Archive for October, 2018

A New Digital Divide Emerges as Affluent Families Scale Back on Screen Time

October 31, 2018 Comments off

Over the past six years I have written countless posts on the adverse impact of the digital divide on children raised in poverty and/or children raised in parts of the country where high speed internet is not readily available. But now, with the widespread use of cell phones and an increase in the use of computers in classrooms of all socio-economic levels, a new digital divide is emerging: children raised by affluent parents are spending less time in front of screens that children raised in poverty. Why? According to a NYTimes article by Nellie Bowles it’s because affluent parents, particularly those in Silicon Valley, realize the addictive nature of screen time, especially the algorithms of products like YouTube that keep feeding viewers more and more links that are likely to pique their interest. This paragraph captures the essence of the new digital divide:

It wasn’t long ago that the worry was that rich students would have access to the internet earlier, gaining tech skills and creating a digital divide. Schools ask students to do homework online, while only about two-thirds of people in the U.S. have broadband internet service. But now, as Silicon Valley’s parents increasingly panic over the impact screens have on their children and move toward screen-free lifestyles, worries over a new digital divide are rising. It could happen that the children of poorer and middle-class parents will be raised by screens, while the children of Silicon Valley’s elite will be going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction.

It is increasingly evident that the internet tool is used in different ways by different families, and affluent families tend to limit use of screens while less affluent families plop their children in front of the screens as a means of giving themselves the time they need to unwind. And the technology whizzes who know how the technology works are the most wary of its overuse:

“There’s a message out there that your child is going to be crippled and in a different dimension if they’re not on the screen,” said Pierre Laurent, a former Microsoft and Intel executive now on the board of trustees at Silicon Valley’s Waldorf School. “That message doesn’t play as well in this part of the world.”

People in this region of the world understand that the real thing is everything that’s happening around big data, AI, and that is not something that you’re going to be particularly good at because you have a cellphone in fourth grade,” Mr. Laurent said.

Understanding how to use a phone is not the same as understanding how the phone affects your thinking and your well-being… and those who understand the impact of the phones and screens on children are the most reluctant to encourage their use.


Birds of a Feather: The Sacklers and Silicon Valley CEOs

October 31, 2018 Comments off

Several months ago the New Yorker published an article on how the Sackler family made billions of dollars through the sale of oxycontin, a drug their researchers knew was addictive but their marketing department insisted was not so. The article was one of the first ones I read that underscored what I call the philanthropy paradox. The Sacklers have used their massive fortune earned by selling an addictive drug to open museums and support cultural endeavors that are a clear benefit to the public. Should they be praised for the investments in the arts or condemned for the way they earned their fortune? This seems like an easy call: the Sackler’s names should be taken off every arts project they underwrote, their stocks and inheritances liquidated and given to public addiction clinics, and charges should be brought against them for knowingly harming the citizens of our country.

This past weekend a NYTimes article by Nellie Bowles titled “A Dark Consensus about Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley” raises a similar question about the technology billionaires. What is the “dark consensus”?

The benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high.

Ms. Bowles then offers several chilling quotes from Silicon Valley executives who have personally witnessed the damage electronics are doing to their own children and concluding that they have opened Pandora’s Box by unleashing phone technology on the world. Here’s a sample:

Asked about limiting screen time for children, Hunter Walk, a venture capitalist who for years directed product for YouTube at Google, sent a photo of a potty training toilet with an iPad attached and wrote: “Hashtag ‘products we didn’t buy.’”…

Athena Chavarria, who worked as an executive assistant at Facebook and is now at Mark Zuckerberg’s philanthropic arm, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, said: “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children.”...

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now the chief executive of a robotics and drone company and founder of said of screens:

“On the scale between candy and crack cocaine, it’s closer to crack cocaine”… “We thought we could control it,” Mr. Anderson said. “And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.”

Tim Cook, the C.E.O. of Apple, said earlier this year that he would not let his nephew join social networks.Bill Gates banned cellphones until his children were teenagers, and Melinda Gates wrote that she wished they had waited even longer. Steve Jobs would not let his young children near iPads.

John Lilly, a Silicon Valley-based venture capitalist with Greylock Partners and the former C.E.O. of Mozilla, said he tries to help his 13-year-old son understand that he is being manipulated by those who built the technology.

“I try to tell him somebody wrote code to make you feel this way — I’m trying to help him understand how things are made, the values that are going into things and what people are doing to create that feeling,” Mr. Lilly said. “And he’s like, ‘I just want to spend my 20 bucks to get my Fortnite skins.’”

How are these executives any different from the Sackler family? How can we possibly lionize them as entrepreneurs and philanthropists when they are knowingly promoting a product that damages the thinking of citizens?

I’m not sure how to get the genie back in the bottle on technology… but it is evident that one of the motivating factors in providing children with phones is the pervasive fear that harm might come to them. One of the defenses offered by parents who provide phones to their children was this: they want to be able to keep track of where their children are at all times. As one who experienced what is now called a “free range childhood” and laments that such a childhood now seems abhorrent, the notion that my parents would need to keep track of my every move seems overbearing. But while getting the genie back in the bottle would be problematic, it seems to me that the people who invented and profited from the advent of these addictive gadgets bear some responsibility for developing a counter measure… even if the counter measure does not make their shareholders happy.

A Reprehensible Response to a Despicable Act

October 30, 2018 Comments off

This past weekend I was away from my computer and away from reading the news. I am now catching up and find myself dismayed over the news from Pittsburgh where a loner who despises Jews entered a synagogue and killed 11 worshipers who were attending a ceremony where an infant was being named. The shooter in this incident, predictably, had a home arsenal that included multiple weapons designed to kill human beings. He was described as a “loner” who took this action because “he wanted to kill some Jews”.

This act was horrific… but the President’s response was reprehensible and nonsensical. Here’s what he said to the press in response to this act:

In response to a question about whether the shooting Saturday at the Tree of Life Synagogue should spark questions of increased gun control, Trump said: “If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. If they had some kind of protection within the temple it could have been a much better situation. They didn’t.”

It was a point he repeated several times in his remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrews a few hours after the shooting. Trump was en route to an event in Indianapolis Saturday.

He later added: “This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside they may have been able to stop him immediately, maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him maybe.”

Is THIS America today? Are we a nation where every place of worship now supposed to hire a “good guy with a gun” to protect itself from an individual whose right to own a weapon designed to kill humans must be protected? If houses of worship are expected to have armed guards so that every person can buy any kind of arms they desire we are moving to a police state if we are not there already…. As reported in a 2016 Nextbigfuture post, private police already outnumber public police 5:1…. and I cannot help but think that the ratio is even higher now!

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