48% of young people who spend more than five hours a day connected to their mobiles have suffered depression, isolation or suicidal tendencies
Technology dominates our lives. We woke up with her and slept with her. Big companies like Facebook or Youtube manipulate their algorithms so that users increase the use of their product, get hooked more, and they can increase their profits through advertising. For children, the problem is greater: due to constant use of devices, 50% of teens are considered addicted; 48% of those who spend more than five hours with their phone have reported feelings of depression, isolation or suicide.
With this prism, a group of former members of these companies, who are now leading an initiative by the United States to report on the social impacts of the constant connectivity to which we live subjects, are alerting about the dangers of technology. “The incentive is to catch our attention and monetize it through advertising contracts, no matter how good they are for humans. We must turn the goal toward the common good and hold industry leaders accountable,” he said this week at Tristan Harris, Google’s former engineer and driver of the new campaign, launched in Washington.
“It’s time for the tech industry to be regulated to have a balance between the pros and cons of using digital devices,” said James Steyer, director and founder of Common Sense Media, an NGO that promotes network security. Another speaker compared the technology industry to tobacco or alcohol: “It is an addictive product and therefore must be regulated as such.”
The data is groundbreaking. Technology has negative effects at the individual, social and political levels. 27% of adults are considered addicted; 48% are forced to immediately reply to messages or alerts from their social networks. The figures between adolescents are 50% and 72%, respectively. In addition, around 75% of parents say they argue with their children about mobile use.
Beyond the figures, reliance on technology carries other emotional and cultural effects. “We live in an environment designed by Samsung and Apple. It’s an existential drama. Technology separates us from our parents, from our friends and even takes away hours of sleep. It’s an extraction-based industry,” Harris said. Permanent use of computers, tablets, and phones also leads to a gradual loss of skills such as planning and organization or decision-making, and increases impulsive and nervousness.
Politically, the recent elections set a good example for Steyer and Harris. Following proven Russian interference via Facebook and Twitter, the figures confirm the susceptibility to fall into lies. 67% of Americans get their news through social media. And only 44% of children between the ages of 10 and 18 know how to tell a real news story from a fake one.
Younger people are the most vulnerable to the ability to engage with which large companies design their products. “The facets of Youtube that chain one video after another, or the ‘like’ mechanism on Instagram, in which you only have to touch the screen twice, are mechanisms to catch the consumer,” Harris explained. The expert contrasted such “apps” with others like Google Maps, which offer a useful tool for the consumer during a certain time without generating addiction.
The solution to reverse social damage, according to this small collective, is the regulation of the great technology. “The Government must make it more clear and increase its presence in the field of technology to solve this crisis. Companies need to do more to make better designs and apps, which encourage good use but don’t engage,” democratic Sen. Mark Warner said. “It’s a business model based on fooling children from a young age. Children can’t be part of the system. We must protect them,” corroborated Ed Markey, another progressive senator.
After more than a decade of popularity, Facebook and others face this debate that begins to have traction in the U.S. “It’s a moral problem. We must reinvent the system to be positive not for the pockets of the executives of these companies, but for the whole of society,” Harris said