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Tech Hates Your Kids

I am a total axe-grinder about the way parents — even Christian parents who are otherwise vigilant about their kids’ engagement with pop culture — roll over for technology, and hand their children over to it. This essay from Medium — “The Tech Industry’s War On Kids,” [1]by developmental psychologist Richard Freed — ought to be read by every parent in this country. It’s about how the tech industry is using psychology to break down the personalities of children, and shape them to get them hooked. Here are some excerpts:

As Kelly and her family continued their appointments with me in the coming months, two concerns dominated our meetings. The first was that Kelly’s unhealthy attachment to her phone continued, causing almost constant tension at home. The second concern emerged during my meetings with Kelly’s parents alone. Even though they were loving and involved parents, Kelly’s mom couldn’t help feeling that they’d failed their daughter and must have done something terribly wrong that led to her problems.

My practice as a child and adolescent psychologist is filled with families like Kelly’s. These parents say their kids’ extreme overuse of phones, video games, and social media is the most difficult parenting issue they face — and, in many cases, is tearing the family apart. Preteen and teen girls refuse to get off their phones, even though it’s remarkably clear that the devices are making them miserable. I also see far too many boys whose gaming obsessions lead them to forgo interest in school, extracurricular activities, and anything else productive. Some of these boys, as they reach their later teens, use their large bodies to terrorize parents who attempt to set gaming limits. A common thread running through many of these cases is parent guilt, as so many are certain they did something to put their kids on a destructive path.

What none of these parents understand is that their children’s and teens’ destructive obsession with technology is the predictable consequence of a virtually unrecognized merger between the tech industry and psychology. This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.

change_me

These parents have no idea that lurking behind their kids’ screens and phones are a multitude of psychologists, neuroscientists, and social science experts who use their knowledge of psychological vulnerabilities to devise products that capture kids’ attention for the sake of industry profit. What these parents and most of the world have yet to grasp is that psychology — a discipline that we associate with healing — is now being used as a weapon against children.

Freed doesn’t launch a generalized attack on the tech industry. He gets very specific, starting here:

Nestled in an unremarkable building on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, California, is the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, founded in 1998. The lab’s creator, Dr. B.J. Fogg, is a psychologist and the father of persuasive technology, a discipline in which digital machines and apps — including smartphones, social media, and video games — are configured to alter human thoughts and behaviors. As the lab’s website boldly proclaims [2]: “Machines designed to change humans.”

Fogg speaks [3] openly of the ability to use smartphones and other digital devices to change our ideas and actions: “We can now create machines that can change what people think and what people do, and the machines can do that autonomously.” Called “the millionaire maker,” [4] Fogg has groomed former students who have used his methods to develop technologies that now consume kids’ lives. As he recently touted [5] on his personal website, “My students often do groundbreaking projects, and they continue having impact in the real world after they leave Stanford… For example, Instagram has influenced the behavior of over 800 million people. The co-founder was a student of mine.”

“Persuasive technology” is an anodyne term for technology that compels you to think in a certain way without realizing that you’re being manipulated. This is not dystopian science fiction. This is actually happening:

Persuasive technology (also called persuasive design) works by deliberately creating digital environments that users feel fulfill their basic human drives — to be social or obtain goals — better than real-world alternatives. Kids spend countless hours in social media and video game environments in pursuit of likes, “friends,” game points, and levels — because it’s stimulating, they believe that this makes them happy and successful, and they find it easier than doing the difficult but developmentally important activities of childhood.

Freed says persuasive technology works well on adults, but it is especially effective on the brains of kids, which are still developing. For adolescent and teen girls, creating a compulsion to use social media is the main thing; for boys, it’s typically video gaming.

Look at this:

While social media and video game companies have been surprisingly successful at hiding their use of persuasive design from the public, one breakthrough occurred in 2017 when Facebook documents were leaked [6] to The Australian. The internal report crafted by Facebook executives showed the social network boasting to advertisers that by monitoring posts, interactions, and photos in real time, the network is able to track when teens feel “insecure,” “worthless,” “stressed,” “useless” and a “failure.” Why would the social network do this? The report also bragged [7] about Facebook’s ability to micro-target ads down to “moments when young people need a confidence boost.”

Persuasive technology’s use of digital media to target children, deploying the weapon of psychological manipulation at just the right moment, is what makes it so powerful. These design techniques provide tech corporations a window into kids’ hearts and minds to measure their particular vulnerabilities, which can then be used to control their behavior as consumers. This isn’t some strange future… this is now. Facebook claimed [7] the leaked report was misrepresented in the press. But when child advocates called on the social network to release it, the company refused to do so, preferring to keep the techniques it uses to influence kids shrouded in secrecy.

Read the whole thing — and pass it on. [1]

In my family, we are pretty strict with our kids regarding technology, but it’s a constant struggle, especially with FOMO — fear of missing out. The thing is, they really are missing out, because most of their friends do most of their socializing (“socializing”) online. But for us parents, what is the alternative? Turn our kids over to this monster?

Note well: technology is not neutral. If you think that your kids are fine because as far as you know, they’re not using the technology to look at porn or anything like that — you’re very wrong. The Freed piece explains why.

And to be honest, reading it made me decide to start disciplining myself more. I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s insane that I cannot stop at a red light in traffic without pulling the phone out to check e-mail or Twitter. Can’t be still with my own thoughts. That’s crazy.

100 Comments (Open | Close)

100 Comments To "Tech Hates Your Kids"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 11, 2018 @ 2:52 pm

Rod Dreher is entirely right to sound the alarm. We are all connected, in more profound ways than by addictive revenue stream and manipulative devices. No man is an island, we are all our brothers’ keepers – what we ourselves do does affect others more than most realize. I don’t believe there is anyone not afflicted to some degree by the ills of the age – but for the grace of God, more so.

#2 Comment By Adam Loumeau On July 11, 2018 @ 3:01 pm

You’ve never written a more important article, at least for as long as I’ve been reading your work. PLEASE keep this up! Parents need to be armed with this kind of knowledge or else we are dooming our children to a cycle of failed relationships and dysfunction.

