A Dispatch from the Mental Liberation Front

To The Kids Becoming Luddites,

I applaud you. You have had enough. You’re tired of screen-based self-obsession, compulsive habits, anxiety and depression. So you are relinquishing your smartphones. You are disconnecting from Social Media. You are meeting in person. You are reading books, making art and listening to the wind in the trees. You are trying to think and create outside the Internet. You recognize your mental imprisonment and seek liberation.

You were born with a barcode across your forehead. Surveillance capitalists have reduced your personood to data streams, which you must surrender to in order to function in society. This unprecedented violation, on a mass scale, of Immanuel Kant’s famous moral maxim “Never treat a human being as a means only, but also as an end,” is now normal. Today, children learn to say “Hey, Google!” before they can read.

You are not alone. Parents are waking up, too. Where I live in Vancouver, B.C., our family banded together with other like-minded parents who wanted their kids to grow up phone-free, to learn self-sufficiency, not tech dependency. My 15 year-old daughter and 11 year-old son have never had a cell phone, and they don’t want one. They and their phone-free friends walk without fear to and from school, hang out in parks, and go out for ice cream. My daughter starting riding the city bus alone at age 11, without a phone.

Phone-free kids gain skills — such as identifying a plant species without an app or navigating without GPS — that make them proud and feel good about themselves. They read books that cannot spy on them, and use libraries that don’t use “cookies” to “better serve” them. Their social lives are not confiscated by social media. Their minds are free from marketing “influencers.” They know how to deal with boredom; they have no cell phone to fill the void with instant, fidgety, dopaminergic gratification, so they find their own intrinsic, creative energy instead. They learn that people, on the whole, can be trusted.

True independence for kids means using their own wits, know-how, resources, and creativity without an electronic parental leash and corporate-sponsored apps that make them more, not less, dependent on forces outside themselves. Phone-free kids at least have half a chance of entering the online world consciously, deliberately, and critically, as opposed to obliviously, habitually, and passively.

Many people will say this refusalism is too “negative” about technology. But for decades the positive case was rammed down our throats. We heard ad nauseum about the power and promise of the “information superhighway,” the “game-changing” magic of smartphones, and the network potential of “connecting” on social media. We let every aspect of human life go online. We went along with it, we accepted it, most even embraced it.

Just remember: Your luddite stance is a positive act. In this case the negative is the positive. You are helping people wake up to the possibilities: kids everywhere untethered from technology and the commercial forces operating through it. Parents letting their kids experience the exhilaration of making their own way in the world. Citizens refusing to accept an Internet predicated on concentrated, unaccountable corporate power, data extraction and accumulation, ubiquitous surveillance, assaults on privacy, and hidden manipulation at scale. And when people tell us, “You can’t stop progress,” we will tell them, “You can stop calling it progress and call it profiteering, scamming and mass addiction instead.”

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