Tag Archives: children

The Rise of Tech Activism and How You Can Take Part

“Ban Russian Bots.” The words shone brightly projected across Twitter headquarters. Not long after, a listener of NPR’s 1a wrote: “Wish there was a national movement, like a Quit Facebook day. If they lost a million plus U.S. users in 1 day, it would give reformers inside the company the momentum they need.” Then came the medical community. At a research summit on how technology affects kids, a health policy expert issued a call to action: “Urge companies to first Do No Harm.”

It’s happening. People are finally realizing technology doesn’t always operate in our best interests and they’re doing something about it.

“Facebook builds in operant conditioning and wants you to use it ten hours a day,” declared Dr. Dimitri Christakis, Director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Also speaking at the research summit, the policy expert, Georgetown University’s Kathryn Montgomery, took it a step further: “Woven into the business model is not just engagement, but engagement for the purposes of advertising and data collection. They need to put a limit on the information that can be collected and the way information can be used to target individuals.”

Even Tony Fadell, who created the iPod and oversaw rollout of the iPhone, called out personal technology at the recent tech-in-perspective conference, Mindfulness in America: “These are all-consuming if we let them be. We need to wrest the control back to ourselves. Unintended consequences allow us to become addicted very quickly.”

Tristan Harris is a tech designer turned activist who worked at Google and trained in Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab. He says the goal of most tech companies is to grab and keep our attention “in a race to the bottom of our brainstems to seduce our instincts.”

So how can you become a tech activist?

Take stock of your digital life

Start by being mindful of how you engage with your smartphone and other personal technology. Fadell thinks we deserve feedback. “We have zero data about our habits on these devices.” In Fadell”s view, every one of our TVs, phones and other personal devices should tell us our usage patterns. And if their makers don’t deliver that data, Fadell says, they should be regulated.Smartphone Usage Warning Message

While that battle is fought, apps like Moment can track your smartphone usage.

The American Academy of Pediatrics helps families with the Media Time Calculator. Parents can use it to sit down with their kids and plan a 24-hour day to include all the activities they need to be healthy and balanced. The Calculator is pre-programmed with age-recommended time periods for sleep and exercise.

But you don’t need more technology to proactively manage your Self. For instance, if you find you’re in a vicious cycle of checking and rechecking your phone, unhand the device, then walk a flight of stairs or step outside and take a deep breath. Another idea: Rather than looking at Facebook continuously, choose a specific time to check.

You can do so much more to design a tech-in-perspective lifestyle once you’re more conscious of your digital actions.

Take Advantage of Your Spidey Sense

With the revelations of Facebook’s, Google’s and Twitter’s roles in the 2016 election, social media users are beginning to realize that the platforms’ algorithms tend to prioritize information that’s new and popular, but not necessarily correct. Users are also less naive about the platforms’ motives. As Fadell puts it, “You think on Facebook and Instagram you’re the customer? You’re not the customer. Coke is a customer of Facebook. They pay for it.”

Once you’re aware of your risk of being had, you can exercise healthy skepticism. It’s like when you stand in line at the grocery store. You know a looney tabloid headline when you see one. Use that same intuition when you read online. Notice if the post or news article has misspellings and odd syntax, which can be a good indicator sketchiness. If you can’t tell the source of the content, don’t share it. You may also want to check it out with Snopes.com, Factcheck.org, or Politifact.com.

Test your Fake News sniffing skills with Factitious, American University’s free online Tinder-format game (which does not collect personal data or run ads).

Don’t buy insecure or potentially damaging products

As is the case with social media, Internet-connected toys and listen-and-assist devices such as Google Home collect information, but don’t necessarily disclose the dossiers they build. Review the privacy settings and parental controls on these objects (usually best viewed online). If you’re not comfortable, don’t buy them. If you do purchase, set up security features and parental controls before use.

