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Videos of SAL/UER Climate Week events

Racism and the Collapsing Society, Barbara Love and Tim Jackins, June 7, 2020

RC Webinars listing through July 2021

New Online Workshop Guidelines Modifications


Technological Devices at Workshops?

What do you think about participants’ use of technology at workshops? I have noticed that the use of mobile phones, tablets, and laptops for calling, texting, Facebook, and so on, can interfere with developing and strengthening relationships between participants. It can also distract people from feeling uncomfortable about the issues we are confronting. It may contribute to class oppression, too. Some people do not have as much access to technology as others—especially, but not exclusively, at International workshops. 

It may affect individual and group functioning as much as some substances we ban at workshops and some activities we discourage, like huddling with people we know or separating ourselves from the group (for example, going out to dinner with a group of close Co-Counselors). I have heard stories of people interrupting a Co-Counseling session to take calls and of texting or working on taxes during class. (I also know that people sometimes need to stay in touch with ill family members, check in on children, and so on.) 

What has been your experience? What have you tried? Does the Community need some guidelines here? I have heard proposals that range from verbally trying to raise awareness to banning the use of technological devices at workshops. 

Julian Weissglass
International Commonality Reference
Person for Wide World Change
Santa Barbara, California, USA


Thank you for starting a conversation about the use of technological devices at workshops. It is increasing because of capitalism and needs to be thought about. 

There are several oppressions related to it. For example, particularly in Western countries, adults often criticize (oppress) young people by claiming that they are addicted to and spend too much time using technological devices (phones, tablets, laptops, television, and so on). These devices are marketed to young people early in their lives, and parents often use them to distract young people (particularly younger young people) when the parents lack attention and time for them or when the young people are having feelings. Then when the young people become older young people, adults (particularly older adults who don’t use much technology) reprimand and criticize them for using the devices. Phones are confiscated at school, often in a disrespectful way; parents confiscate technological devices as punishment, and so on.

At the same time, young people are increasingly using these devices for school and sometimes feel the need to do homework at workshops. This is not always a rational need, and it’s often useful to counsel the young people on it (especially if you already have a relationship with them and are clear that you trust their thinking). Sometimes they actually do need to do homework—for example, because of parental or teacher pressure, or personal goals that have particular requirements. 

I agree that there are classist, isolating, and addictive patterns related to these devices. And although people of all ages are addicted to them, the group most targeted for addiction is young people. Therefore, I think that a blanket policy would unnecessarily alienate young people. 

I have noticed that many young people use technology at workshops when they are restimulated and feeling isolated. It has not worked well to come down heavy on them with criticism or a blanket rule or policy. (This is what young people experience all the time on a variety of issues.) What has worked has been to think flexibly about them and try to counsel them on their feelings of isolation. Some of us have tried being playful, getting physically close, asking questions about what they are doing and what is interesting or important about it, offering a mini-session, or pulling them into group activity. If I can connect with them and show that I respect them, they usually stop using technology in favor of human connection.

I have also found that technology can be useful in my Co-Counseling and other relationships. For instance, I’ve taken Tim’s* suggestion to make small bits of contact with Co-Counselors—rather than big communications that require a response, I’ve sent texts,
e-mails, private Facebook messages, and pictures of myself (with an application called Snapchat) whenever I think of someone I care about. Some people reply, and some don’t. It’s been sweet to have contact with people without having to have a mini-session, which usually isn’t possible for me, given the numbers of young people I am referencing. 

At workshops, a group of us will sometimes send pictures or text messages to Co-Counselors who aren’t at the workshop, or Skype with them, and remind them that we are thinking about them and love them. I’ve also seen technology be a way for people to share their interests and cultures by playing music, showing pictures, and so on. At a workshop I led recently, we had a big singing and dancing party for which a young working-class person of the global majority played songs on her phone.

It’s true that not everyone has access to technological devices, so we who lead workshops need to think flexibly about each workshop and decide if we should talk about or have guidelines about them. We need to gauge which groups are using them and which aren’t, and if they are being used in an addictive or overpowering way that is stopping people from connecting and discharging. If technology use seems like an important issue, I would suggest getting people to do a mini-session about it near the beginning of the workshop, as we often do with food or sleep.

I don’t think addictions to technology are worse, more damaging, or more isolating than addictions to food, exercise, getting or not getting sleep, and so on, none of which we have RC policies about. There are some things that do not have any good uses and also cause major damage (like certain drugs) for which we do have policies, but I don’t think technology use is on that level, at least at most workshops. 

I would urge us all to keep in mind and discharge about young people’s oppression, as well as classism and nationalism (and other oppressions), when making decisions about technology at our workshops.

Mari Piggott
International Liberation Reference 
Person for Young People
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion
list for International Liberation
and Commonality Reference Persons

* Tim Jackins’

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00