digital wellbeing

People, particularly teenagers, could be characterized as having an unhealthy relationship with their smartphones. For example, there are reports that individuals have “snap-managers” who will keep their snap streaks going if they have to be away from their phones. Additionally, many people also have “finstas,” which are fake Instagram accounts where they place all their unedited photos for their closest friends to see. Finally, some teens are even getting plastic surgery because they feel insecure about not living up to their own filtered images on Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. In the words of Tristan Harris, founder of The Center for Humane Technology: “Snapchat streaks are essentially the equivalent of placing two children on a treadmill, tying their legs together, and then hitting start on the treadmills at the same time. The children have to keep running because if one falls, the other falls and they have to start all over again.”

Given the potential negative consequences that excessive smartphone use has on people’s well-being, researchers and social policymakers are currently debating whether the blame should be assigned to individuals for not controlling themselves or technology companies for creating manipulative designs. Proponents on the personal responsibility side argue that we should not blame the technology companies for making products so good that we want to use them all the time. For example, we don’t blame restaurants for making food so good that we want to eat there 24/7. Additionally, others assert that “this is just a phase” and people will move on. For example, there were concerns when the TV came out that people would spend all of their time inside; though we survived that era and we’ll survive this one, too. On the other hand, proponents of blaming technology companies argue that the invention of the smartphone is different because never before have we had a device that was updated daily with thousands of persuasive techniques. We have to ponder if smartphone engagement is ALWAYS indicative of enjoying the product or if people are being manipulated to use their devices even when it no longer makes them happy. For example, are people who send “Snapchats of the wall” doing so because it brings them enjoyment or because their social values are being manipulated to keep streaks alive.

Allow me to provide you with some statistics (source – https://ledger.humanetech.com/):

  • 44% of teens agree at least “somewhat” that using social media often distracts them from the people they’re with in person, and 34% agree either strongly or somewhat that using social media takes away time they could be spending with people face-to-face.
  • 73% of users reported panicking if they lost their phone
  • In controlled experiments, people instructed to use Facebook for just 10 minutes felt 9% worse at the end of the day because they felt envious of others’ lives.
  • The mere presence of a smartphone can disrupt the connection between two people, having negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality.
  • 86% of over 2,200 teachers said the number of students with social challenges has increased in the 3-5 years before 2015; 90% said they saw increased emotional challenges, and 77% cognitive challenges.
  • 78% of teens check their devices at least hourly, and 50% report feeling “addicted” to their phones; meanwhile 69% of parents check their devices at least hourly, and 27% feel “addicted.”

Now, watch these two videos:

https://www.commonsensemedia.org/digital-well-being

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EFHbruKEmw&list=WL&index=2&t=0s

As you watch, think about the ways in which you relate to the people in the videos. Do you find their experiences relatable? How much time do you spend on your phone or certain apps in particular? For iPhone users, you can check ScreenTime in settings. For Android users, you can check Digital Wellbeing in settings or download Action Dash. If you do not have either option, then try to estimate your typical usage. Next, is it possible to be “addicted” to your smartphone, and do you agree with the implications of social media on people’s distractibility, self-esteem, and social relationships? Finally, if there is a problem, should responsibility be placed on the individual, parents of children, technology companies, or all three? When constructing your paper I’d like you to incorporate examples of how reinforcement schedules relate to smartphone habits (see lecture slides on learning). Please articulate your response to these questions in accordance with the guidelines in the course syllabus. You can also use https://ledger.humanetech.com/ for research to support your arguments.

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