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Early Google, Facebook employees band together to tame tech addiction

One coalition member notes that with smartphones, for example, “they’ve got you for every waking moment".

Fake news, foreign tinkering in the US 2016 presidential election, and mounting evidence about how bad technology is for kids: it’s all led to a tsunami of regret from those who helped to create the social media platforms that enable it all.
A quote from an early ex-Facebook employee, as reported by Vanity Fair:

Most of the early employees I know are totally overwhelmed by what this thing has become. They look at the role Facebook now plays in society, and how Russia used it during the election to elect Trump, and they have this sort of ‘Oh my God, what have I done’ moment.

We’ve seen ex-president of Facebook Sean Parker admit that from the get-go, the main goal has been to get and keep people’s attention, by hook, by crook or by dopamine addiction. Former vice president of Facebook user growth Chamath Palihapitiya has expressed remorse for his part.
Facebook has admitted that social media can be bad for you, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has said that his platform needs fixing, Apple’s Tim Cook is keeping his nephew off social media, and, well, the list goes on.
The latest “woops!!!” news: a group of “what kind of mind-gobbling social media monster have we created?” repentants have come together to form the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology (CHT). On Sunday, the group launched a new campaign to protect young minds from what they say is “the potential of digital manipulation and addiction.”
Members include former employees and advisors to Google, Facebook, and Mozilla.
The CHT is partnering with Common Sense – a nonprofit that advocates for children and families – for the campaign, which is titled Truth About Tech.

The group’s notables include early Facebook investor Roger McNamee; former in-house Google ethicist Tristan Harris (an outspoken critic of Big Tech who’s leading the group); former Facebook operations manager Sandy Parakilas; former Apple and Google communications executive Lynn Fox; technologist Renée DiResta; and Justin Rosenstein, the co-founder of Asana who created Facebook’s Like button.
The New York Times quotes Harris:

We were on the inside. We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works.

McNamee said that the group is a chance for him to “correct a wrong.”

[With smartphones,] they’ve got you for every waking moment.

The NYT reports that the CHT plans to lobby for laws that will curtail the power of big tech companies. Its initial focus will be on two pieces of legislation: a bill being introduced by Senator Edward J. Markey – an author of the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) – that would commission research on technology’s impact on children’s health, and a bill in California by State Senator Bob Hertzberg, a Democrat, which would prohibit the use of digital bots without identification.
Do we really need more research into whether technology is bad for kids? Or for anybody, for that matter? It feels like we’re already awash in it.
For example, a recent study from the Harvard Business Review found that while face-to-face, real-world social networks were positively associated with overall wellbeing, the use of Facebook was negatively associated with overall wellbeing. In fact, researchers concluded, it might even affect your physical health, never mind your mental wellbeing.
Yet another of many studies found that Facebook’s dark side includes managing inappropriate or annoying content, being tethered to the platform, perceived lack of privacy and control, social comparison and jealousy, and relationship tension.
Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but yet another study has found that as social media use has surged, so too has the US teen suicide rate.
Unsurprisingly, children’s health advocates don’t seem to need much more convincing that social media is bad for kids. In fact, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood last month told Facebook that its Messenger for Kids should be junked.
At any rate, the CHT plans to target 55,000 US public schools and is going to try to enlist designers and technologists. The group wants them to think about their moral responsibility to use technology for the greater good and to keep it from harming children.
CHT members on 7 February will participate in a conference in Washington D.C., hosted by Common Sense, that will focus on digital health for kids.


In and of itself Social Media is not the problem. It is how it was marketed and pushed. It was turned from being a tool into an ends to all means. We are told that Social Media is a major part of our life and we just can’t survive without it. When you are inundated with a message long enough you start to believe the message. I don’t blame the people who created this tool but I do blame the money behind it. We are letting those people behind the money create a world of addicts. But that’s ok. They will tell you they are sorry then market something else to addict you too. :(


“… how Russia used it during the election to elect Trump …”
If “the election to elect Trump” isn’t referring to the election itself and is, instead, implying that Russia got Trump elected, it’s … uhh … a pretty dumb thing to say.


Does anyone seriously believe that anything will come of this? If Facebook, Instagram et al disappeared from the face of the earth tomorrow, someone else would start similar ventures, since they’ve proven to be a licence to print money.
Too little, too late, I’m sorry to say.


Well, there was a TED talk, which you could have attended if you were one of the chosen few (and very rich besides). On a more serious note, I see that the CHT website, apparently with a perfectly straight face, suggests that making your phone screen less blue at night is a really great way of “taming technology” (apparently, the blue glow makes you think it’s daytime and thus costs you 15 minutes of sleep). Technology to tame technology? They seem very big on installing additional apps to help rein in your addiction to the apps already on your phone…
…and here were the rest of us thinking that it would be enough to take the low-tech route of turning your phone off more often and {going to the skate park, taking a walk, riding a bicycle, visiting the library, swimming in the river, sitting on a bench in the park watching squirrels, joining a litter-removal collective, digging the vegetable garden, reading an actual book, having a life-affirming nap on the sofa}.


I am very proud of having recently discovered the “off” button on my phone. ;-)
I’ve adopted the practice of turning it off at night after having read about the results of very sad watercress seeds raised adjacent to a wireless router.


*GASP!* I’m shocked at you Miss Vass and you Mr. Ducklin. Technology is your very bread and butter and now you speak of doing without it even for a short time? #Luddite ;)


I don’t eat bread and butter 24 hours a day, either. I don’t even eat bread XOR butter all the time. Sometimes I go down the unleavened path.


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