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Tech executives unite in initiative to push back against technology
Smartphone addiction is the new smoking.
Call it an anti-tech startup. The message of the new Center for Human Technology (CHT) is that technology is addictive and destructive for individuals, kids, culture and society as a whole.
CHT includes technology veterans associated with Google, Facebook, Mozilla and elsewhere, as well as some current leaders from Silicon Valley companies. CHT and Common Sense Media are about to launch a major public awareness campaign seeking to persuade Americans that technology can be highly destructive of our individual and collective well-being.
According to the The New York Times:
Along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, [CHT] also plans an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States.
The campaign, titled The Truth About Tech, will be funded with $7 million from Common Sense and capital raised by the Center for Humane Technology. Common Sense also has $50 million in donated media and airtime from partners including Comcast and DirecTV. It will be aimed at educating students, parents and teachers about the dangers of technology, including the depression that can come from heavy use of social media.
More broadly, there are three main components to what CHT is seeking to do:
- Lobby for new approaches to software and UI design: “redesign . . . devices and core interfaces to protect our minds from constant distractions, minimize screen time, protect our time in relationships, and replace the App Store marketplace of apps competing for usage with a marketplace of tools competing to benefit our lives and society.”
- Lobby for legislative, policy and regulatory changes.
- Raise awareness generally in the society and within target tech companies.
Facebook, Google and, to a lesser degree, Apple have come under increasing scrutiny because of the perceived consequences of the widespread adoption of their tools and technologies. Once hailed as engines of the economy, they have come under intensifying criticism as either being willfully blind or consciously manipulative.
Apple, Facebook, Google and others have, to varying degrees, publicly sought to address or remedy some of the problems attributed to them. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has discussed the ethical responsibilities of technology companies publicly multiple times. Google and Facebook have taken steps to address their “fake news” problem. And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has implemented changes in the News Feed that he says will help people focus on more “meaningful connections.”
Despite the well-intentioned efforts of CHT, however, it will be extremely difficult to put the genie back in the bottle.
The forthcoming “The Truth About Tech” marketing push is reportedly modeled on an anti-smoking campaign and will be focused on children. Smartphone addiction is the new smoking.