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UW researcher finds out why people are pushing back against technology

UW Assistant Professor Ricardo Gomez says that what motivates the tech pushback is not frustration with devices or concern about privacy. It's the failure to deliver emotional connections. (MyNorthwest.com Photo/Alyssa Kleven)

Some people think it’s impossible to have too much technology. But evidence suggests more and more people are willing to unplug, at least temporarily, from a world of constant connectivity.

These are people who have access to the internet, they have smart phones and tablets. They use Twitter and Facebook.

“The overserved, so-to-speak, are starting to push back,” says University of Washington assistant professor Ricardo Gomez. “I see behaviors here and there of people pushing back and saying, ‘No, enough. I don’t want that much. I want out.'”

Gomez says he discovered the phenomenon of “pushback” while studying the exact opposite, people underserved by technology.

He got sidetracked.

What motivates this pushback is not frustration with devices or concern about privacy. It’s the failure to deliver emotional connections.

“The promise of technology is going to solve all these problems and keep you connected and have more meaningful connections with your friends and with your family does not appear to be so true,” Gomez says.

Others users realize they’re overdosing on technology.

“There are a lot of people who are noticing addictive behavior – ‘I feel I’m addicted to this, as if it was crack,'” he says.

Gomez is at UW’s Information School and he will present a paper on this phenomenon at a conference in Berlin next year.

Some users slowly back away from technology, using Twitter but dropping Facebook, for example. Others might abandon technology on the weekend. A few quit cold turkey.

Gomez says he’s also seen collective, social agreements to limit the intrusion of connectivity.

“A group of people get together, friends get together, they put all the phones together at the center of the table and the first one to reach for the phone is the one who pays the bill,” says Gomez.

Gomez doesn’t offer statistics. His evidence is largely anecdotal. “Generally people report that their lives are improved in someway or they do regain the control that was lost, but they have to work harder for it. But they do seem to report more meaningful and more in depth relations.”

The UW researcher would like to collect images of the phenomenon, such as a restaurant sign that reads: “No Wi-Fi here, talk to each other.”

Gomez is getting a lot of feedback on his observations, suggesting to him that it’s time to engage in a critical conversation that questions the value and purpose of technology, how we use it in our daily lives, and knowing when to push back.

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