Time Well Spent//

Everyone is Talking About Our Relationship with Technology

This is an issue that affects us all.

People have been wary of new technology forever. So when the internet and smartphones came around, early concerns were waved away as a sort of dystopian hysteria, often compared to the anxiety that surrounded the rise of the printing press.

And while the smartphone has revolutionized the way we communicate in the same way the printing press upended information sharing, smartphones are, in fact, different. Our obsessive use of these devices (the average U.S. smartphone user touches their phone 2,617 times a day, according to the research firm Dscout) is not something to be shrugged off as par for the course in learning to use new technology.

No, today’s landscape looks very, very different. And everyone’s talking about it.

To say that the relationship between humanity and technology, and what it means for our future, is in the zeitgeist is almost an understatement. The conversation about how technology is affecting seemingly every aspect of our lives is growing louder and louder, making headlines and extending into our homes and relationships.

Here are just a few recent examples:

Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?, by Benoit Denizet-Lewis for the New York Times Magazine

“Anxious kids certainly existed before Instagram, but many of the parents I spoke to worried that their kids’ digital habits—round-the-clock responding to texts, posting to social media, obsessively following the filtered exploits of peers—were partly to blame for their children’s struggles. To my surprise, anxious teenagers tended to agree.”

Tech Addiction Is More of a Problem Than People Realize, by Arianna Huffington for Thrive Global

“The problem lies not with our desire to connect, but with our form of connection. Our technology gives us a form of connection with the whole world, but at the same time it can limit the depth of our connection to the world around us, to those closest to us, and to ourselves. Technology has been very good at giving us what we want, but less good as giving us what we need.”

What Facebook Did to American Democracy, by Alexis C. Madrigal for The Atlantic

“Facebook’s engineers do not want to introduce noise into the system. Because the News Feed, this machine for generating engagement, is Facebook’s most important technical system. Their success predicting what you’ll like is why users spend an average of more than 50 minutes a day on the site, and why even the former creator of the ‘like’ button worries about how well the site captures attention. News Feed works really well.”

Tech Giants, Once Seen as Saviors, Are Now Viewed as Threats, by David Streitfield for the New York Times

“Mr. Rosenstein, a co-founder of Asana, an office productivity start-up, said in an email that he had banned not just Facebook but also the Safari and Chrome browsers, Gmail and other applications. ‘I realized that I spend a lot of time mindlessly interacting with my phone in ways that aren’t serving me,’ he wrote. ‘Facebook is a very powerful tool that I continue to use every day, just with more mindfulness.’”

Your Smartphone is Hijacking Your Brain. Here’s How to Stop It, by Kendra Pierre-Louis for Popular Science

“Adrian Ward, a researcher at the University of Austin, has found that in many ways the internet is a lot like junk food. Just as snacks play on a deep biological need for sugar and fat, which tricks us into overeating these unhealthy foods, the internet messes with our cognitive functions to increase our dependence on it. Just being around a drives many to distraction, while heavy Googling has us increasingly outsourcing the task of remembering things to the cloud. That in turn means that we have to Google more and more things that we used to just have to commit to memory. Similarly, we may be taking more photos of things than ever, but we remember them less.”

The Psychology of Tech Addiction and Why Going Cold Turkey Doesn’t Work, by Drake Baer for Thrive Global

“In the opening of his new book Irresistible, New York University marketing professor Adam Alter shares a troubling number: in the latest available figure, an estimated 41 percent of respondents in a 1.5 million person analysis had experienced some kind of behavioral addiction in the past year. This isn’t addiction in the sense of alcoholism or drugs of abuse, Alter explained to Thrive Global. These are dependencies of the media variety, where you keep returning to a software experience that feels good in the short-term but becomes problematic over time. They cut across demographics: the executive relentlessly refreshing her inbox, the teen agonizing over Instagram likes, the college student skipping class to get in one more World of Warcraft quest in.”

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?, by Jean M. Twenge for The Atlantic

“The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.”

How Silicon Valley is Built to Exploit Your Emotions, by Drake Baer for Thrive Global

“People are averaging over three and a half hours a day on their phones, according to data provided to Thrive from the app-tracking app Moment, and all that usage on mobile and on desktop is creating spools of data that, through the growth of artificial intelligence, is opening up a world in which companies could learn insights about you that you may not know about yourself. Like life insurance companies mining your selfies to predict how long you have to live, for one.”