#3 Comment By Mikew On July 11, 2018 @ 3:20 pm

A couple of other books of similar ilk that freaked me out: “Irresistable” and “Addiction by Design”.

#4 Comment By Pat On July 11, 2018 @ 3:24 pm

I just got back from a 10-day travel course that had no internet, no newspapers, no TV. Strangely enough, I didn’t even notice their absence! The time was filled with sightseeing, lectures, conversations, card games, and in my case lots and lots of drawing — all the activities of my pre-internet childhood.

My advice would be for parents to make sure their children learn games and hobbies that aren’t internet-based. Easy for me to talk, since I didn’t have the internet when I was young and don’t have children now – but I vividly remember my parents playing cards with us, making music, involving us in projects and including us in adult conversations. That’s what it takes. There’s a window in which kids are desperate for parental attention, and my parents used it wisely.

#5 Comment By Bob Morris On July 11, 2018 @ 3:24 pm

Fascinating article. While it’s easy for people to say that this is nothing new, the reality is that we are becoming overly dependent on technology for everything from banking to paying bills to filing tax returns and on it goes, all because it’s “cheap and efficient.”

The talk about video game addiction is no joke. I speak from experience from all the nights in college I spent playing Civilization — which didn’t come along until my final two years in college. Needless to say, my grades dropped in my senior year in college.

It took me a long time to realize that I needed to regulate my video game addiction and figure out how to be mindful of the time I spent and cut play short at some point. Of course, I was in my 20s when I learned to do that.

As for social media, I suspect we’ll find out that the reason why we have so many absolutists on whatever cause that’s out there is because they all gather around on Facebook to chatter and thus become more convinced that the world is exactly how they think it is, rather than how it actually functions. You can find this in groups ranging from the white supremacists to the transgender activists, who all spend more of their time validating each other rather than taking the time to think.

People who believe that this, too, shall pass need to pay closer attention. Facebook dominates social media (Instagram is owned by Facebook and I believe there are at least a couple other apps it purchased), while Google dominates search engines and it bought YouTube to dominate online video channels. And the AT&T-Time Warner merger is going to lead to more harm than good than some may realize.

There are, of course, ways that people can (and should) police their and their children’s behavior. At the same time, we have to accept that, while the free market might be the best economic model, even that falls apart if you don’t set some rules in place, lest you run into a select few controlling a particular field.

As for what one can do for themselves, I have found that, if you feel you must have a smartphone, the best thing you can do is turn your mobile data off and don’t log onto every WiFi connection there is — especially if you’re in a restaurant in the company of other people. Also, log out of your social media apps when you’re done — there’s zero reason to stay logged in round the clock. You should also keep your smartphone away from your bed when you are trying to sleep.

But don’t pretend that holding yourself and your kids accountable is all that needs to be done. Everybody needs to be held accountable and, in some cases, you don’t have a choice but to regulate.

#6 Comment By Annie On July 11, 2018 @ 3:27 pm

These posts always draw the most interesting comments and insightful, humbling reflections. George’s quote from McLuhan, about how disincarnate man is incompatible with an incarnate Church, has been much in my own mind of late. When all is being flattened and liquidized, the reality of the Incarnation, of the embodiment of God, becomes more startling than ever.

Also, Terry Teachout- yes, I’ve been making the mental comparison myself for years. But I think screens, attracting the mind, the soul, truly disorient us even more than tobacco. Fear what destroys the soul even more than the body. And because it is that much more dangerous, we are even less able to exist.

Plus, who knows, but sometimes I do wonder if the drastic upswing of use in mood stabilizing medications and screen usage is related to the downswing of smoking. I would never say smoking is preferable, but it seems to me that an overlooked factor in the rise of smoking was the need for people to have something to do with their hands as technological advances gave them more free time. Now that smoking has gone away, people still have an an enormous amount of nervous energy; it’s going partially to screens but still leaving them unsatisfied. We are makers, made in the image of our Maker. I’d love to see Tolkien (who thought much on being sub-creators) and Matthew Crawford (who writes about our need for physical labor) in a conversation about addiction in the post industrial age.

#7 Comment By Dale McNamee On July 11, 2018 @ 3:41 pm

What seems to be forgotten is that people can control technology and that such technology isn’t really that necessary to most people’s lives…

My wife and I went on a trip that took us from Baltimore to Cape Charles, Va. and then to Virginia Beach and back…

We only used her smartphone for GPS…

On the way, we stopped at the little town of Chincoteague and just enjoyed looking at the patterns of the tidal marshes and the black-headed seagulls, and a town that’s still a small town… We saw the Chincoteague Fire Department station ( they round up horses for fundraising, by driving them from their island to the mainland… I believe that is done at the Chincoteague National/ Virginia state park… ) Since we didn’t go to the park, we didn’t see any horses…

We also enjoyed driving by corn fields, and other crop fields and seeing trees that we don’t see in the Baltimore area…

And there was classical music and easy listening music on the radio to be the “soundtrack”…

We chose not to be that involved in the never-ending “drama” that pervades every news and talk show…

And parents need to start very early in shaping their childrens’ tastes and wants…

I know of such families where there is no TV at all and the children use feature phones to stay in touch…

The big question… Who wants to be “counter cultural” against “big, all consuming, big tech” in their lives ?

BTW, there are Christians who take a break ( or makes a fast ) from “tech” on Sundays…

So, it can be done…

#8 Comment By Tiber On July 11, 2018 @ 3:58 pm

People are always at risk of manipulation. Conmen have existed since time immemorial. Only now they don’t have to study you personally, and they can think faster than you can. They can follow almost every trail that everyone leaves, and they can buy curated information for what they can’t obtain themselves.

