Sharon Hofer lives in a Bruderhof community in Walden, New York. The Bruderhof, who have 23 settlements in seven countries, are Christians who live communally and use modern technology sparingly.
I’ve lived at a Bruderhof community my whole life. We have about 300 people and live in big apartment buildings that house up to eight families. We have a dining hall, and make all our own meals, and have lunch and suppers together. We have a garden where we grow vegetables, a farm where we raise cows, and our own meat processing plant. The grass is really green; there’s lots of trees.
I go to a private school in Esopus, New York. It’s a four-year high school and has no technology except for a computer lab where seniors take typing. I don’t have a phone or a computer, so I’m never really online. I do my homework with a pen, paper, and calculator. I’ve never seen social media. If I need to look something up, like for a research paper, I ask my mom and go online with her computer, which she uses for work.
There aren’t any rules about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, which makes the Bruderhof different from other religious groups. There’s a willingness to try new things. We don’t see technology as a bad thing unless it’s taking the place of real interactions and connections between people.
People do have phones here, but they don’t go around looking at them the entire time. When I was in eighth grade we went to New York City for a tour and I was seeing all these people and all they do is look at their phones. That was different to see. It was just funny, because no one was talking to anyone on the streets. Here, when we walk past people we say, “Hi, how’s it been?”
If I had the option of using the internet for a day, I think it would be fun to see how it works and what’s all out there. I’m into sports, so maybe I’d watch a game on YouTube or look up highlights. So a day would be fine, but not much longer. I worry that I wouldn’t spend any time with my family if I had constant access to the internet.
Judah Siegand’s parents founded Parents Who Fight, an organization that advocates for online safety for minors. He has grown up with strict limits on his technology use, but in 2018 he was one of 15 students chosen to participate in Microsoft’s teen Council for Digital Good.
Growing up, my access to technology was basically nonexistent. My parents believe that if it isn’t necessary, then we don’t get it. We don’t have a smart TV. My mom has a computer for work, but that’s really all she uses it for.
There was a period in fourth grade when I really bugged my parents for a phone. In eighth grade I got a flip phone so I could coordinate my football schedule with them. There were a bunch of kids that would always come up to me and be like, “Do the flip phone thing!” I would flip it out with my thumb and put it up to my ear and they would all crack up so hard.
I finally got an iPhone 6 over the summer. I don’t have any social media. I don’t have any games on my phone. There’s an app that allows me 30 minutes of internet access a day and has a saved search that’s monitored by my mom and dad. During independent study period I finish homework and then watch a YouTube video for like 10 minutes and then never even go back on the internet the whole day. I got an Xbox last Christmas, and I can play that four hours a week.
When it comes down to it, I don’t even really want social media. I feel like it invites you to have friendships solely based on followers, and it kind of turns your friends into a number. By not being on it, I stay out of the drama that starts there. I get to focus on friendships that are deeper and long-lasting. To me, a real friendship is someone that you can talk to about deep things and you don’t feel like you have to impress them all the time.