The Humanality movement: ‘creating new rituals’ to use technology ‘with intention’

Humanality club Humanality club members at Franciscan University. | Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria

When Catholic musician Andrew Laubacher decided to quit social media in 2018, drained from a music career that had him on social media constantly, he couldn’t foresee that five years later he would be helping to lead a movement dedicated to encouraging others to break their own tech addictions.

“I just was not happy with how all these platforms were just becoming so all-consuming,” Laubacher told CNA in a phone call. “So [in] 2018, I decided to give up all my social media and go back to a flip phone. I told my record label and management at the time I was going to do that. They were like, ‘That’s a horrible decision. You’re not going to get any events.’”

“I just knew God was calling me to do it,” he explained. “I did it and deleted everything, went to a flip phone, and just experienced so many amazing things in regards to my relationships, my mental health, my spiritual health.”

Andrew Laubacher, executive director of Humanality, speaks at a Humanality Club event at Franciscan University in 2023. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria
Andrew Laubacher, executive director of Humanality, speaks at a Humanality Club event at Franciscan University in 2023. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria

Laubacher thought he’d be leaving his music career in the dust but found he could still be successful in music without social media. He then met married couple Hope and Justin Schneir, who had a similar mindset about tech and had founded Humanality, a movement dedicated to “helping people discover freedom through an intentional relationship with technology.” 

Laubacher is now executive director of Humanality, working alongside the Schneirs, who launched Humanality after successfully establishing the “Unplugged Scholarship” at Franciscan University of Steubenville — their alma mater — which awarded 30 students with funding for agreeing to give up their phones for a year.

Who needs Humanality? 

As a mental health crisis persists in the U.S., Laubacher noted that spikes in anxiety and depression, increased loneliness, and widespread cultural addiction to pornography have coincided with the launch of the iPhone and social media platforms.

The percentage of adults with depression has risen from 10% in 2015 to 29%, according to a 2023 Gallup poll. According to a report by Common Sense Media, nearly 3 out of 4 teens have consumed pornography. 

The Humanality Club at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. The club hosted a no-phones concert at the end of the school year to help students experience life without phones. Credit: Photo courtesy of Andrew Laubacher
The Humanality Club at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. The club hosted a no-phones concert at the end of the school year to help students experience life without phones. Credit: Photo courtesy of Andrew Laubacher

“Essentially, since 2010, there’s just been exponential upticks in suicide, self-harm, mood disorders, anxiety, and depression — especially amongst teen girls, directly correlated to the front-facing screen that came out on the iPhone and your Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, et cetera,” Laubacher said. 

One Pew study from 2023 found that suicidal ideation among high schoolers in the U.S. has increased from 16% in 2011 to 22% in 2021, with young women being more at risk, at 30%. 

“Looking at the sociological data, I think everyone’s pretty aware of the issue and most people are willing to admit — we’re all addicted to our devices in some way,” Laubacher continued. 

“Living with a smartphone is like living with a Frodo’s ring in your pocket, and the more addictions we crave through it, the stronger the pull, and the heavier the burden becomes,” Justin Schneir told CNA in an email. 

“Humanality really is the solution,” Laubacher explained. “We’re a movement that’s trying to cultivate more human interaction, and what we’re calling ‘human flourishing.’”

Addicted to tech? Join the club

“At the heart of our tech addictions is a legitimate desire for connection,” Hope Schneir told CNA. “Many young people want to move toward a more unplugged lifestyle, but they are afraid to do it alone.”

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Humanality now has clubs on six different Catholic college campuses and provides resources for seminarians. 

Students enjoy a Humanality Club concert at Franciscan University in 2023. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria
Students enjoy a Humanality Club concert at Franciscan University in 2023. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria

“Young people, at this point, are aware of the detriment because they’re experiencing it,” Laubacher added. “They’re looking for a group of people to do this together.” 

Humanality clubs on college campuses promote a variety of “levels” that students can commit to — for example, with “Monk Mode” a student commits to no cellphone at all, relying instead on campus wifi, a laptop, and analog alarm clocks. In the more practical “Rebel Mode,” students use light phones to get off of their smartphones, making their less-accessible laptops their primary mode of digital communication. 

Monthly meetings help keep students on track while building the in-person community that technology has sifted out of our culture. Speakers, phone-free hikes, campfire nights, and an end-of-the-year concert all help students experience life without phones.  

“By establishing communities of people journeying together toward a more human, free lifestyle, we can inspire and embolden young people and families to live more human and free lives, engaging with reality and creation that God himself declared good,” Hope told CNA. 

Humanality also helps students build a “digital plan of life” for the final meeting of the school year, giving students a framework for how they’ll interact with technology once they leave college. 

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In addition to clubs, Humanality has a variety of ways to reach students and help them build a healthy relationship with technology. 

A Humanality club member at Franciscan University. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria
A Humanality club member at Franciscan University. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria

At a seminary in Denver, the organization provided 14 seminarians with light phones — Kindle-esque phones that are solely functional, with no social media or bright colors — as well as analog alarm clocks and GPS for their cars.

“I really think humanality is a way of life, and we’re going to be helping people heal in many different ways,” Laubacher said. “But it’s really discovering, ‘What does it mean to be human and how do we really flourish?’”

Humanality is for humans

Humanality is for all — religious or not, Laubacher said. While secular colleges have reached out to Humanality, the organization’s next steps include going to high schools and K–8 schools to help the next generation achieve a healthy relationship with technology.

The group is also developing “Family Chapters” to pilot in 2024. Hope Schneir told CNA that the chapters will be designed to help families “meet and journey together toward a more tech-lite lifestyle.”

“I think people in our clubs … they’re going to create some of the greatest new novels, the greatest new art, the greatest new songs, be the best … as lawyers, physicians, teachers … because ... they have certain gifts and interests that they didn’t [realize],” Justin Schneir said. “Before, when they were on all these platforms every waking moment, [they] just turn[ed] to the device to scroll. [Now] they’re learning guitar, or they’re learning how to cook new meals, and they’re having in-person interaction that’s just radically transforming their day-to-day.”

Members of the Humanality Club enjoy a concert at Franciscan University in 2023. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria
Members of the Humanality Club enjoy a concert at Franciscan University in 2023. Credit: Video shot by Charles Longoria

Laubacher noted that Humanality doesn’t mean cutting out all technology. It’s more like making a financial plan to “invest” your time wisely and intentionally. 

“There’s always going to be the internet; there’s no point anytime soon I foresee these companies making these devices any less addictive,” he said. “There’s always going to be addiction and people needing to get out of addiction with technology and know how to use it with intention.”

Though Humanality can be applied to anyone, its founders take inspiration from Catholic anthropology.

“We’re all living out liturgies throughout our day,” Laubacher explained. “We wake up, we check the phone. We go to the bathroom, we check the phone. We’re at a stop light, we check the phone. Go to sleep, we check the phone,” 

“[Humanality is about] creating new rituals and new liturgies in our day that are more human [that] are really going to help our mental well-being, our spiritual well-being,” he continued. 

“God has given us this gift of time,” he concluded. “And I’d say most of us are wasting these little moments and time through these different platforms and devices, when time is sacred and how we use it really matters.”

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