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Apple’s Digital Health and Corporate Behavioral Responsibility

Why I'm excited to see Apple taking a stand and facilitating a better relationship with our phones.

A quarter century ago, Apple released the “Newton,” the world’s first Personal Digital Assistant. In 1993, no one could reasonably imagine getting addicted to the bulky, slow, black-and-white device.

Yet, here we are.

Software aside, the modern smartphone itself was not designed to be addictive, per se: it’s a byproduct of the other things we DID want: more speed, more memory, a better screen. Our brain’s attentional and motivational wiring wasn’t ready for the phone’s wiring to get this good this fast. To reward and gratify us so instantly—so personally. Evolution did not equip us to responsibly handle a 10-millisecond delay between our wanting and our gratification without getting hooked. So here we are: faces glued to our screens—and ready for something to change.

Many other voices in the field have joined me over the past several years in identifying how and why our relationships with our phones have gotten so out of hand. Today, I’m extremely excited to welcome Apple to our tribe.

Our phones—intentionally or unintentionally—reprogram our behavior. When used carefully, this Behavioral Design can be used to uplift Human Flourishing and Thriving, as we’ve shown at Boundless Mind. When applied poorly, it can be a menace to society, as felt in the growing pushback against the social media giants. Apple’s “Digital Health” is a step in the right direction.

“Digital Health” is not only a tacit acknowledgement that Apple’s products reshape human behavior, it’s a respectable, forward-looking move of a new type of Corporate Responsibility: “Corporate Behavioral Responsibility”.

Where Corporate Social Responsibility seeks to build businesses that align human and environmental flourishing with profits, Corporate Behavioral Responsibility will hold firms accountable for honesty, transparency, and choice in how their products—intentionally or unintentionally—reprogram human behavior. It will provide tools and programs that help people modify their digital contexts to enhance—or subtract—how persuasive their technology is. It seeks to defend a person’s cognitive liberty to build the kind of mind that they want to have, by granting them information and choice about how their tech is reshaping them.

As one of the world’s largest and most successful forces of technology, Apple holds an uncommon amount of power over our daily lives. Over where we spend our time and our attention. Over what we can and can’t do—can think and can’t. With that great power comes great responsibility. In releasing “Digital Health”, iOS joins Google’s Android P in acknowledging that—as a manufacture and OS maker—it DOES share responsibility here. It can’t walk away from the dialogues of Persuasive Technology: it needs to speak up and take a stance. As an act of Corporate Behavioral Responsibility, Apple’s “Digital Health” is an exciting first move, and I’m optimistic to take it on good faith as the beginning of a larger CBR presence for Apple rather than a token gesture.

Photo Credit: Artur Debat/Getty Images

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