, social media has been a great way to expand our awareness beyond our own experiences, to escape a filter bubble. One of the kids quoted in the article said, “Being in this club reminds me we’re all living on a floating rock and that it’s all going to be OK.” But when I read this, it made me think that without some other way of learning about the world, this is simple escapism. Are the Luddite club kids listening to the radio? Reading independent newspapers? Watching public television? How do they learn about the world beyond their schools and club, about the world that’s not printed about in classic or mainstream printed texts?

The most honest part of the article seemed to me to be when the founder of the club said that she likes that her parents are addicted to their smartphones, “because I get to feel a little superior to them.” This is developmentally right on track for a high school senior. I’m pretty sure these kids in the Luddite club will be fine. But I think we adults need to look a little deeper at what’s going on before deciding we should model our own lives on theirs or pressure our kids to do likewise.