The rustic, mirror-polished axe is 26 inches long and weighs three pounds; you can see marks from where the blacksmith hit it. Carved on the handle is the phrase, “Hands not Machines,” something 31-year-old Kenji Little attempts to live by. He purchased the axe in Latvia three years ago, on a trip across Eastern Europe and Russia.
“Everything [at the company that made the axe] is done by hand through blacksmithing, woodcutting and chiseling,” explains Little. “We learned about [traditional] Latvian culture and how they do things the old way.”
The old way, for Little, is to use as little technology as possible. Up until very recently, Little has never used social media and rarely used the Internet except to check bank-related e-mails or find instructional information, such as on how to repair his truck. The only person he texts is his girlfriend, Ingrid, and an occasional friend or two.
Breaking his 30-year streak of not using social media was a way to document a solo cross-country months-long trip he was on last summer and had planned for a year and a half. He’d posted only a handful of photos on his Instagram account — his first incarnation of social media — all of which are travel-related: mountains, skies, cabins, deserts, woods.
“With this trip, I was looking at a map and scrolling around and searching for campgrounds. I’ll google image search it and find pictures people have posted,” Little tells me. “It’s a cross between being anti-social media and using social media to get away from social media.”
Despite our fast-paced, technology-obsessed society, Little is not alone. According to Pew Research Center, 13 percent of Americans don’t use the Internet. While most of these individuals are 65 years or older (41 percent), there are a decent amount of people ages 30-64 who don’t use the Internet (20 percent). Under 30, however, only 1 percent of Americans abstain.
Doug Hubbard, 70, doesn’t use the Internet at all. He’s in the age demographic that is most likely to stay offline at all times and relishes a time before technology took over.
“I just don’t want to use the Internet,” Hubbard says. “I don’t believe in it. It’s detrimental to society. Anybody can put anything they want to on the Internet.”
Hubbard says people tend to believe everything they read online; those who use the Internet rely too heavily on information that could be false or inaccurate. In an era of rampant fake and misleading news, this can be the case for many users of the Internet.
“The Internet has taken society a step back,” he says. “People can’t develop their own opinions. It purveys falsehoods because news sites [and bloggers] don’t provide proof in what they say, from local to national to international news.”
While many who don’t use the Internet don’t have access to it due to socioeconomic reasons, Hubbard does not fall in that demographic. He has tried the Internet before and hated it, and gave his computer up.
“I just watch TV or get news from a secondhand source,” he says. “I’d rather [my family] not use the Internet, but that’s their business. I’m old-fashioned but it got me through 70 years, and I don’t like what it’s doing to the younger generation.”
True to Hubbard’s concerns, media literacy is a problem in our society. Pew Research Center cites a majority of Americans get their news from social media; half of the public used these sites to learn about the 2016 presidential election. This worries high school economics teacher, Jane Brown (not her real name), 31, who fears that media literacy is declining.
“A majority of people under 30 use Facebook as the main venue for their news, and I think that’s shocking,” she tells me. “There are people who aren’t aware of what a reputable source is or not. There are fake memes with fake quotes and people think it’s a real source and can’t discern the joke.”
Brown and her husband both stay away from social media. They have a young son and there is no trace of him on the Internet; she even informed her sister, who does regularly use social media, to not post photos of her child.
“I don’t want any of his information out there,” Brown explains. “People are too free with their information and they don’t realize what people can access. Putting information out about children can have serious consequences. I find that especially eerie because you don’t know who is looking at pictures of your children. You don’t know what’s going to happen with the photo you post online.”
She says identity theft, especially among the younger population, is a point of concern. Pew Research Center cites 13 percent of Americans have had someone take over one of their social media accounts with a data breach.
“I teach economics and we talk about things like identity theft and how it’s important to check your credit score before you get your first credit card because people can steal identities of those under 18,” she says. “[They can be targeted because] they don’t check their credit scores until much later.”
Aside with the security risks, Brown says that social media can become a serious addiction that impacts peoples’ lives negatively. She once used Facebook when it first came out when she was in college and it was only limited to college students. In the last ten years, she has been without it.
“People become addicted to the Internet just like they become addicted to drugs, alcohol and gambling,” says Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, Dr. Timothy Fong. “When people start using social media and it creates anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, loss of sleep, loss of productivity and compulsive feelings, that’s not healthy.”
Clinical Psychologist in West Hollywood Dr. Todd Adams compares social media use to gambling.
“It’s set up like slot machines in Las Vegas,” he explains. “It’s intermittent reinforcement. It loops you in enough to where you get a bit of a win [from ‘likes’ or attention] and want to stay for five more minutes. You then lose but win a little bit again, and it’s five more minutes.”
Both Fong and Adams say that the excessive use of social media have interfered with youth’s development and ability to function in real-life, face-to-face social interactions.
“Particularly with younger kids and teens, it’s throwing a wrench in the developmental process,” Adams says. “The more time you spend on social media, the less time you’re spending just talking to someone. Those skills are deteriorating.”
While Brown agrees with the negative consequences, she admits one issue of staying off of social media is losing touch with far-away friends and missing out on events.
“I’ve lived in multiple cities, I’ve lived abroad, and I’ve definitely lost touch with people. Friends will have parties or get togethers and they’ll have to ask [my husband and me] through text message,” she says. “So we’ve missed out on things like that, but overall, weighing the pros and cons — I don’t think it’s worth it to use social media.”
Brown enjoys living her life free of the confines and pressures of social media and rampant Internet use.
“You may hear so-and-so got a new job, that someone got married — especially now when people are feeling guilty about not being married or having kids — and it’s pretty easy to ignore,” she says. “But on social media, you’re always seeing evidence of it. It’s making people overly competitive and more self-conscious.”