“These are band aids,” Adam Alter, author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked,” tells CNN. “Instead of actually producing tech that’s good for us — that helps us live better lives — these tools basically suggest that the tech itself can’t be improved, so we’re stuck with trying to discourage or curb usage.”
Alter believes that the way technology is designed needs to be changed so that the addictive features are more consumer friendly and truly good for your well-being. However, he does not believe that change will happen anytime soon, even if these “companies have a moral obligation to minimize the harm they do.”
Will new tools impact the bottom line?
Google makes most of its money through ads, and limiting screen time can potentially have an adverse impact on its profits. Still, the company is investing in Digital Wellbeing. Even if Google’s products never get to the point of being friendlier to consumers, as Alter has suggested, Google has made a conscious decision to put profits at risk.
“We take our responsibility to our users and society very seriously and strive to build products that make people’s lives easier, not detract from them,” a spokesperson for Google tells CNN. “We have been working hard to add key capabilities right into our products, and our goal is to help users achieve the balance with technology they’re looking for, with a focus around awareness of their current behavior, and controls to help them interact with their devices.”
“At this point we know devices are here to stay, and we see that there are effects around how we use it,” Elgersma says. “Instead of psychologists working to keep us hooked, what if we had child development experts involved in the development of tech kids are using, especially since those creating tech often aren’t yet parents?
“What if we funded research and education around these issues so that the generations who are growing up online with devices were better equipped to use them responsibly and knew the proven, long-term effects of overuse? So, we all have an obligation for kids, but the responsibility should be shared more equally, starting with those who create the tech in the first place.”
When is screen time a problem?
There are still no clear guidelines on what constitutes tech addiction, but it’s a growing concern likely on the minds of parents everywhere as they see their kids’ faces constantly glued inches away from a screen. And everywhere you go, you’re all but guaranteed to see people buried in their phones.
“The term ‘tech addiction’ is itself empty,” Alter says. “Tech itself is only the vehicle for hundreds of different experiences, some of which undoubtedly become addictive for some people. They vary considerably, so I prefer not to use a single label to describe them, though most are delivered on screens.”
Apple and Google may be the two biggest culprits, as their products are the vehicles to deliver these experiences. However, Facebook deserves a fair amount of blame, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg acknowledged in a blog post
earlier this year, directly referencing the Time Well Spent movement. The social network announced plans to roll out changes aimed at making interactions more meaningful.
“By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down,” Zuckerberg said. “But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable. And if we do the right thing, I believe that will be good for our community and our business over the long term too.”
Facebook and Instagram have begun to roll out features to better engage with their platforms, and users will soon have access to an activity dashboard, a daily reminder limit and more controls over notifications.
“What matters most in the long run is that people connect and share in meaningful ways on our platforms,” Ameet Ranadive, Product Management Director at Instagram, tells CNN. “It’s very important that people feel like the time they spend with Facebook and Instagram is time well spent.”