The Founders and C-Suite of the giant technology companies exist in our public eye. In a way, they have become a new class of celebrities for the unicorn businesses they have created or now run. While their accomplishments have been impressive in how many lives have been transformed, we also know that not all of their innovations have been without consequence. Their increased visibility in the public leaves us clues to the misalignment between what they sell us to do, and what they actually do. The phrase many young people will remember from their parents caught in an inconsistency in something they don’t want them to repeat- do as I say, not as I do.
The world was transformed rapidly due to advancements in software and mobile technologies. Global estimates show about 60% of the world’s population, about 4.66B, are active Internet users, with about 93% accessing the web through mobile devices.1 Let’s break down what ‘active’ means and where most people spend their time online. According to a Nottingham Trent University study, people use their smartphones about a third of the time they are awake, on average five hours, and will check it roughly 85 times throughout the day.2 Other studies have shown even higher figures. Breaking that down to an average waking day that’s 5 times every hour or picking up your phone to be distracted every 12 minutes. The generational differences are narrowing too, with Baby Boomers now spending on average 5 hours on their mobile devices, compared to Millennials averaging 5.7 hours.3 Studies looking at Generation Y, show even more shocking figures of 8-9 hours a day!4 Nearly half of that time online is spent on social media, for an average of 2 hours and 24 minutes.5 If that doesn’t sound like too much, when you extrapolate to the average lifespan it amounts to about five and a half years of your life, on social media alone.6 We now spend more of our lifetimes on social media than eating! After COVID-19 there is growing evidence that our addictions and dependency on technology is worsening. It becomes increasingly more difficult as households are all under the influence of technology to see things as black and white as the innovators do.
When appreciating the extent of our use of ‘always on technologies’ we should examine the behaviours of the people who know their creations best. We need to look no further than the people that matter most to them and are most susceptible to being under the influence – their children. Children absorb information from their parents, so if we aren’t in control of our own practices, disciplines, and habits, how can we expect our kids to be any different? Publicly, Steve Jobs, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, and Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel have warned against the dangers of children’s use of technologies, including their own. When probed by journalists, either intentionally or unintentionally they share their rules in the household to protect their own children. Sundar’s teenage son doesn't own a cell phone and neither did Steve Job’s children.7 Many of their own technologies, like SnapChat aren’t allowed, screentime is limited or completely removed from their households. In the acclaimed documentary film, The Social Dilemma, the end credits roll alongside footage of prominent technology leaders and researchers sharing their strict rules at home with their children. It doesn’t even stop there. The Waldorf School of the Peninsula in Silicon Valley, California, is one private school with many known tech giant executives send their children too which isn’t allowed to have any technology use.8 What’s the difference between us and them? They know how screen addiction, behavioural nudges to keep attention and the consequences to human development. They guard them and their loved ones against its damages but not for us.
Doesn’t it seem strange that toddlers now that can’t walk or talk can comfortably navigate their way around an iPad or iPhone? This isn’t an accident, it is in its simple, powerful and addictive design strengthened by the social constructs established around them. If the people who created these products are nervous about their technologies being used by their loved ones, then why shouldn’t we also practice the same caution? The answer is, we should.
This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, Wired Influence. Share this post with a friend and get them to subscribe to ResponsAbility to know first when it become available.