Gen Xers and older millennials really just want to go back in time to before the internet existed


By Christopher Zara

Apple might want to think about developing some super cool time-travel apps if it expects people over 35 to adopt its futuristic headsets en masse.

According to a new Harris Poll shared exclusively with Fast Company, most Americans would prefer to live in a simpler era before everyone was obsessed with screens and social media, and this sentiment is especially strong among older millennials and Gen Xers.

Asked whether they would like to return to a time before humanity was “plugged in”—meaning before people had wide access to the internet and smartphones—77% of Americans age 35-54 said they would, the highest of any group.

Of course, Americans in that demographic can more clearly remember what the pre-internet era was actually like, but even younger respondents who have no memory of a world before social media indicated that they wouldn’t mind returning to our analog roots: 63% of 18- to 34-year-olds agreed with the idea, versus only 37% who disagreed, according to the poll. Interestingly, baby boomers were slightly less eager to time hop, with only 60% of people over 55 saying they’d prefer to return to yesteryear.

All told, though, a decisive 67% of respondents agreed that, if given the choice, they would prefer the world as it used to be, versus only 33% who seem to think things are perfectly fine the way they are.

So are we a nation of luddites or just nostalgic? Probably the latter, according to the same poll. While Americans may want to unshackle themselves from the burden of constant connectivity, an overwhelming 90% also said that being open-minded about new technologies is important, a finding that mostly held up across demographics. About half of respondents even said they tend to adopt new technologies before most people they know.

Still, people definitely have misgivings about the speed and sometimes blunt force with which new technologies are being thrust upon us. Just over half said they found keeping up with new technologies overwhelming, and about that same percentage said they believe technology is more likely to divide people than unite them. Here, it was younger respondents who took the most pessimistic view, with 57% of people under 35 agreeing that technology divides, versus 43% who disagreed.

Gen Xers and older millennials really just want to go back in time to before the internet existed

Conducted earlier this month, the poll comes as ChatGPT and other rapidly advancing generative-AI tools are threatening to upend white-collar work as we know it, while Big Tech companies such as Apple and Meta are ramping up a hardware arms race that would have humanity forever stumbling around their living rooms in oversized mixed-reality goggles. Is it any wonder why a good chunk of us are yearning for an unplugged world?

Fast Company