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Are Gen Z anti-tech?

By Anon Yu Henriksen, BA International Relations and Korean

When Steve Jobs launched the first iPhone in 2007, the world was left in awe by a device we would currently consider to be primitive. Nowadays, our phones are unlocked by facial recognition, our apps are filled with artificially intelligent helpers, and Apple’s latest device, the Apple Vision Pro, blurs the lines between reality and the virtual. Such developments have engulfed how we shop, travel, eat, relax, communicate, date, and the list goes on. However, as is with most other rapid societal changes, the technological revolution has sparked debate, and perhaps, more recently, even reactionism. With the rise of cottagecore, analogue cameras, Nokia phones, physical vinyl and CDs, and even Book-tok, is Gen Z turning their backs on advanced technology? 

My friend, Thekla Fossestøl, is one of those people who is constantly trying to quit technology. For periods of time, she exchanges her iPhone for an old Nokia. Many might have experienced blissful periods of peace and reflection when they have accidentally lost or broken their phones, but Thekla purposefully seeks this by rejecting the digital world completely.

“I hate technology,” Thekla told me in a voice message and added that the reasons for this hatred are manifold. She thinks that the technology which dominates the contemporary, smartphones and social media, stand in the way of the most foundational human needs: seeing and being in the present with each other. She finds that advanced technology negatively affects relationship building, and our ability to reflect over and handle our feelings. With a smartphone, no one has to “sit with one’s own thoughts anymore,” according to Thekla. Moreover, she told me that she finds the automatisation and addiction created by social media scary. 

Otto Johnson, another friend, loves collecting physical media, like CDs, vinyls, and books. Otto cites the growth of AI as one of the reasons why he embraces such forms of media. “AI blurs the lines between what is real and what is not,” he says. As fake AI-generated song covers have recently emerged on TikTok, Otto adds that he is “losing trust in who is being honest and not online.” Therefore, physical media provides a sense of authenticity. Still, turning one’s back on technology is easier said than done. As Otto emphasises, smartphones are, after all, extremely convenient. Even though he has many CDs and vinyls, he spends most of his time listening to music on Spotify through his wireless AirPods. It is simply more convenient. 

 ‘Convenience and automated addiction, as well as the digitalisation of entire systems of payment, communication, transportation, and education, make it extremely difficult to challenge the digital ecosystem.’

Similarly, Thekla keeps returning to her iPhone, despite many Nokia breaks. Even though she describes the periods where she only uses her Nokia as more “chill[ed]” and good for her focus, she only returns to her smartphone in what she describes as an “all-or-nothing” dilemma. Similarly, she deletes her presence from social media platforms multiple times a month, both by deleting the app and her profile. Yet, she keeps returning by making excuses for herself. Many might have experienced this themselves, for it is hard to quit something when the entire system is rigged. Convenience and automated addiction, as well as the digitalisation of entire systems of payment, communication, transportation, and education, make it extremely difficult to challenge the digital ecosystem. 

But what if Gen Z is the last hope? It is a generation that was not born with smartphones and tablets in their hands, in contrast to the now-adolescent Generation Alpha. We were raised in the final years, between 2000 and 2010, when technology was a tool rather than a drug. As we see the use of physical tools instead of digital ones trending amongst Gen Z, this might provide hope for the future confrontation of continued technological advances. For now, many young people continue to try to challenge a system which dominates their lives so strongly that a biblical reference to David and Goliath feels appropriate. However, as Thekla returns to her iPhone once more, and Otto to Spotify, this battle appears to be both tougher and longer. 

Photo Caption: ‘Girl with red hat’ (Photo credit: Unsplash)

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