The biggest trend right now in gaming is lootboxes, which are basically digital card packs. Rather than sell you a specific bit of content, they sell you a mystery box filled with a bunch of stuff you don’t care about and low odds of getting the reward that you want. Whenever you open a box it has flashy visuals like a slot machine. They periodically give you these boxes as a taste. You have no idea about the odds, and the game makers are free to change the odds based on what they think you want or if you’re on a winning or losing streak. It’s gambling for kids in all but name, and many governments are considering regulation. One company filed a patent for deliberately putting you in multiplayer games against people who possess items you want, and putting you in games with less skilled opponents for a short time after you purchase an item so that you are likely to win with it.

Like it or not, technology is not going away. Telling parents to cut the cord is a short term solution. Sooner or later, we will need regulations on what information can be gathered, stored, and shared. We will need transparency laws on how computers decide what to show you or give you. Will that solve society’s problems? Or course not. But it can’t hurt to impede those who are constantly trying to get you to make poor decisions.

#9 Comment By Noelle On July 11, 2018 @ 4:36 pm

I just finished reading Leonard Sax’s thoughtful book “The Collapse of Parenting”, and it strongly suggests that the power of these devices is all the more powerful because many American parents today are uncomfortable exercising authority — authority meaning not only discipline but also enculturation. So by the time a child begins clamoring for a smartphone and social media account, he or she may already have a certain attitude of disrespect for parental authority, in the sense that the opinions of her peers already matter much more than the approval of her parents.

The psychologist who authored the Medium piece also made this comment in the thread below, noting how lower-income kids are more vulnerable: “I believe many of those involved in persuasive design are insulated from the real-world effects of their work. […] Lower-income and black kids are hurt by this the most, as they spend much more time on screens and phones than higher-income and white kids. Interestingly, the parents who are taking action to protect their own kids are tech execs, in part because of their understanding of persuasive design.”

I wish this point were heard more often in prominent places; instead, it seems like there’s more concern about a supposed “digital divide” in which lower-income kids lack access to tech.

#10 Comment By David On July 11, 2018 @ 4:48 pm

Communication student here. I see many people panicking about the advent of new communication technology, and I can see the concern. However, there are three points I would like to make.

1. We need to consider the good and the bad. The arguments made against social media could be made against virtually any technology. However, we recognize the trade offs of those technologies and adopt them anyway. Dreher notes that he can’t get to a stoplight and not want to check his phone. He does not consider that driving in a car shapes him, too. Imagine all the fresh air he is missing! Look at how he has disconnected himself from nature by choosing wheeled transport instead of walking through the woods! We never think about these things because we have decided the benefits of cars exceed the trade offs. You must make the same calculation with social media.

2. Claims about being “discarnated” through digital technologies warrant skepticism. The assumption is a technological dualism, where the physical world is the “real” world and social media is an ethereal, Platonic realm of the mind. But why should we believe that? Communication in the “real world” is ultimately a function of the mind, too. They aren’t even mediated that differently. Social media is mediated visually and aurally, but so is “real” communication. Where is the dualism? This assumption, and the “discarnation” associated with it, ought to be questioned.

3. The framing of this debate is deceptive. Opponents to technological breakthroughs often present themselves as persecuted minorities, dismissed as lunatics by society at large. But look at how the media typically portrays technology. It seems that the vast majority take a skeptical approach, especially when it comes to social media. Social media is a realm of mobs, propaganda, the tool of soul-twisting corporations that are isolating us. Very rarely are the positive aspects of social media considered.

I’m not dismissing the real problems associated with social media and smartphones. I am acknowledging the good with the bad, and reminding American conservatives of a core tenet of conservatism: Humans cannot perfect the world. You will always have problems associated with the life you lead. Humanity must choose the problems it wants to live with. Our age has chosen the problems associated with digital technology, and we must accept that.

#11 Comment By Pat Kelly On July 11, 2018 @ 4:50 pm

I have been following Jaron Lanier’s musings related to this topic- mostly comments on social media. Interesting stuff. Check out his book, 10 Reasons To Quit Social Media. We are pathologically distracted. Well,I should get back to work now!

#12 Comment By Will Harrington On July 11, 2018 @ 4:51 pm

Cosimano wrote “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Somehow I knew you would say that. Why the stars have been fissioning hydrogen for billions of years, there was nothing new or dangerous about nuclear weapons. The matter of degree does matter and the sample population is in my classrooms and on the streets.

#13 Comment By cdugga On July 11, 2018 @ 4:58 pm

Shoot, where to begin on this one. Okay, driving. Like I use my truck to get places, carry stuff and get things done, so I do not have to be driving when I can be doing other things with the stuff I went to get. Maybe I just want a steak and some cookies. But people simply cannot realize the distraction of their precious.
When I talk to my daughter on the phone, I try to make sure she is not driving. When she is talking to me on the phone while driving she speaks in fractured composition and omits detail by speaking in broad generalities. Like, everything is put into terms of a, b, c, 1, 2, 3 without providing the background for what those designations even refer to. I am supposed to fill in the blanks. When she is not driving, she is quite capable of explaining complicated programs and specific inventory procedures she has to do using different software programs. While driving it is all abc, 123.
So, all those people who think they can drive and multi-task, you are in my way, are likely to cause an accident, 1 third is the last stat I read, and whatever you are doing on the play phone while driving does not approach the tasks you can accomplish while not driving. It is worse than that. I cut through neighborhood streets to get to work because I do not like sitting at traffic control that used to be synchronized for traveling a certain speed, but is now out of sync for whatever reasons. I expect a combination of budget cuts and no real understanding of the advantage to anybody for not having to sit at traffic lights. After all, while sitting at a light you can get on the play phone. How many times do people not go when the light turns green? Basically, by my estimation, if you are the 4rth car or more back, you aint gonna make the light because at least one of the people in front of you is going to be on the play phone. It is worse than that. When I cut through neighborhood streets I regularly see cars a block or two ahead who are still sitting at a stop sign by the time I get there. There has been many times they could go, and they still do not go until they are made to realize that somebody is behind them. I don’t honk. I just call out the window, hello, are you going to go? So, every intersection is an opportunity to get on the play phone. It is worse than that. Many people slow down as they approach a green light. It used to be because they were afraid of traffic control cameras. Now it appears they slow down hoping that it turns red so they can stop and get on the play phone. Just several years ago some people would take off from a light just so they could be the first at the red light which turned green by the time you got there and have to stop behind the people that raced ahead. Those days are gone. Even when people are not actually on the play phone, they are thinking about being on it and are distracted from the world around them.
It is worse than that. There is a bug armageddon and wildlife is obviously stressed out in the city. I notice things. You know why? Cuz I aint on the play phone all the time. Microwaves. It is worse than that. Higher brain functions are being impacted, especially the ability to compose logical thoughts pragmatically. Like, make america great can sink in, but all the things the don is actually doing he knows that many people are not paying attention to if it requires understanding gained from reading beyond a paragraph of thoughts. We actually do not understand if he understands what he is doing. A composition longer than 3 sentences will interfere with the latest utube kitty kat or whatever the freak they are looking at.
They are gone. I do not think they are coming back. The addiction appears stronger than anything I have ever seen, but I am blessed with an nonaddictive mind. Except maybe TAC. It could be that where they have gone is a better place, but I do not want to go there. The people there hold their hands in your face while they attend to their phone. When you do speak with them, they seem to want you to think their thoughts for them. Like, you know where I’m coming from, you know what I’m saying. Here seems like a nice place to be. Mostly.

