Blake Snow

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The anti-technologist: Three years later

the-neverending-commuteEditor’s note: The Anti-Technologist is a new column by Blake Snow. It advocates late adoption of consumer technology until proven useful, and dishes advice from Snow’s forthcoming book, Finding Offline Balance in an Online World.

In 2009, I had a radical idea. “What if I canceled my phone’s data plan?” This was undoubtedly a first-world problem—I get it. But for someone who had previously spent 1,300 consecutive days attached to a Blackberry or iPhone from wake until sleep, it mattered.

The catalyst behind the idea: A weeklong trip in a remote Montana cabin with family and friends. No cellphone coverage. No internet. Just a landline, a moose lick, a horseshoe pit, and a river running through it.

Although initially apprehensive about the trip—”How am I suppose to continue my affair with work while on vacation now!?”— I was molded by it within a matter of days. As my wife said at the time, “With no online distractions, the social aspect had dramatically improved.”

She was right. Heads were no longer dropping to their laps every few minutes. Robotic acknowledgements that a point had been made were a thing of the past. Smartphone orphans had their parents back. Minds were no longer distracted with what was happening elsewhere.

As a group, we were living in the moment, a la “Little House on the Prairie,” only with much nicer amenities. It was the most eye-opening and worthwhile vacation I had been on.

The week after my “Montana Moment” (cheesy, I know—but catchy!), I decided this was how I wanted to live for the rest of my life. I still wanted to use technology, mobile computing, and the Internet to my professional and personal advantage. But I also wanted to put it down on nights and weekends, as if it were Ward Cleaver’s briefcase being dropped by the front door upon returning home.

Since then, I’ve done just that.

“But times have changed, man,” many have told me in disbelief. “You can’t live like that now. You have to be connected all the time if you want to get ahead, especially for an online guy like you.”

Three years later, I can honestly say: “No you don’t.”

If you are feeling burned out, overwhelmed, or stuck in a perpetual rut of screen refreshes, new message checks, gadget obsession, or status updates, there is another way.

I call it Reformed Luddism and I’d encourage you to consider it. It’s not nearly as radical or knee-jerk as the original industrial Luddites from the 19th century, who I refer as the original gangsters of anti-technology. In fact, to be a reform Luddite, all you have to do is recognize the many benefits of personal technology, but do so with an untrusting eye. Then only accept the ones that are relevant to your life and manageable.

For example, instead of joining the new rat race, the Reform Luddite rejects the notion of keeping up with the Joneses, the geeks, the hipsters, or work-a-holics. They’re slow to adopt and resist the latest software and hardware until proven useful. They’re acutely aware of the unanticipated consequences of new media. They are quick to abandon the binary ones and zeros that no longer work for them and seek out tools that actually save time as opposed to demanding more of it.

In short, the Reform Luddite prefers a low-caloric digital diet and is picky about what he or she consumes. They still appreciate the conveniences of the information age. But they favor analog, offline experiences more. They distinguish simulated from authentic life, and recognizes the importance of both, while striving for the latter.

And that’s what this column is all about. To be a voice of reason amid all this wonderful but mostly useless, fleeting, stuff. The stuff that really doesn’t matter. The stuff that gets in the way of a trip to Big Sky country, imagination, good conversation, intimacy, focus, and resolve.

Three years after first embracing the Reform Luddite movement, I can confidently say I’m better off than I was before. I probably won’t see that popular cat video as fast as you. I certainly won’t know what my friends had for lunch today.

But it’s liberating to to be able to say, “It can wait until Monday. I’m having too much fun right now to worry about that.”

See also: Offline Balance: About the book I’m writing