Prospect Park is one of the green hearts of Brooklyn, extending over 237 hectares of sculptures, bridges, a botanical garden, waterfalls, arches, jogging tracks and baseball fields. Inside there is also the last remaining forest of the hipster neighborhood of New York, where a group of about 25 high school students gathers every Sunday, dressed in loose, comfortable and sporty clothes. Lying in hammocks or lying in a circle on dry leaves, they differ from other teenagers because, when evening falls, it is more difficult to look them in the face in the shrubbery: their faces are not illuminated by an iPhone screen. They decided to abandon smartphones about two years ago, after suffering the effects of hyper-connection during the pandemic, when their constant presence on social media absorbed every aspect of their lives, with alarming effects on the way they live, socialize and think. According to a study conducted by the American medical journal Juma Pediatrics on a sample of 5,400 adolescents, during the months of lockdown the boys spent at least eight hours a day using social networks, playing video games or carrying out other activities that require an internet connection, without count the hours of distance learning. A lifestyle that often leads to suffering from anxiety and depression, feelings related to the perception of one’s own image.
“I couldn’t help but share a nice picture, if I had one. I was exhausted, every social aspect of my life was connected to my online presence,” one of the club’s founders, Logan Lane, told a student magazine. He abandoned the iPhone at 17, after six years of faithful use, in which he fell asleep with the phone light on after hours of scrolling, simulating a detached attitude with respect to Instagram or TikTok but hiding a spasmodic attention towards the her online behavior and the images her peers posted on social media. She often felt inadequate. An obsession that has become so overwhelming as to push her not only to abandon social profiles, but to get rid of the iPhone. With all due respect to the parents, who now can no longer locate her when she goes out on Friday evenings and to get news of her they have forced her to buy the so-called “clamshell phone”, which has now become a must-have item for every member of the club . Every student who decides to get rid of the iPhone owns one, strictly not connected to the internet, decorated with pictures of their favorite bands and musicians, such as Lauryn Hill and the Fugees. But their cultural references are much broader: Jon Krakauer, author of the cult book “Into the wild”, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, one of the leading exponents of the struggle for civil rights in America, Don DeLillo and his “White noise”, emblem of the alienating impact that technology causes on people. However, the main character to whom the group refers is the nineteenth-century hero of the proletariat Ned Ludd, who became famous for having destroyed a mechanical loom during a fit of anger and having inspired Luddism, the labor movement which in the nineteenth century tried to sabotage the industrial production in the UK. It is no coincidence that the group has chosen to call itself “The Luddite club”, united by the perception that the technology of social networks – while representing, for many teenagers, a refuge – is actually a new form of alienation and slavery.
Logan Lane noticed it after a few weeks spent without an iPhone, when – she told the New York Times – she felt the chemistry of her brain change, to the point of feeling bored: a sensation that is not at all common for teenagers used to being perpetually connected with other people. Lane, who is in her last year at Murrow High School in Brooklyn, has begun to be alone with herself for the first time, and to transform those moments of boredom into the possibility of deciding independently how to use her time. Within a year she had become an avid reader, she began to appreciate graffiti in the subway basement and learned to spray by hanging out with some street artists, with whom she practiced in a freight train yard in Queens. Today she feels more involved in school activities, and she gets up every morning at seven without needing to set the alarm clock, free from that feeling of dizziness that the lights on the screen give when you fall asleep next to them late at night.
She still dreams of living free from her cell phone, even from the older generation, but being without a smartphone has given her the feeling of being somehow more mature and wiser than her parents, perpetually attached to their iPhone and social networks like Twitter, where mother just created an account. The idea of the Luddite Club came about by chance, after a year of detoxification, when she met a freshman who had made the same choice as her: switch to the shell. Her name was Jameson Butler, and is still one of the members of the group. Under the stage of a punk concert in Prospect Park, the two began to confront each other: Lane couldn’t believe her ears and everything Butler too had read and learned in the months without a phone. After two weeks they met, without making an appointment, in the library adjacent to the park, and decided to go and chat in the greenery with some cider and some donuts: that was the club’s first meeting.
Today, the group, nowhere to be found on social media and raised primarily within Logan’s school, has about 25 members, some from other New York high schools. Avid attendees distribute the Luddite Club poster and Ned Ludd’s poster – featuring the story of the textile worker – throughout the corridors of their school, and each Tuesday they hold a proselytizing banquet, offering curious students they have no intention of putting the smartphone in a box definitively the possibility of doing so only for a few hours, participating in the meetings in the park and listening to the debates of the young “Luddites”. In Prospect Park we read, play the guitar, draw, color clothes and discuss everything: the future of the club, the possibility of extending it to college students when Lane and the other veterans graduate and start attending the College, the sense of social media and the discoveries that disconnection has brought with it. Butler told the US newspaper that he gave more value to relationships and understood that true friendship requires commitment and constant presence. After abandoning her social networks, some people told her that they no longer wanted to date or hear from her because it was too strange to receive her text messages “colored green”. Since then she has invested more energy in relationships during “face to face” meetings, looking differently at the friendships she had cultivated on Instagram or TikTok. Lola, an “Into the Wild” enthusiast, has started writing a book. Reading Krakauer’s novel, you learned that real life doesn’t take place during working hours or inside closed spaces, but outdoors and with people. Attending the meetings of the Luddite Club and abandoning her smartphone represented for her a journey similar to that of the protagonist of the story, the nomad Chris McCandless, who understood at her expense that happiness is only true if shared.