#14 Comment By Dr. Robert D. Hosken On July 11, 2018 @ 5:19 pm

We must restore the New Testament meaning of “koinonia” – community, in which people voluntarily bear one another’s burdens out of agape-love. We have allowed tech corporations and the state to foist on us an ersatz version of the real and true article. We need an “agape restoration society” – that’s what the Church was intended to be.

#15 Comment By Mike W On July 11, 2018 @ 5:20 pm

As a postscript to my earlier book suggestions, what’s really interesting in “Addiction by Design” (at least, it was to me) is how many of the lessons (and technology and applications) the gambling industry developed in the 90s for use on electronic gaming machines have been applied to consumer products and services in general. Matthew Crawford outlines the challenge for all of us in his book, “The World Beyond your Head: On Becoming An Individual in the Age of Distraction,” though I think if he were to update the book, he might put the challenge in darker terms. I sure do. As an Orthodox Christian, I see the challenge as really the struggle between good and evil, as stark as the struggle between Ransom and Professor Weston in C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, or those faced by the passengers in his book, “The Great Divorce,” or the battles for Middle Earth. I also the challenge on not how to become an individual, but how the hell do I become a human being in all that God intended me to be, on not some puppet with strings back to Amazon, Facebook, Google, etc.
Look, these big media companies don’t just want our eyeballs so they can justify their advertising pricing, they really do want to own our souls right down to influencing your choices from where you eat to what kind of toilet paper you use to wipe your tush and what you think. I remember reading a piece in the WSJ a few years back where a marketing exec at Coca Cola was talking about what kind of world-wide market share they wanted. As I recall, it was something like 20%. I had to read the statement a couple of times. He wasn’t just talking about the soda pop market share, but fluid intake by every human on the planet…they wanted to “own” 20% of it. That still creeps me out.

#16 Comment By Q On July 11, 2018 @ 5:40 pm

Now’s a good time to check out the Mr. Rogers movie … Fred, thou shouldst be living at this hour …

#17 Comment By JonF On July 11, 2018 @ 6:20 pm

Last weekend I drove up to Ohio (Akron) and then back a couple days later. It’s a seven hour drive and parts of it are through “cell phone deserts” where I don’t have a signal. And of course I’m certainly not going to fiddle with a phone while driving on interstates or high speed country highways. Even the place in the mountains I stopped for lunch on the outbound trip has no signal. It was a very pleasant drive each way, with good weather, beautiful scenery and no electronic distractions, unless I count the car radio.

On the other hand since I am still job hunting and now roommate hunting too I can hardly not be connected for more than a day. Someone above mentioned fasting from the internet– my Mormon niece did a thirty day internet fast recently, except that she had to regularly check a Facebook page she uses for her home business. Which points to a hard fact: the online world has become as intertwined with our lives as electricity and running water are. Even if your job does not involve the internet (as Rod’s job does) it’s very hard if you’re not retired to function without it.

#18 Comment By heteropatriarch On July 11, 2018 @ 6:20 pm

This post reminded me of the book “Addiction by Design:”

[8]

#19 Comment By Marie On July 11, 2018 @ 6:38 pm

Dear Rod:

Don’t check your phone at a stop light if you’re ever driving in Vermont. Use of a hand-held device by a driver is illegal, even if the car is not moving. Per the VT DMV:

“In addition, a person shall not use a portable electronic device while operating a motor vehicle on a public highway in Vermont, including while the vehicle is stationary.”

#20 Comment By ludo” On July 11, 2018 @ 6:56 pm

Btw, since we´re quoting McLuhan, here´s a summary of his thoughts on future technological telepathy:

“It is nothing short of a wonder that McLuhan correctly foresaw and predicted life in the digital world and the days of Information Superhighway, thirty years before Internet opened its gates to the commercial world. He saw the future of the world as being born out of the womb of mass computerization. But most importantly, he saw the “Integral man,” more frequently known today as the “connected” man. His idea of integral was no less than revolutionary for the time, yet evidences to support the same are already blooming all across the world. Just like the tribal man, the integral man would be in a state of “multitudinous tribal existence,” and his world would be filled by a “synaesthetic discontinuous integral consciousness,” a connection so strong that it will bind everything to everything else, forming a “single universal membrane.” At this point, McLuhan’s ideas leave the boundaries of possibility and potentiality and escape into the future where everything is possible. The integral man will be part of a global telepathic cluster where computers will literally read the mind and broadcast the thoughts appropriately. This according to him is simply the next step in communication and media. What began with phonetic alphabets, transformed into printing press and telegraph, will finally end in mind-reading electronic devices which will take back man to his original tribal existence, where emotions and expressions were more valued than analysis and consciousness. It will be the world of artists, not scientists.”