And just because a product is new, you don’t need to buy it. Prime example: the smartphone holder that clips on to a baby bottle. You know in your heart that babies need those few precious moments of eye contact much more than you need to look at your phone.

In any case you have concerns about a product, express them directly to the companies.

Push to prioritize human needs  

Tristan Harris leads a form of tech activism called Time Well Spent. It’s like the organic food movement, he says, only for software. The intent is to put pressure on tech designers to stop using psychological and other tactics to commandeer our attention, but to instead use their talents to support how we want to spend our time. Join Tristan’s effort here.

Finally, although we and our kids are now steeped in digital everything, we still know precious little about the effects on our minds and bodies. Indeed, says Pam Hurst-Della Pietra, who organized the abovementioned Interdisciplinary Summit on Children and Screen Time, “If we viewed media as an environmental health issue, we’d be much farther along.”

These are a few of the many studies in a special supplement of Pediatrics magazine announced at the Summit:

That this research is occurring is a great step forward. The problem is there is no central repository for any of it.

So that’s another job for tech activists: tell your members of Congress and the Director of the National Institutes of Health that – just like for the effects on us of noise and junk food – research findings on our technology exposure also need a home.

What other avenues do you see for tech activism?

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DurableHuman.com founder Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media adjunct professor, and author of How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design. Her work has informed millions on news outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, Readers Digest, Tech Republic, Thrive Global, and many others.

Download a free PDF copy of Madden’s inspirational, quick-read The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World here.

Learn more about this author on Google+.

 

iPod, iPhone Maker Has Advice for Taking Back Tech Control

Wikipedia Photo of Tony Fadell

Now that he has kids of his own, Tony Fadell is thinking about the unintended consequences of the tools he helped create. “We allow this stuff in our lives in a way that may not be working for us,” Fadell told co-host Anderson Cooper and the crowd at Mindfulness in America, the first Wisdom 2.0 tech-in-perspective summit held in New York.

Bear in mind that Fadell is not your average everyday person, but a true living legend who dreamed up some of the world’s most-used consumer products, including the iPod, Nest thermostat, and world-changing, beloved, attention-grubbing iPhone. But there he was, saying, “We need to pull control back to ourselves.”

To help us gain that control, Fadell thinks our gadgets should report on our usage patterns. “We have zero data about our habits on these devices.” After he suggested people deserve to know their “daily life digitally as well as physically,” the crowd broke into applause.

Fadell believes you should also be able to set your phone to do only one task, as on a Kindle E-reader where all you can do is read. If users aren’t given such controls, Fadell warns, tech companies risk being regulated. He imagines a consumer backlash leading to something like this:

Smartphone Usage Warning Message

Calling himself out as a recovering sugar and digital addict, Fadell worries about how adults use “the always-on nanny” to babysit. He says kids need oversight and rules when using powerful devices like smartphones: “Don’t give them the tools without any boundaries.” He uses Circle to monitor his kids’ tech usage, set time limits, and get “a crude form of data to see what’s happening.”

A man after my own heart, he agrees kids need time to do things that don’t involve devices: “These are all-consuming if we let them be.” He shares the Durable Human attitude that home environments should be designed so kids can learn healthy tech habits. For instance, he agrees with former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris and me that – to preserve sleep, relationships, and time for contemplation – phones should be charged out of the bedroom, such as in the kitchen.

Fadell himself took a partial tech breather over the summer when he didn’t check email. Year-round, he recommends tech-free Sundays.

After creating the iPod, Fadell helped dial in the iPhone’s revolutionary interface. He waxed nostalgic for the good old days working alongside Steve Jobs. “Apple was a different place pre-iPhone. After that, it went crazy with extra communications.” Now that he runs the investment and advisory firm Future Shape, and the crazy-long hours he worked sometimes at Apple, Nest, and Google are behind him, he wonders: “What happens if your company said, on the corporate server, you can’t send or receive email outside of work hours?”

