Why I’m a Happy Luddite

March 7th, 2016

This is the model of mobile phone I use. It first came out in 2010 and I liked it so much that I bought two more of them for when the inevitable replacements are required. As I see it, a major benefit of my phone is that it does not automatically tell me if I have a new email: I have to press a button if I want to find this out. My phone’s design is such that I couldn’t automate this process even if I wanted to do so. A year ago I visited a mobile phone shop and discovered that such a feature is far rarer in more modern phones. The visit was at the behest of a tech-savvy friend who, despairing of my phone, implored me to consider an upgrade. Upon picking up a shiny new phone and holding it up against my current one, I began by asking the sales person:

What’s the main benefit of this phone, relative to my current one?”

After trying (and failing) to disguise their surprise and bemusement that someone was still using my model of phone, they answered:

“Well it will immediately tell you if you have a new email.”

To which I responded:

“I can’t think of anything worse. Is it possible to switch that feature off?”

The by now dumbfounded salesperson stated they’d:

“Have to check.” as they “Never got asked that.”

Based on the above, it’s unlikely to surprise you that I am regularly described as a Luddite. The term Luddite relates to a group of 19th century English textile workers. It is a term that is often used to infer being ‘anti-technology’. However, the Luddites were only against technology if it had a negative impact on their quality of life, or if it threatened livelihoods.

While I accept that technology can make certain occupations obsolete, I certainly share a Luddite’s apprehension of the impact technology can have on our quality of life. I am, though, a happy Luddite. I find that I am happier when I have regular periods of being non-contactable. It is also good for controlling the ego – time and again I experience the reality of not being important enough to have missed anything significant during my time ‘off-line’. Furthermore, having time ‘off-line’ not only makes me more productive when I’m ‘on-line’, it also makes me more present in face to face conversations with others.

Over the last couple of years, I have been particularly struck by the impact of technology on face to face conversations. Unfortunately, it is increasingly common to experience ‘stop-start’ conversations with friends, as our face to face conversation runs in parallel with multiple text and Facebook conversations. In my professional work, it is common to see every single one of my training participants using their phones for the duration of scheduled breaks.

I generally consider myself as someone who is happy to ‘tread their own path’. Recently however, I was increasingly feeling in a minority of one in relation to my relationship with technology. So it was heartening to come across the book, ‘Alone Together’. Written by social psychologist Sherry Tuckle, it outlines the paradox that while technology enables us to be more connected than ever before, it may also be contributing to greater loneliness and straining our personal relationships. For this reason ‘Alone Together’ is mch’s ‘Resource of the Quarter’. For those who want a briefer overview of Tuckle’s research, click here.

Since raising this issue with colleagues, it’s been reassuring to learn that I’m not in a minority of one. It’s also been uplifting to learn how other individuals and organisations are balancing connectedness with solitary time or uninterrupted group time. For example, the fundraising department of one of mch’s clients is experimenting with a ‘golden hour’ every week. During this hour, staff switch off their emails, do not make any calls and go out of the main office if they need to receive a call.

I’d be interested to know if you are taking steps to maintain such a balance. Please add your comments below.

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