[9]

#21 Comment By RFB On July 11, 2018 @ 7:04 pm

I read this book earlier this year. It adds a lot more detail including all the brain research that has been done. It’s eye opening and not in a good way.

[10]

I’m an IT professional and strictly limit my child’s access to technology. Still, we have to stay vigilant to keep it from eating up our lives. We don’t even use social media but the tech is still addictive. It’s always beckoning you to check a fact or discover something new or to entertain yourself. It’s as bad as crack and just as damaging to the mind.

#22 Comment By Failson On July 11, 2018 @ 7:32 pm

I don’t think this is a problem originating with the modern tech industry. It’s just that tech has given commercialism tools of unprecedented reach and potency.

Regardless of how fervently our society proclaims the gospel of radical individualism, in practice, human rights and dignity are expected to be superseded when there is money to be made.

We should be creating good and useful and beautiful things. We should be allowing people to freely choose and buy goods and services they really want and need.

Instead, we create what people can be persuaded to buy…and people can be persuaded to buy things that are harmful, ugly, and wasteful, and to buy them in massive quantities. We treat human beings as animals to be conditioned and manipulated. We exploit every weakness of the human creature to get them to buy and, insofar as it is possible, to buy without any conscious decision or rational thought.

It is wasteful, it is exploitative, and it is tremendously disrespectful. It treats humans not as beings bearing the imago Dei but as boxes with buttons to be pressed until money comes out.

Tech has merely made the situation worse. It has vastly expanded our potential to do good in many areas, but to the same degree that it helps us, we are dependent on it. It becomes part of our lives, and we become vulnerable to it.

There is a reason that capitalism has become a dirty word for many in my generation and the younger generations. We’re not different from our ancestors in being beholden to a free market economy that has no concern for need, only for the desire of the desired. But we have grown up with such advanced technology, and we are so dependent on it, and we have been exploited by those who control it to an extent that our parents and grandparents never could have been.

The faceless cogs in the industrial machines of yesteryear have become bodiless data in the virtual networks of today. The machines were constrained by physical forms and limited to real locations, but the network is incorporeal and omnipresent. At any time, in any place, in the midst of anything we do, we can work, we can spend, we can be advertised at, we can have our time and energy and attention diverted. We have dozens of products competing to keep us occupied at every waking moment. We are constantly being beckoned, stimulated, rewarded, riled up, having every button pressed in the hope that a little more money can be squeezed out of us.

In the secular world, there is nothing but politics and economics. Your kids are a vote and a wallet in the making, and the earlier and more thoroughly they can be conditioned, the better.

So yes, tech hates your kids. The entertainment industry hates your kids. The media hate your kids. The higher education system hates your kids. Every industry is bringing every ounce of influence it has to bear on your kids, and tech is how they are doing it.

So go ahead. Be a horrible, draconian Luddite. Give them an old-timey dumb phone. Limit games and television. No TVs or consoles or computers in the bedroom. Monitor computer use.

Endure the begging and complaints. They’re going to happen regardless of what you do.

Signed,
32, living with his parents, unemployed, addicted to games and pornography…but at least he has an MA, so he has that going for him

[NFR: You have free will. Use it. — RD]

#23 Comment By Anne On July 11, 2018 @ 8:06 pm

Technology, of course, doesn’t hate anybody. People make it hateful. And hateful people can be controlled, provided the potential controllers don’t shirk their responsibilities, or turn to no good.

Smartphones certainly didn’t start this. This kind of psychological manipulation has been influencing us all since the advent of modern advertising. As with politicians, the video game industry and every other capitalist and interest group that uses smartphone technology can play fair or use dirty tricks. What’s needed is exactly that which the Trump administration, via every “fox in the hen house” our social media manipulator-in-chief has appointed to head up a federal agency, is at work assuring we won’t get — namely, social control over all these media via federal regulation. Without it, these technologies can never become the useful tools they should be instead of the scary secret marauders the fear of modern technology coupled with a self-destructive bias against public (government) oversight is allowing them to become.

This is just one reason why I worry about the “inward and away” attitude shift underlying so much interest in concepts such as the Benedict Option. Turning from national politics toward issues of home, church and local government leaves so much to capitalist marauders and those foxes in hen houses. This is about a whole lot more than smartphones.

#24 Comment By March Hare On July 11, 2018 @ 8:25 pm

Rod, if you are really having a hard time leaving your phone on the seat when you hit a traffic light, then you are part of the problem. Your kids will pick up on this.

As with much of modern life, all I need to know was presented on Sesame Street (although I have to admit, I was too old for their demographic by the time they started up in 1969).

Nonetheless, please Google “Put Down The Duckie” for instruction on how to deal with OCD behavior as it applies to hand held devices. It is sound, sound advice.

#25 Comment By Dylan On July 11, 2018 @ 8:40 pm

Yeah, I’m as guilty as most for fiddling with my smartphone. I actually held out longer than a lot of people I know … my wife had one years before I did – I still had a flip-phone that could basically only do calls and texts – but I finally gave in about 3 years ago. It’s extremely useful in a lot of ways, but it’s gotten me glued to a screen a lot more. I used to read at least two real books a month, now I’m lucky if I finish one in three months. I do rationalize it by telling myself that I do do a lot of reading online, like the stuff here at TAC and a few other sites. Hey, at least I’m not playing video games incessantly or staring at porn 24/7, right? But I still can feel it’s got its hooks in me. I have a two-year-old, and he already likes to look at Mickey Mouse on it, but we don’t allow that very often. Still, he watches Mickey on the TV screen too. But of course we still have control over all this media. Once he’s older, that won’t be the case. I worry it will be tough.