These days, Fadell cherishes down time with his kids, doing simple things like taking stuff apart and putting it back together, just like he did with his grandfather.

He fondly recalls Jobs’s admonition:

Don’t overschedule your kids. Make sure they get bored so they discover who they are and what they like.

Or, what I say now that Jobs is gone: kids need to know their own operating systems before they spend much time with all the others.

Referring to Nicholas Negroponte’s prescient Being Digital, Fadell says it’s time someone wrote a book, Being Analog. In fact, I already have, but with a different title. To be durable is to maximize your personal superpowers, despite and because of the pressures we face as a species. If we want to remain effective players in society in the face of AI, robots and everything else, it’s up to us to actively maintain our human-only assets, including – to Borrow Fadell’s words – the “instincts, emotions, intuition, that machines will never have.”

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DurableHuman.com founder Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media adjunct professor, and author of How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design. Her work has informed millions on news outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, Readers Digest, Tech Republic, Thrive Global, and many others.

Download the quick-read The Durable Human Manifesto e-book for free here.

Learn more about this author on Google+.

Fadell photo credit: By OFFICIAL LEWEB PHOTOS – Flickr: Tony Fadell, Founder & CEO, Nest Labs, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30924480

When Disaster Strikes Others, Feel the Pinch of Generosity

If you were lucky enough not to be blown away by disasters like Harvey or Irma, you might feel powerless in the face of all the suffering and destruction. But you can flip that attitude into action by brandishing your human-only superpower of generosity.

Consider the Houston Independent School district. Harvey’s rain was still pounding when district officials decided every one of their 215,000 students could eat breakfast and lunch for free the entire school year. They knew returning to normalcy would take time and, if students were to continue to grow and learn, they needed regular nutritious meals.

In Texas, the display of durability was stunning on the part of the Cajun Navy and other just-plain-folks freely giving of their time and skills. That’s why, in the days before Irma, Florida’s governor made an explicit pitch for volunteers. Within 36 hours, 8,000 residents had signed up with VolunteerFlorida.

That’s the thing about generosity. It takes effort.

Philosopher C.S. Lewis wrote:

If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.

Donating an old, stained coat may count as “generosity,” but it can actually be a relief to pitch it. True generosity hurts, if only a little.

Generosity for The World

Considering our overall state of busy-ness, to feel the pinch of generosity may be a matter of Continue reading

Get Your Child’s School Year Off on the Right Foot. Both of Them.

Girls Walk to School

With the start of school, you want your kids to have plenty of time for homework. But what about everything else they need, like to play and sit down for meals? Two easy-to-use online tools help kids of any age to be more balanced, active, and durable–in school and out.

Get started with the Family Media Plan. Created by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Plan allows you to set up and print out guidelines not only around media use, but other necessities like physical activity, enough sleep, manners, and good digital judgment (such as my personal favorite, to charge cellphones out of the bedroom).

You can make a custom profile for each child, based on his or her age. For older kids, the plan also covers tech use and driving.

To create an ideal 24-hour schedule, sit down with your child and click through the Media Time Calculator. The Calculator’s timeline starts out with LOTS of media time, but as you add in other activities such as getting dressed and meals, the minutes quickly disappear that are available for things like playing video games. The Calculator is pre-populated with the AAP’s recommended time for exercise and sleep.

Watch how easy it is to use the Calculator in this 3-minute video:

For lots more practical advice for how your family can live well with media and everything else, read How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design.

About the author:

Jenifer Joy Madden is a health journalist, digital media professor, tech hygienist, and inveterate parent of three durable young adults. Her words have informed millions on news outlets including ABC News, The Washington Post, and in her books, How To Be a Durable Human: Revive and Thrive in the Digital Age Through the Power of Self-Design and The Durable Human Manifesto: Practical Wisdom for Living and Parenting in the Digital World.

Download The Durable Human Manifesto for free here.

Learn more about this author on Google+.