A Rising Tide of People `Pushes Back' Against Technology

Oct 28, 2013

Do the little alerts from your phone make you twitch? Is Facebook leaving you more depressed than satisfied? If you’re feeling tired of being constantly connected to the Internet, you’re not alone.

University of Washington researchers say there’s a new phenomenon on the rise. Called “pushback", it refers to people who are choosing to unplug. 

Ricardo Gomez of the University of Washington Information School normally researches ways to help underserved people get access to technology. But then he started to notice the opposite end of the spectrum—technology fatigue from the overserved.

So he and a graduate student searched blogs, the popular media, and academic papers for evidence of pushback. They identified five main reasons why people are choosing to disconnect: emotional dissatisfaction, external values like religious or moral reasons, a desire to regain control of time and energy, concerns about addiction, and privacy fears.

Credit Ricardo Gomez / University of Washington

And they also identified different steps people are taking to limit Internet usage, like taking a digital fast or dropping out of Facebook.

"We noticed a type of behavior that we called social agreement: groups that when they’re together agree to not use social media, or to get together for dinner and put all their phones in the center of the table and the first one who reaches out pays the bill," Gomez said. 

Gomez categorized some people as "back to the woods": people who drop out of the Internet completely, or at least mostly, and go back to the days of snail mail. But that’s only a small percentage.   

He says he’d like to continue this research with interviews. And he’s also collecting images of signs that urge people to unplug. If you see one, snap a picture and send it to him at rgomez@uw.edu. You can also post it to Pinterest with the tag "pushback."

Or, if you prefer, send him a hard copy via snail mail to the university.