#26 Comment By Dylan On July 11, 2018 @ 9:11 pm

JonF said
“On the other hand since I am still job hunting and now roommate hunting too I can hardly not be connected for more than a day. Someone above mentioned fasting from the internet– my Mormon niece did a thirty day internet fast recently, except that she had to regularly check a Facebook page she uses for her home business. Which points to a hard fact: the online world has become as intertwined with our lives as electricity and running water are. Even if your job does not involve the internet (as Rod’s job does) it’s very hard if you’re not retired to function without it.”

And yes, of course there’s this. I work in software development, so I can’t avoid the internet during my work hours. I recall during a tour of Amish country in PA that even those folks are online for some of their businesses, though they still apparently forsake the technology in their personal lives. Maybe I should try to follow suit … no internet after work hours unless for emergencies.

#27 Comment By Mia On July 11, 2018 @ 9:11 pm

“I hadn’t thought about it, but it’s insane that I cannot stop at a red light in traffic without pulling the phone out to check e-mail or Twitter. Can’t be still with my own thoughts. That’s crazy.”

I think that’s why maybe over a decade ago before smart phones started appearing everywhere that business execs had their “crackberries”, the Blackberry, so they could never be away from work. As much as I love the internet and have found very valuable things to read and communities online (and I don’t use social media much at all), I refuse to have a smart phone and feel fine during the commute between home and work or when I’m at an event away from my desktops. I like having the discipline of that enforced downtime, otherwise I’m on all day regardless.

But then again, I also made the decision years ago to not feel like a slave to answering my landline every time it rings and let the answering machine pick up when I don’t know the number. Plus I have never felt obligated to answer the door just because someone knocks. If they didn’t call first, I don’t want to talk to them most likely, and I’d say 99% of the time it’s not anything I’m missing at all. It has less to do with technology and more to do with being proactive and taking control over whatever intrudes on your life.

#28 Comment By Nina On July 11, 2018 @ 9:25 pm

If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains’ by Nicholas Carr.

#29 Comment By Mia On July 11, 2018 @ 9:40 pm

“Oddly enough to not develop this addiction I had to be married to an abusive wife who was a control freak.”

I too have my extreme non-addiction due to abusive family as well. That’s why I don’t do Facebook with normal functions and learned to never answer the door unless I knew for sure who was there. But it all really turned out to be very useful ultimately.

#30 Comment By Sj On July 11, 2018 @ 10:45 pm

Rod,I would love to know how you handle tech with your kids. I have 17-year-old and 15-year-old sons. The only phone they have is an android that has Internet disabled through Covenant Eyes, and all apps closed down through phone settings except clock, camera and text.

15-year-old is OK with it for now, but 17-year-old champs at the bit, even though he’s homeschooled and doesn’t feel constant pressure. He sees all his peers locked into their phones, and even though he hates what they’re doing, and he’s read “Irresistible,” he still longs to join in–says that’s the way kids communicate now.

I asked him, “Do you want to be like that?” and he admits he doesn’t, but he feels lonely. Only thing I can tell him is that it’s good to feel different at this point because if he wants to live as a Catholic, he’s going to often be alone when he grows up.

I also have a four-year-old granddaughter, and she’s the one I’m most worried about. It’s bad for boys to be tech-isolated, but it’s got to be hell on wheels for a pre-teen or teen girl who’s not allowed on social media. Rod, what do you do for your daughter? How are you surviving this? We gots to know!

[NFR: Our 18 year old is on his own now, because he’s 18. That leaves us with a 14 year old son and an 11 year old daughter. They both have e-mail, but no social media. No phones — just iPod+. I think we took the browsers off the iPods, but if not, then they’re limited. They have computers, but not hooked up online. If they need something online, they come to Julie and me, and ask permission to use one of our laptops. It’s not a perfect situation, but it’s the best we can do right now. It’s not hard to manage our daughter at this point, but our 14 year old son is constantly asking for more. — RD]

#31 Comment By MLM On July 12, 2018 @ 2:09 am

Thanks for this article. I’m sharing it far and wide.

My husband and I are with you. It’s a constant struggle, but we’re committed to not turning our kids over to this monster either. We’ve always been pretty strict with their use of technology, but made a serious mistake last year and allowed our three oldest (then 13, 14 and 16) to have private Instagram accounts. We naively thought it would be a harmless way for them to share photos with their friends. Eventually, we made them delete their accounts as their obsession with checking “likes” and “chats” and the conflict it generated was literally tearing our family apart. Once they got off social media, things started returning to normal in our home.

I thought you might be interested in a movement that’s taking place in some school districts. It shows you just how difficult it is for parents to say no to this stuff for their kids. If only the pledge went beyond 8th grade:

[11]
“Parents feel powerless in this uphill battle and need community support to help delay the ever-evolving presence of the smartphone in the classroom, social arena and family dinner table. Let’s band together to wait until at least eighth grade before children are allowed to have a smartphone.”

[12]
“Concord Promise is a movement to urge parents of elementary and middle school  children in Concord to delay purchasing a smartphone for their child until at least eighth grade, as smartphones easily provide kids with unrestricted, at-your-fingertips access to the Internet and social media.”

#32 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 12, 2018 @ 4:18 am

Ludo, some of the same ideas about ubiquitous and complete connection were explored in Henry Kuttner’s novel Mutant, quite a while back.

#33 Comment By Liam On July 12, 2018 @ 7:08 am

A word to all you folks holding your phone while you’re in the leftmost lane on the highway and weaving and lagging: that’s the “passing” lane, not the “phone-chat” lane. You know who you are: stop it.

And I would love to be able to put a bumper sticker on cars: “My spouse doesn’t know that I drive the kids around while talking on my hand-held phone.”

#34 Comment By La Lubu On July 12, 2018 @ 7:56 am

Tech is just a tool. Like any other tool, it can be useful or it can be abused. Human beings are curious creatures. The Internet is “addicting” because it feeds our innate curiousity, and provides a means to communicate with other humans.

