Does the Information Superhighway Need a Spillway?
A 5,000 person study found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health and life satisfaction. — American Journal of Epidemiology
As a father of three and a technologist, I have spent much of my last 15 years monitoring, protecting, and educating my children on how to responsibly use their gadgets. National studies show that 90% of children own their own mobile device by the age of eleven, 57% of which sleep with their phones by their bed. The study also revealed that the #1 concern is they are “constantly worried” about running out of charge.
I am a true believer that we must expose our youth to technology at a young age to keep them competitive in the tech-dominated world in which we now live. However, there is a dark side that must always be kept in check. None more evident than the misinformation that has spread in 2020 with COVID and the presidential election.
The # of countries with political disinformation campaigns on social media doubled in the past 2 years. — New York Times
This year, like most of you, I have had a little more time at home. Once I exhausted Netflix I downloaded an app called TikTok. For weeks I laughed, shared, and was amazed of how creative this world had become during quarantine. Watching videos of people playing piano from their apartment balcony for all to enjoy, funny challenges that I even attempted, to the trusty funny animals doing silly things. But as time went on, the feeds started to change. I was being fed constant videos of unrest in our cities, people sharing their opinions that bordered hate speech, and now the bombardment of conspiracy, corruption, and fraud.
64% of the people who joined extremist groups on Facebook did so because the algorithms steered them there. — Internal Facebook report
I am not naïve enough to believe that these things have not been going on for a very long time, but the rate at which we can now distribute and consume information worldwide is like nothing mankind has faced before. We need to recognize this and take personal responsibilities to protect ourselves and most importantly our children.
In time, regulation will likely catch up and provide some guidelines for mammoth social media businesses, but until that occurs, here are a few tips:
- Monitor Usage: Studies show the average person spends over 4 hours a day on their devices. This is 25% of their waking day.
- Turn Off Notifications: Think of these as a drug. The more notifications you get, the more you click, the higher your screen time. You do not need a notification to let you know that you have time to look at an app. Do not be an addict.
- Create Limits: The dinner table is for eating, the bedroom is for sleeping, the car is for transportation. No need to worry, it will all be waiting for you the next time you pick up the phone.
- Protect the Children: Last, but certainly not least, make sure you know what your kids are doing. Ask to see their phones. Have a conversation with them about right and wrong of the internet. Make sure they know that just because someone has 30,000,000 followers does not make them an authority on a topic or an idol. Invest in technology to monitor and report on their activity. Remember, they still live in your house… and you are probably still paying for their devices.
As I stated in the beginning, I am huge supporter of the adoption of technology in people of all ages. We just need to make sure we always stay a little bit smarter than the algorithms trying to change and control us.