Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wall St. Journal & New York Times Validate Our Prediction About Screen Addiction

In one of our predictions for 2018, published Dec. 14, 2017, we made what we thought to be a longshot prediction: That this year, people would recognize screen addiction as a real issue. Here's what we said:
The ‘60s may have been the Age of Aquarius but this decade seems to be the Age of Anxiety and Anger. One cause: screen addiction. Constantly clicking our smartphones for the latest news – and it seems that there’s continually breaking news – may help us feel we’re on top of the situation but it leaves most of us feeling more empty, worried and angry than before – despite political preferences. We anticipate more coverage on stress, anxiety, mental health and ways to de-stress, which includes taking a break from your device – aka a technology cleanse or digital detox – which is healthy and a good idea but may seem impossible to do.
The reason we thought it was a longshot is that over the past couple of years, there has been the occasional article about digital overload but it hadn't coalesced into something more than a blip. But last year, we felt that could easily change in 2018.

And it has.

Check out:

  1. The Wall St. Journal's "Debate over iPhone use by young people reflects the misgivings some in the industry feel toward smartphones' ubiquity: Silicon Valley Reconsiders the iPhone Era It Created"; and
  2. The New York Times': "Tech Backlash Grows as Investors Press Apple to Act on Children’s Use: Apple should give parents more tools to curb technology use by children and study the health effects of excessive screen time, two big funds said"; and
  3. The New York Times: "It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone: Apple gave us the modern smartphone. Now, it can create a new take on the device by encouraging us to use it more deliberately — and a lot less" by Farhad Manjoo.
According to the Journal, "a letter to Apple on Saturday from Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System, or Calstrs, which control about $2 billion of Apple shares....urged the tech giant to develop new software tools that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily, and to study the impact of overuse on mental health." And also, the Journal reported, "On Monday, Tony Fadell, a former senior Apple hardware executive involved in the iPhone’s creation, also called on Apple to do more, saying on Twitter that adults are struggling just as much as children with smartphone overuse."

Last year, Fadell apparently began voicing concern, but the media didn't start paying real attention to it until this year.

In it's article, the Times quoted the same letter, describing "a backlash against big tech has been growing for months." Which is another trend we predicted in which we said, "There will be a debate about whether or not and how to regulate Facebook, Google, and Twitter." We did not use the term "backlash," though we should have, and we did not mention Apple specifically but later in that paragraph, we do say that one of the underlying questions would be "Has big tech gotten too powerful." And we think that increasingly, the answer is: "Yes" (and that's part of the backlash).

In fact, check out this front-page (remember that the front-page used to be an indicator of importance) article from the WSJ: "The Antitrust Case Against Facebook, Google and Amazon: Facebook, Google and Amazon dominate their worlds just as Standard Oil and AT&T once did. Critics say they should get the same treatment. The answer to the antitrust question depends on a narrow test: Are consumers worse off?"

For us, screen addiction and big tech backlash and big tech's power are important societal issues. We doubt much will happen to address either the screen addiction or big tech's power (and we think the anxiety and addition they cause does amount to consumer harm) but it is significant that these issues are being raised.

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