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02-19 Technology ‘hijacking our minds and society’, warn tech experts

Technology ‘hijacking our minds and society’, warn tech experts

With technology becoming an overwhelming part of everyday lives, there are growing concerns regarding its impact on behavioral health and well-being, especially among youngsters. Recent efforts to highlight such concerns are not coming from parents, educators or psychologists but from former employees, senior executives and investors who were instrumental in building/founding some of the world’s largest technology companies, including Facebook and Google. A few concerned individuals have come up with a coalition called Center for Humane Technology (CHT) to highlight, among other things, that “technology is hijacking our minds and society.”

CHT recently partnered with Common Sense Media (CSM) – a nonprofit advocating children’s digital well-being – to launch “Truth About Tech”, an educational campaign seeking to highlight issues related to “digital distraction” and the methods employed by tech companies to hook young users to their services. The campaign disseminated its message through consumer-focused advertisements as well as outreach efforts, targeting 55,000 American public schools. According to James P. Steyer, founder and CEO, CSM, the campaign also included initiatives to influence tech industry legislation and regulations.

Additionally, the Truth About Tech campaign reached out directly to tech experts – by initiating the process of educating them to make product design changes which could benefit users. The core focus of the campaign was to sensitize parents and children about the risk of addiction to cell phones and other devices. Past research from CSM showed that 50 percent teens felt addicted to mobile devices and the majority (59 percent) of parents of such children concurred that their wards were addicted to phones.

‘Intentional effects to manipulate and addict’

Steyer clarified that the campaign was not anti-technology; rather, it was an effort to draw the attention of tech companies to their “excesses and intentional effects to manipulate and addict.” Tech platforms like Facebook are designed to make people stay on them for the maximum possible time so that it benefits the companies’ advertisement-driven businesses. Former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris, who co-founded the CHT, explained that addiction was not happening “by accident culturally” but “by design.”

A study published in the journal Emotion in January 2018 highlighted that the outcome of higher screen time (including social media, gaming, texting and browsing the internet) compared to lower non-screen time (homework, face-to-face interactions and physical activities) resulted in reduced psychological well-being among adolescents in grades 8, 10 and 12. The CHT warned that technology companies were outdoing each other to attract the attention of young users. These manipulative techniques were encouraging kids to constantly compete with one another and live under the “fear of missing out” (FOMO).

Recently, child development experts and several organizations urged Facebook to discontinue Messenger Kids, a new social media platform aimed specifically at children below the age of 13. The petitioners emphasized that young children were not ready to “navigate the complexities” of the digital world. In January 2018, two investors in Apple, Inc. sent an open letter to the company, asking it to offer more choices to parents to help them in ensuring that children were not getting addicted to the company’s devices, especially the iPhone.

Teen cell phone addiction is real

Although there is consensus regarding the existence of cell phone addiction, the associated research is characterized by a “diversity of perspectives and lack of conceptual definition.” Accordingly, past studies have often used diverse methodologies and a small number of participants to corroborate their hypotheses. What has been reasonably established, however, is that notwithstanding socioeconomic and cultural influences, the incidence of cell phone abuse is the greatest among youngsters, particularly girls.

Cell phones have become a cause of potentially addictive behavior, especially after the introduction of smartphones. An inverse relationship exists between cell phone addiction and mental health. Problematic cell phone use is linked to disturbed sleep patterns and mental disorders like depression, anxiety and stress. It is also related to personality traits like neuroticism (associated with low self-esteem and the need for social approval), impulsivity and sensation-seeking, all of which are characteristics of addictive behaviors.

Teen cell phone addiction is a real and pressing concern. Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego offers holistic cell phone addiction rehab for teens. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives for more information about teen cell phone addiction.

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