The problem isn’t tech, it’s consuming rather than creating. Want your kids to use less tech? Give them the power to create on their own, whether that’s music, building or repairing things, dance, writing, etc. The drive to create is just as important as our drive for curiousity.

This is also a good way for adults to spend less time on the Internet—learn something new, and work to perfect it. There isn’t anything uniquely more addicting or “bad” about being online.

#35 Comment By Ain’t Ben On July 12, 2018 @ 8:28 am

Technology like the internet, social media and smartphones are not at all new in terms of how they rewire our brains and take over our lives, shaping us to fit them rather than vice-versa. They’re not even the first technologies specifically engineered to reshape and manipulate the user. They are, however, terrifyingly good at it (says the man typing out a short essay for no good reason rather than doing paying work…)

This has always been how technology works, from the earliest days. Agriculture is a fine example. Once the decision is made to stay in one place and tend crops rather than roam as hunter-gatherers (a decision generally made for rather than by), everything about human life and society and culture changes dramatically. At no point did anybody really understand what they were trading away or consciously agree to have their societies upended and brains rewired… yet the die was cast. The crops reshaped the people to fit their needs.

Lewis Mumford famously claimed that the most important invention in the history of civilization was the clock. We moderns struggle to even imagine a life that isn’t ruled by the incremental and demarcated passage of time. Yet living without hours and minutes and seconds is, of course, the natural human condition.

The automobile is another fine example, and many excellent books have been written about what we’ve sacrificed to that technology. Today, the car has so thoroughly reshaped geography and life and culture that it could fairly be said the cars drive us (insert Soviet Russia joke here). I’ve no doubt that satire has been written in which aliens observe Earth from afar and decide that the cars are the dominant form of life, and humans their slaves.

Anyway… what I’m adding is that this is not a new process, but an alarming quickening and supercharging of an ancient process. If the past is any guide, the technology will most certainly win. Man, the great maker of tools with which to control the world, is ultimately controlled by his creations. We will become what our new technologies allow and demand us to be. And iPhones certainly won’t be the last, or the worst, of it.

#36 Comment By KingP On July 12, 2018 @ 8:50 am

Perhaps the most effective way to foster a more equitable relationship with tech in a kid is to employ a kind of scared-straight immersion therapy. One variant of that would be to compel them to learn code, flash animation and other emerging digital media skills. Consequently, require them to create their own content that roughly corresponds to a proportional amount of other garbage they usually like to watch. Ergo, the forbidden becomes the mundane and, most importantly, your kid is transformed from a slack-jawed consumer into a savvy producer whose powers could be used for good at some later date.

If the above suggestion seems to obtuse, go ahead and reinforce the allure of the tech wilderness with unrealistic “limits” and safeguards. I will not be pleased when they rear-end me at a stop sign during their first post-homeschool social media bender.

#37 Comment By Brendan On July 12, 2018 @ 8:57 am

I find the smartphone useful for myself, but I don’t look at most social media (Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram etc), and don’t have them installed on my phone. I do look at news sites a few times a day, but have the notifications turned off for them. I check email a few times a day. I do have text notifications turned on, however, because I may get texts from family members that really can’t wait from time to time. It wasn’t always this way, but after mucking around with some of the rest of the medial landscape on smartphones I managed to find a modus vivendi with it that allows me to access information on the go, which is invaluable at times, while limiting my exposure to the fire hose of garbage it will spew at you if you permit it to do so.

My son used to play video games when he was younger, like between 10 and 15 or so. He dramatically cut back due to extracurriculars in school (athletics mostly) and widening interest in girls, and then just decided to stop playing them altogether around 16 on his own. He now is in college and has no interest in them, so it’s possible for a kid to wean themselves off of that, but I think it depends on what else they have going on and whether they have an addictive personality in general.

He does use the typical social media to communicate with people, however … Facebook, Snap, Kik, texts etc. I think to some degree this is generational because that generation much prefers to communicate in text or in person than on the phone — Skype is even preferable for them to phone conversations, it’s as if the phone is creepy to them or something. I was recently with a millenial friend of mine in his 30s, a young doctor, and he was on Facebook several times a day just checking through posts by friends and family and texting out a few answers and so on — it’s how this generation stays connected with each other I think. My generation seems more inclined to have a phone call maybe once a month or more often depending on the level of friendship involved, but the younger generation seems to prefer to have more constant sharing over social media and text to maintain a bond. As long as it isn’t interfering in actual social life, work life, physical habits like sleep and so on, I think this is more or less OK — the problem is that many people struggle to use these media in that way, sadly.

#38 Comment By theMann On July 12, 2018 @ 9:29 am

As an IT tech, I never tire of a constant refrain:

Don’t use Social media, period. They were explicitly designed by the Police State to control you completely. Read up on how facebook, twitter, youtube and so forth were created, and realize that not one of them has ever turned a quarterly profit, yet they chug right on, categorizing, collating, and controlling…..you.

Don’t let kids use electronic media. Would you let a 10 year old run around in the woods by himself? Well, the internet jungle is 1000 more dangerous, so non adults have no budiness on it. This is not hard to do, just be adults around your kids for a change.

#39 Comment By Elijah On July 12, 2018 @ 9:52 am

@ David – an excellent comment, thank you. I think there are two things you ought to take into account:

First, in terms of relationships, flesh-and-blood interaction with people is messy, hard to maintain, and often difficult – managing these kinds of interpersonal relationships is a very important life skill. Online ‘relationships’, while they have some similarities, are easily discarded and replaced. You can block an annoying person on Twitter, but you can’t do the same with an obnoxious neighbor.

Second, I agree with you that in terms of technology we have to weigh the good v. the bad. I think what Rod and others fear and object to are those aspects of technology developed specifically to alter the way people think, like subliminal advertising. Like the way certain social media sites curate news and other stories. The problem being not that they exist, but that most of the time we have no way of knowing or understanding what the developers are up to.

