It’s Time We Redefine “Backward-looking”

Pretty young redhead woman turning to the camera with a vivacious happy friendly smile as she looks back over her shoulder while walking along a boardwalk

For many individuals, the idea of looking to the past for personal enrichment comes across as outdated. Digital devices have become an integral part of our lives, after all, and frequent technology advancements keep us looking to the future. One could say that these forward-looking innovations have shaped our perception of what it means to progress as a society.

As technology becomes interlaced with more aspects of our lives, though, individuals have started recognizing the true impact electronic devices have. Their interpersonal and intrapersonal observations have led them to adjust their way of life: backward-looking, rather than forward-looking. In fact, Google searches for dumbphones jumped by 89% between 2018 and 2021, according to a report by software firm SEMrush.


According to Merriam Webster, one definition of the term backward-looking is:

Backward-looking • Adj.

: relating to the past : old-fashioned


Further, the Cambridge Dictionary provides the following definition:

Backward-looking • Adj.

opposed to change or new ideas


Interestingly, both definitions of the term backward-looking have a connotation of disapproval. Do note that the word forward-looking, though, is defined by Merriam Webster as “concerned with or planning for the future” without a positive or negative undertone.

Several words have evolved in meaning overtime. This started happening centuries ago, prior to the internet. So, as more individuals adapt digitally-minimal processes, we must consider reconsider how we perceive and use the word backward-looking.

A New Way of Backward-looking

In order to modify how we refer to this word and adapt a suitable definition, it’s important that we understand who this modern backward-looking individual is. Digitally-minimal individuals vary in attributes, just like other groups with like-minded objectives. However, there are common core values that backward-looking thinkers do their best to live by.

1. Experience the Real World

Individuals who practice digital minimalism spend more time experiencing the world around them than using electronic devices. Given how the average phone user taps, types, and swipes their phone over 2,600 times per day, this has prompted backward-looking thinkers to take the opposite approach.

Backward-looking thinkers prefer to have their worldview shaped through the five senses, rather than the input from their phone. To them, fully experiencing the moment at hand – whether simple or adventurous – holds greater importance than disrupting it with electronic devices.

2. Reclaim Face-to-face Conversation

Individuals come in all shades of sociability. And, although some backward-looking thinkers may prefer to keep to themselves, face-to-face conversation is valued over phone interactions. Sherry Turkle, Author of Reclaiming Conversation, even cites that of the 89% of Americans that took out a phone during their last social interaction, 82% said that it deteriorated the conversation they were in.

Those who take a more backward-looking approach to life opt for eye contact and a steady flow of dialog in a conversation. These are attributes that have become less common as a result of using technology to communicate. Nonetheless, though, backward-looking thinkers have made an effort to revive these fleeting qualities.

3. Embrace the Silence

With more information available at our fingertips than ever, it has become especially challenging to eliminate excess noise – auditory and non-auditory –since phones provide access to unlimited input. Research has shown how sorting through the immense amount of information online can lead to digital overload, which has prompted backward-looking thinkers to, instead, embrace the silence.

Individuals who practice digital minimalism may find that blocking out unnecessary noise from their life has always come naturally. Others may, alternatively, notice that they need to put in extra attention and effort to make their life more quiet. However, there is a common goal of re-inviting the silence to close the gap that was once filled with excess noise.

4. Welcome Boredom

Because backward-looking thinkers live more quiet lives, they openly embrace boredom as an opportunity to become more mindful of their thoughts and the experience of the lull itself. Individuals who are less inclined towards boredom may, however, choose to gravitate to their phone.

One study found that participants were more likely to interact with their smartphone the more fatigued or bored they were. Participants actually reported increased fatigue and boredom after having used the smartphone (more). In short: phones can create more boredom than the prior boredom experienced. Thus, backward-looking thinkers use boredom as a springboard for ideation.

5. Unlock Your Imagination

By opening themselves up to the experience of boredom, backward-looking thinkers have found the space for new possibilities to emerge. Individuals who embrace digital minimalism, as a result, have an increased potential to see their ideas through.

Boredom is a catalyst for creativity. In fact, a Harvard Medicine magazine article highlights how Teresa Belton, an educational researcher at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom, argues that too much exposure to screens stunts the development of imagination and inner resources. She and a colleague interviewed successful people, including a novelist, a poet, an artist, and a neuroscientist, for a project on creativity. They found that all cited boredom as an important—and helpful—source of creative endeavor and inspiration.

Going Backwards is the Way Forward

More individuals are beginning to embrace the rethought idea of backward-looking as a way of life. With the number of backward-looking thinkers continuing to grow, it is important that we reconsider how we define and use this term as a whole.

Electronic devices will continue playing a role in our personal and professional processes. However, a paradigm shift has started and will continue to reshape how we use technology. As we reclaim and relearn the valuable traits that make us human, we will find that backward-looking is here to stay.