The Large Tech Distraction Disaster
Big tech and the devices and apps it produces are consuming the world’s collective attention for profit. Tech giants need to find a better purpose if they are to retain society’s permission to dominate our lives as they are currently doing. Society is distracted, our attention neurologically hijacked by a tsunami of weapons of mass diversion that keep our attention not on what we want but on what big tech wants us to be. This is a profound way of life, especially for Generation Z and Alpha.
Most parents worry that their children are spending too much time on screens. But it’s not about screen time – it comes down to what they’re doing on screen. All screen times are not created equal: training and entertainment time may be better than gaming and scrolling through social media. Not all users are created equal, especially the young and vulnerable: over the decade that technology has become ubiquitous in our lives, rates of adolescent sleep loss, loneliness, unhappiness, anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicide have increased by a factor .
Monetizing children’s brains means the end of our species
Causality is not proven, but can the merging of the two be a coincidence? Other social factors are sure to have a significant impact, such as the different ways in which young people meet and the kinds of encounters – not relationships – the decline of the nuclear family, religion, marriage, eating together, and each other changing nature of the job have some implications.
But with babies and toddlers now regularly looking at screens, nearly half of those under eight have their own tablet, and most early teens have smartphones, all that access to age-inappropriate content is eroding childhood and innocence sooner and later in a child’s personality development. According to therapists, addiction to porn and games is worrying. As technology tries to turn children into professional multitaskers who graze on multiple information honeypots like digital bees, the march of robots and artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly. Are we teaching future generations the inability to read, visit, observe, and focus at the precise moment when the only work that is left for them requires those very same skills?
Parents looked the other way and enjoyed the freedom of not having parents as their children took electronic devices like ducks into the water. They missed the predator in the apartment because their kids did something infinitely more dangerous than leaving the house to play without a friend and searching the internet from the seeming safety of their bedrooms. Educators have missed the opportunity to teach children to be digital citizens through responsible internet use, partly because they do not understand the dangers or do not know how to do it.
Software developers have missed the opportunity to create security to fulfill the surveillance-as-a-service mandate of those who commission their products. Big Tech itself, caught in the quarterly profit race, cash register and market caps backed by even higher demand during COVID-19, has continued to deny the need to reform its business models. The government has failed to protect the people and the tech giants have grown bigger without the antitrust interventions and content moderation that traditional media saw in their respective growth phases.
In addition to providing digital overload to their youth, society is providing a hand of cards that includes parents still suffering from the overhang of the global financial crisis, an ongoing global war on terror, a damaged planet, and now enormous COVID-19 debt . The good news is that Gen Z grew up with a strong sense of social cause believing that companies should serve society, not just their shareholders, and potentially reset the relationship between technology and society.
Late last year, the U.S. Attorney General sent a bill to Congress that would be at the center of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shield tech companies currently have against potential liability for user-generated content, whether or not it is forged or harmful are adolescents or simply mean beyond a socially acceptable level. The Biden administration has a unique opportunity to put power back in the hands of the people, taking it away from the few people who run a small number of enormous companies and the opaque algorithms that run through the core of their systems. History will judge whether society woke up in time for this distraction crisis, before the Internet of Things hammered the final nail in the coffin.
* *[Robert Wigley is the author of “Born Digital: The Story of a Distracted Generation.”]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial guidelines.