By Rabbi Yosef C. Golding
The quotes you are about to read are true; the names have NOT been changed to protect the innocent.
They were all taken from that bastion of liberalism (read: hefkeirus) called Time Magazine. I am NOT recommending that you go out and buy it; it doesn’t belong in a Torah home. But perhaps a lesson can be learned from an article that I recently read under the heading: TECHNOLOGY: The Masters of Mind Control.
Full Disclosure: I own a smartphone and I don’t leave home without it (except Shabbos and Yom Tov, of course). The phone is filtered, as our Gedolim have clearly stated the inherent dangers in using these devices. But it’s out there, and in many cases, it’s here to stay. So perhaps we should see what the “other side” has to say about the real, not perceived, addiction called “Smartphones”…
[A company named Boundless Mind]…wants to disrupt America’s addiction to technology. “It used to be that pathogens and cars were killing us,” Brown says. “Now it’s [fast food] and social media. It’s our habits and addictions.”
Every day we check our phones an average 47 times – every 19 minutes of our waking lives – and spend roughly five hours total peering at their silvery glow…
…and a 2017 University of Texas study found that the mere presence of our smartphones, face down on the desk in front of us, undercuts our ability to perform basic cognitive tasks. NY University psychologist Adam Alter describes the current state of tech obsession as a “full-blown epidemic.”
If I stopped here, it should be clear enough that the presence of our smartphones, even in our pockets, disrupts our ability to learn properly, to daven with concentration, to focus on what our spouse/child/friend is saying to us…and that’s even before it vibrates.
Here’s some more about the intentional addictive methods that the app developers use:
The longer we are glued to an app – a value nicknamed eyeball time – the more money its creators make by selling our attention and access to our personal data to advertisers and others…
This business model has driven an explosion of interest in what’s known as persuasive technology, a relatively new field of research that studies how computers can be used to control human thoughts and actions. The field, which draws on advances in neuroscience and behavioral psychology, has fueled the creation of thousands of apps, interfaces and devices that deliberately encourage certain human behaviors (keep scrolling) while discouraging others (convey thoughtful, nuanced ideas).
“If, 20 years ago, I had announced that we would soon be creating machines that control humans, there would have been an uproar,” wrote B.J. Fogg, a Stanford University behavioral scientist who was one of the first academics to seriously study how computers influence human behavior. But now, he notes, “we are surrounded by persuasive technologies.”
So we are now told that in addition to simple addiction, we are being assaulted by mind control: Scroll, scroll, scroll…don’t think, think, think.
As parents, can we look aside at this? When we decide whether or not to allow our teenager (or pre-teen…or even toddler) to own or use this addictive animal, should we not take all this into account? I am not referring to the dangerous content that can become readily accessible, or the endless Lashon Hora possibilities that present itself through “social media” (continuing my “Full Disclosure”; I B”H do NOT ever go on social media…OK, I do use WhatsApp for business and family).
If for whatever reason, you do allow your child access to a smartphone, at the very least, listen to what the outside world has to say re social media:
In the past year, Silicon Valley insiders have raised the alarm about the real-world impact of all this persuasive tech. Former Google employee Tristan Harris and early Facebook investor Roger McNamee have accused the tech giants of deliberately creating addictive products, without regard for human or social health…
Every major consumer tech company operating today…uses some form of persuasive technology. Most of the time, the goal is unambiguous: the companies want to get us to spend as much time as possible on their platforms…”Your kid is not weak-willed because he can’t get off his phone” Brown says. “Your kid’s brain is being engineered to get him to stay on his phone.”
And addiction is not their only trick; listen to this:
[One] of the first Silicon Valley firms to hire behavioral psychologists to work alongside designers, plays on our psychology in a different way. Its interface, which features an endless scroll of pictures arranged in a staggered, jigsaw-like pattern, is human catnip. It ensures that users always see a partial image of what comes next, which tantalizes our curiosity and deprives us of any natural stopping point, while simultaneously offering an endless well of new content…
Dozens of other apps employ similar interfaces. No matter how long you scroll down on [social media], and no matter how many hours you spend watching [online clips], there is always more content cued up to auto-play.
And, finally (for now, at least) there is the exploitation by the “app pushers” in terms of one’s personal life and lifestyle. Anyone who follows the National news has heard about Facebook’s founder’s recent testimonies to both houses of Congress. Back to the Time Magazine expose:
On the surface, the Facebook scandal is about the exploitation of personal data. But viewed another way, it’s about the intentional, aggressive cultivation and harvesting of that data through persuasive technology.
Since its launching a decade and a half ago, Facebook has been second to none at exploiting eyeball time. By 2016, users were spending an average of 50 minutes per day, a staggering proportion of the average person’s leisure time, on three of its platforms: Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. With each interaction, users have left digital traces of themselves, which together create detailed portraits of who they are, as individuals. Facebook sells that microtargeted access to advertisers, political campaigns and others.
There is much more to the article, and much more to write about the perils of your smartphone. And, again, I’m not talking about content that is against Halacha; I’m talking about an addictive epidemic which is rampant and grossing billions – no, trillions of dollars for the app pushers and advertising companies, at our expense.
So the next time you are asked to relent to your child, because “everyone has one”, or to join a social media app because “everyone is on it”, think!
Don’t just scroll, scroll, scroll.
Think, think, think.
Rabbi Golding is currently president of Golding Development Group, a corporation designed to assist and develop non-profit organizations.
Reprinted with permission from Hamodia newspaper; printed May 16, 2018