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Is 'No Fap' Movement Start of Tech Backlash?

05/19/2013 12:27 pm ET | Updated Jul 19, 2013
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Have you heard about the growing "NoFap" movement in which men are choosing not to masturbate? Essentially, NoFap is a reaction by young males to the fact that some of them -- thanks mostly to omnipresent digital porn -- are losing interest in finding and engaging real-world sex partners. In essence, the movement is less about not masturbating than it is about not engaging with "sexnology" to the exclusion of in-the-flesh intimate encounters. In other words, these young men are rebelling against tech-sex; they are stepping away from their laptops and into the real world.

So... digital natives don't love technology? When did that happen? And when will somebody drop that memo to corporate America, because big-money marketing gurus clearly think millennials dig tech the way bunny rabbits dig vegetables. In fact, corporate America dangles the proverbial techno-carrot in almost every new commercial aimed at this free-spending demographic. Ads for music feature iPods; ads for minivans feature DVD players and HD viewing screens; ads for macaroni and cheese feature calls to dinner via smartphone. No matter what you're selling, if you want to sell it to kids and young adults, you've got to sell it with a side order of digital devices. Or so it seems.

And who can blame corporate American for thinking this? Let's face it. If you see a kid walking down the street, it's more likely than not that he or she is listening to an iPod and/or tapping away at a smartphone -- texting, surfing the Net, gaming, watching YouTube, posting to social media, etc. If you see a group of young people hanging out at the mall, they are often, both individually and collectively, as involved with their digital devices as with each other.

Fed Up With Tech

Apparently, however, not all digital natives are as capitated by technology as one might think. NoFap is merely the tip of the iceberg. Many young women are also eschewing digital interactions, sharing less (sometimes not at all) on Facebook and other social media sites. Perhaps these women are heeding the cautionary tale of Diane O'Meara, who was unwittingly thrust into the national spotlight as part of the Manti Te'o catfishing scandal.

O'Meara wrote about her experience in a widely reprinted article.

As someone in my mid-20s, I am of the generation that uses social media to connect with friends, family and business associates. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: These are the ways we communicate. And like most of my generation, I didn't give a lot of thought to the word "friend" in the social media sphere. If someone sent me a friend request, more often than not, I accepted it. As a result, I found myself with a lot of friends, including some I barely knew. One of them was a guy I had only a passing acquaintance with, but who had gone to my high school ... Many details remain unclear, but it now appears that the casual high school acquaintance whose "friend" request I accepted took my pictures, and they were used to create the fictitious persona [presented to Manti Te'o] ... In the last week, I've shut down all my social media accounts. But I realize that's not a long-term solution. I use social media to connect with a network of friends and family, and with business associates. Giving this up is unrealistic ... Eventually, I'll go back to using social media. But I'll take a more cautious approach.

This tech backlash is also evident in pop culture, appearing as a theme in numerous young adult novels and movies such as The Hunger Games, in which The Capitol uses technology to control and sometimes even torment the population. (This leitmotif is nothing new, of course. See: Orwell, George.) Even advertisers are catching on, albeit slowly. In one recently released commercial, a young professional is shown walking down the street, studiously engaged with his smartphone. As he taps at his phone, "digital people" pop up to remind him about meetings for work, car repairs, getting his dry cleaning, whatever. Finally he enters a bar, sees his friends, puts his smartphone away, orders a beer, and starts to have a good time. The message: disengage and relax.

Are Gadgets No Longer Cool?

Young people like to be ahead of the curve. That's why they have bad haircuts and wear awful clothing. Essentially, they don't want to look (or act) like their parents. Don't believe me? Then think back to your childhood. When I was a kid, I let my hair grow long and wore bell-bottomed jeans and paisley shirts with enormous collars. I did this because it was cool and my parents hated it. And the first time I saw someone over the age of 30 wearing a paisley shirt, mine went straight into the trash.

Similar things are happening today. Ray, a 65-year-old attorney, recently purchased an iPhone. Proud of being a "with it" grandpa, he showed it to his 17-year-old granddaughter and asked her for tips on how to use it. In response, she turned a shade of light green and said, "You're not going to start texting me, are you?" Now, when he sees her out with her friends, he gleefully sends her a text or two just to watch her squirm. So a guy who once "turned on, tuned in, and dropped out," whose mantra was "Don't trust anyone over 30," now embarrasses his granddaughter. He used to be cool; now he's a fossil.

Technology is much like people in this respect. Remember that smartphone you just had to have six months ago, how unbelievably excited you were when it was released? Now it's coyote ugly and -- admit it -- you're thinking about "accidentally" dropping it in the toilet or running over it with your car so you can buy something new.

So will all forms of digital technology eventually become so uncool that people will avoid the digital universe altogether? Probably not. Tech changes too fast to ever go out of style. There is always something new and shiny to catch our eye.

Perhaps we should look at toddlers to get a better feel for the long-term future of digital technology and its role in our lives. The iPad provides a great testing ground. The device is a favorite of preschoolers because they can swipe at it, meaning they are using their hands digitally the same way they're using their hands in real life. But how long do you let your child engage with this device? Hanna Rosin decided to let her youngest son, Gideon, play with her old iPad as much as he wanted, hoping he might eventually tire of it. She writes of her experience in the Atlantic.

Gideon tested me the very first day. He saw the iPad in his space and asked if he could play. It was 8 a.m. and we had to get ready for school. I said yes. For 45 minutes he sat on a chair and played as I got him dressed, got his backpack ready, and failed to feed him breakfast. This was extremely annoying and obviously untenable. The week went on like this -- Gideon grabbing the iPad for two-hour stretches, in the morning, after school, at bedtime. Then, after about 10 days, the iPad fell out of his rotation, just like every other toy does. He dropped it under the bed and never looked for it. It was completely forgotten for about six weeks. Now he picks it up every once in a while, but not all that often.

For little Gideon, the iPad was a hot ticket for several weeks -- until another toy captured his fancy. This experience seems to mirror how most emotionally healthy people treat just about everything. When something is new, it may well fascinate us. In the digital world, a new device or an exciting new app can easily capture and captivate -- for a period of time. Eventually, however, it becomes old hat and we either integrate it into our lives in a healthy way, picking it up and using it occasionally, or we move onto something newer and shinier. Apparently, this "moving on" process has begun for some millennials in relation to certain temporarily all-consuming technologies like digital porn and social media. That doesn't mean hardcore and Facebook are about to disappear forever. Just that a few people are "over it" and moving on to something new.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is senior vice president of clinical development with Elements Behavioral Health. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, Mr. Weiss has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others. Mr. Weiss is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men, and co-author with Dr. Jennifer Schneider of both Untangling the Web: Sex, Porn, and Fantasy Obsession in the Internet Age and the upcoming 2013 release, Closer Together, Further Apart: The Effect of Technology and the Internet on Sex, Intimacy and Relationships, along with numerous peer-reviewed articles and chapters. He is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and PsychCentral.com, writing primarily about the intersection of technology with sex and intimacy. He has provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the U.S. military and treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.