‘Tech Addiction’ Campaign To Wean Youngsters Off Smartphones

The additive nature of technology has been flagged in a new campaign called ‘The Truth about Tech’.

The campaign is the brainchild of a new organisation called ‘Center for Humane Technology’ (CHT), which has been created by two former employees of Facebook and Google. It is urging tech companies to rethink and redesign addictive and intrusive tech tools.

It comes amid growing concern at the amount of time children in particular are spending using tech. Last month Apple CEO Tim Cook urged parents to stop children using social media. He has banned his nephew for example from using social networks.

Tech Addition

And now the CHT ‘the Truth about Tech’ campaign aims to spread the word about the perils of using tech too much.

It seeks to “reverse the digital attention crisis” and “realign technology with humanity’s best interests”.

The CHT is led by former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris and former Facebook investor and adviser Roger McNamee. It has received £5m in funding from Common Sense, a not-for-profit group that promotes safe technology and media for children.

The campaign essentially looks to put pressure on the tech industry and make its products less intrusive and less addictive. It also seeks to provide educational material aimed at families highlighting the potential harm caused by digital platforms and is providing help and techniques for mitigating against the addictive properties of tech. This can include tactics such as turning off notifications for example.

The campaign will focus on 55,000 schools in the United States, and will lobby politicians on two forthcoming pieces of legislation in the US, one looking at the impact of technology on children’s health and one requiring digital bots to be identified.

“Tech companies are conducting a massive, real-time experiment on our kids, and, at present, no one is really holding them accountable,” said James P. Steyer, CEO and founder of Common Sense in a statement.

Arms Race

“Their business models often encourage them to do whatever they can to grab attention and data and then to worry about the consequences later, even though those very same consequences may at times hurt the social, emotional, and cognitive development of kids,” said Steyer.

“It’s time to hold tech companies accountable for their efforts designed to target and manipulate young people. When parents learn how these companies can take advantage of our kids, they will join us in demanding the industry change its ways and improve certain practices,” he said.

The campaign also alleges that the tech industry is using techniques that can addict and distract children.

It also said that tech addition does cause harm including attention and cognition disorders; depression, loneliness, stress, and anxiety; suicidal ideation; loss of productivity; hindrance of children’s development; lack of critical-thinking skills; and a misconstrued sense of culture.

“The most powerful tech companies in the world are making deliberate decisions that do great harm,” alleged Harris. “They’ve created the attention economy and are now engaged in a full-blown arms race to capture and retain human attention, including the attention of kids.”

The campaign cited research (a Common Sense Census in 2015) that found that teenagers use an average of nine hours of media per day, and tweens use an average of six.

It also found that half of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices, and the majority of parents (60 percent) feel their kids are addicted, according to a 2016 Common Sense report on technology addiction.

Guilty Industry?

It is not just Tim Cook that has reservations about too much technology.

Former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya in December said he felt guilty about helping create tools that “are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works”. He has banned his own children from using Facebook.

Meanwhile Facebook investor Sean Parker announced in November that he had become a “conscientious objector” to social media. He said that Facebook and other firms were exploiting “a vulnerability in human psychology”.

Apple meanwhile has faced calls in January from two big investors, who asked the company to make it easier to limit children’s use of iPhones and iPads.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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