#40 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On July 12, 2018 @ 10:14 am

Although its not the same level of intrusion in the human mind and personality, it may be worth remembering that before there was an internet or smart phones, it was a constant feature of life and comedy shows that teenage girls either monopolized the family phone or needed their own phone in their own room so they could spend all their free hours and more talking inane nonsense with girlfriends and boyfriends.

#41 Comment By Joan from Michigan On July 12, 2018 @ 10:56 am

This happens pretty much every time a new set of technologies is widely adopted: people use it indiscriminately, it makes a mess, and then the do-gooders have to come in and clean up. The process of industrialization in 19th century England led to extremely unsafe working conditions and extremes of income inequality that left massive numbers living in horrible slums, often dying young of preventable causes. Writers are part of the cleanup brigade. Writers such as Dickens and Shaw exposed the mess then, as Rod is doing now.

Eventually there will be laws and regulations and the equivalent of labor unions and a general lack of toleration for the abuses, a taming of the technology so that it can become part of the functioning of society. I know that’s not much help to people trying to raise kids now, but it’s good to keep in mind that it’s just a phase and that we have more choices than just accepting it uncritically or giving it up entirely.

#42 Comment By J May On July 12, 2018 @ 11:28 am

Last year we had a 12-year-old foster daughter. We don’t have kids that old so we didn’t have set rules about social media. We gave her a tablet and said she could only use one of the 5 or so platforms she was on. We also said we should be able to check her account any time.

Eventually, after noticing she sat in her room for whole days on her tablet, we checked her account and found profoundly disturbing messages from her and others. We also found real adult men who were trying to pick her up from our home for romantic encounters.

After this we completely barred her from using mobile devices, social media or the internet at all. Since she was stuck at home during the summer at this point, she didn’t have the influence of kids at school either.

It was profoundly shocking to see the overnight transformation of this kid from miserable, emotional, irritable and angsty, to joyful, upbeat, obedient, engaging and kind.

#43 Comment By J May On July 12, 2018 @ 11:38 am

One other thing: in 2007, I was an early adopter of smart phones with my Palm Treo. I also was an early adopter of social media.

I decided to go out into the woods in the middle of winter for 3 days by myself. I turned off my phone, brought my bible and some books, and headed out into the wilderness with my gear.

When I returned after having no phone or internet for 3 days, I was shocked by how I dreaded turning my phone on.

The next year I spent 3 months as a missionary in rural India. I had internet during the day but no phone at all and no tech (not even TV) at nights or most weekends.

In both cases, I felt more peace and focus than I ever have in my adult life–other than when I have had an encounter with the Holy Spirit in prayer. Returning from India, it was so strange being totally peaceful and focused as I looked into the eyes of an interlocutor and they would always seem like ADD bees buzzing around the room with their eyes and thoughts, unable to focus or feel very comfortable in their own skin.

#44 Comment By Skip On July 12, 2018 @ 2:06 pm

My own daughters are largely not on social media (the eldest, at 17, does use snapchat a bit), but the gaming and endless video watching are massive issues, and I have about reached the point where I’m ready to cull it all. I’ve also been deliberately reducing my own web time. But it is a constant battle.

As for Twitter, though? Rod, why on earth even dab a toe into that cess pool. I know nobody who derives any joy from it, only the constant stress and vitriol of either being outraged by what strangers have said, or looking to make that witty rejoinder. One journalist friend of mine has, I think, been driven utterly mad by it. They spend more time wailing on Twitter and arguing than they do with any hard writing anymore, to the point where I cannot converse with them.

#45 Comment By Lert345 On July 12, 2018 @ 2:07 pm

I walk down any aisle in the office and about a third of the people have their nose in their phones. I’ll wager there’s also been a measurable loss of productivity since the smartphone became widespread.

#46 Comment By mrscracker On July 12, 2018 @ 3:10 pm

Here’s a bit of good news from Ontario, Canada I just read. I think it references a sex ed. program that may have been written in part by someone later convicted of child porn or a similar offense-or perhaps that was in another province?:

“A Canadian province has cancelled a controversial sex education curriculum that taught children about gender identity, consent and social media.

Newly elected Ontario Premier Doug Ford made good on his promise to cancel the lessons, which sparked protests when it was implemented in 2015.

The curriculum was objected to by many who said it was age inappropriate and dismissed family values…”

[13]

#47 Comment By Anon On July 13, 2018 @ 2:26 am

Noelle:

I wish this point were heard more often in prominent places; instead, it seems like there’s more concern about a supposed “digital divide” in which lower-income kids lack access to tech.

That’s because closing the digital divide means getting the government to cough up money for increased sales for the products the tech companies sell. Similarly, expanding cell phone coverage to rural communities means companies that do this kind of work will receive money from the government to do it. Boosting sales by under the guise of helping the disadvantaged.

#48 Comment By Tony D. On July 13, 2018 @ 11:41 am

“That’s because closing the digital divide means getting the government to cough up money for increased sales for the products the tech companies sell.”

Yep. That’s why even a Republican congress with a Republican President won’t lay a finger on the so-called “Obamaphone” program. That’s not a subsidy for poor folks who can’t afford smartphones, it’s a subsidy for T-Mobile, Verizon, Samsung, etc. Their lobbyists aren’t about to allow the loss of millions of “customers” who would otherwise not be able to afford their crap.

#49 Comment By Tony D. On July 13, 2018 @ 6:53 pm

And now that this thread is dying down, I just have to interject; “Dr. BJ Fogg” sounds like an early 60s Green Lantern or Flash villain.

Sorry; that was actually my very first thought on reading this post. Rod, feel free to spike.

#50 Comment By Randy Williams On July 14, 2018 @ 7:58 am

Well, it’s a social addiction, isn’t it? And, you can take it wherever you go. Phoneworld is a competitor to the homeworld in a VR sort of way. The human mind creates a social environment from the phone’s audio-visual data and your kids live in it, even you do sometimes. But it’s easier for you (and me) to move from that world to our homeworld because we are habituated to it. It’s normal. Just imagine if the phoneworld had been available to us in the 60s or 70s. Oh my.