How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds, by Nicholas Carr for The Wall Street Journal

“But while our phones offer convenience and diversion, they also breed anxiety. Their extraordinary usefulness gives them an unprecedented hold on our attention and vast influence over our thinking and behavior. So what happens to our minds when we allow a single tool such dominion over our perception and cognition? Scientists have begun exploring that question—and what they’re discovering is both fascinating and troubling. Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens.”

The Designer of the iPhone Worries That His Grandkids Will Think He’s the Guy That Destroyed Society, by Drake Baer for Thrive Global

“Tony Fadell helped design the iPod, the iPhone and the iPod. Not that his work rests easily with him. ‘I worry what my grandkids are going to think,’ he told Anderson Cooper at Monday’s Mindfulness in America Summit. Will it be ‘He’s the guy that destroyed society,’ he wondered aloud, or will he be revered?’”

As the World Tweets, Social Media Chiefs Remain Tight-Lipped, by Jim Rutenberg for the New York Times

“The willingness of those who make daily use of Google and social media sites to offer up their likes and dislikes, not to mention the details of their spending habits and internet wanderings, provides Mr. Zuckerberg and his fellows with the personal data that is the holy grail of modern advertising. It also gives them an endless stream of free content to put those ads beside. Their users’ endless posts, spats and vacation pics make for the ultimate reality show.”

The Startup That Can Make You Less—Or More—Addicted to Your Phone, by Shelby Lorman for Thrive Global

“In the digital world, we’re actually not the customer, Ramsay Brown, COO and founder of Dopamine Labs says. ‘We don’t pay for Facebook. We don’t pay for Twitter or Instagram. If you’re not paying for it, you are not the customer,’ he says. ‘You’re the goods being sold.’ Big brands are the customers while ‘our attention span, and our consumer preferences, are the things to be auctioned off.’”

When Does Facebook Start To Make You Unhappy?, by Drake Baer for Thrive Global

“‘There is a happiness breaking point for each app,’ says Kevin Holesh, Moment’s founder and developer. For Facebook, it’s 20 minutes — spend less than that and you’ll likely be happy with your use of the app, spend more and you won’t be. ‘We know this because of the surveys taken by tens of thousands of people in Moment,’ he tells Thrive Global, and academic research has found much the same. ‘Facebook knows this too, but they don’t share it publicly,’ he adds.”

‘Our Minds Can be Hijacked’: The Tech Insiders Who Fear a Smartphone Dystopia, by Paul Lewis for The Guardian

“The designer who created the pull-to-refresh mechanism, first used to update Twitter feeds, is Loren Brichter, widely admired in the app-building community for his sleek and intuitive designs. Now 32, Brichter says he never intended the design to be addictive – but would not dispute the slot machine comparison. ‘I agree 100%,’ he says. ‘I have two kids now and I regret every minute that I’m not paying attention to them because my smartphone has sucked me in.’”

The Binge Breaker, by Bianca Bosker for The Atlantic

“McDonald’s hooks us by appealing to our bodies’ craving for certain flavors; Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter hook us by delivering what psychologists call ‘variable rewards.’ Messages, photos, and ‘likes’ appear on no set schedule, so we check for them compulsively, never sure when we’ll receive that dopamine-activating prize. (Delivering rewards at random has been proved to quickly and strongly reinforce behavior.) Checking that Facebook friend request will take only a few seconds, we reason, though research shows that when interrupted, people take an average of 25 minutes to return to their original task.”

Science Says Social Media Could Be Making You Feel Lonelier, by Emma Haak for Thrive Global

“Researchers asked 1,787 American adults between the ages of 19 and 32 how often they used 11 different social platforms and how socially isolated they felt. Those who spent more than two hours a day on social media were twice as likely to report feeling isolated than people who spent 30 minutes or less on social sites per day.”

The Great Tech Panic: Breaking News Addiction, by Nick Stockton for Wired

“We scroll through our Twitter feeds, not seeking anything specific, just monitoring them so we don’t miss out on anything important,” says Shyam Sundar, a communications researcher at Pennsylvania State University. This impulse could stem from the chemical hits our brains receive with each news hit, but it could also derive from a primitive behavioral instinct—surveillance gratification-seeking, or the urge that drove our cave-dwelling ancestors to poke their heads out and check for predators.”

What if Instead Of Controlling Your Life, Your Phone Helped You Live It?, by Drake Baer for Thrive Global

“Rather than enhancing your life, technology — as it is — is built to suck your time. But what if it doesn’t have to be this way? We sacrifice chunks of our lives every time we open Twitter, Tinder, or Facebook.”

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