Everything That's Wrong With Social Media And Big Internet Companies: Part 2

from the the-list-is-growing dept

Late last year I published Part I of a project to map out all the complaints we hear about social media in particular and about internet companies generally. Now, here’s Part 2.

This Part should have come earlier; Part 1 was published in November. I’d hubristically imagined that this is a project that might take a week or a month. But I didn’t take into account the speed with which the landscape of the criticism is changing. For example, just as you’re trying to do more research into whether Google really is making us dumber, another pundit (Farhad Manjoo at the New York Times) comes along and argues that Apple — a tech giant no less driven by commercial motives than Google and its parent company, Alphabet — ought to redesign its products to make us smarter (by making them less addictive). That is, it’s Apple’s job to save us from Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other attention-demanding internet media ? which we connect to through Apple’s products, as well as many others.

In these same few weeks, Facebook has announced it’s retooling the user experience for Facebook users in ways aimed at making the experience more personal and interactive and less passive. Is this an implicit admission that Facebook, up until now, has been bad for us? If so, is it responding to the charges that many observers have leveled at social-media companies ? that they’re bad for us and that they’re bad for democracy.

And only this last week, social-media companies have responded to concerns about political extremists (foreign and domestic) in Senate testimony. Although the senators had broad concerns (ISIS recruitment, bomb-making information on YouTube), there was, of course, some allocation of time on the ever-present question of Russian “misinformation campaigns,” which may not have altered the outcome of 2016’s elections but still may aim to affect 2018 mid-terms and beyond.

These are recent developments, but coloring them all is a more generalized social anxiety about social media and big internet companies that is nowhere better summarized than in Senator Al Franken’s last major public policy address. Whatever you think of Senator Franken’s tenure, I think his speech was a useful accumulation of the growing sentiment among commentators that there’s something out of control with social media and internet companies that needs to be brought back into control.

Now, let’s be clear: even if I’m skeptical here about some claims that social media and internet giants are bad for us, that doesn’t mean these criticisms necessarily lack any merit at all. But it’s always worth remembering that, historically, every new mass medium (and mass-medium platform) has been declared first to be wonderful for us, and then to be terrible for us. So it’s always important to ask whether any particular claim about the harms of social media or internet companies is reactive, reflexive… or whether it’s grounded in hard facts.

Here are reasons 4, 5, and 6 to believe social media are bad for us. (Remember, reasons 1, 2, and 3 are here.)

(4) Social media (and maybe some other internet services) are bad for us because they’re super-addictive, especially on our sweet, slick handheld devices.

“It’s Time for Apple to Build a Less Addictive iPhone,” according to New York Times tech columnist Farhad Manjoo, who published a column to that effect recently. To be sure, although “Addictive” is in the headline, Manjoo is careful to say upfront that, although iPhone use may leave you feeling “enslaved,” it’s not “not Apple’s fault” and it “isn’t the same as [the addictiveness] of drugs or alcohol.” Manjoo’s column was inspired by an open letter from an ad-hoc advocacy group that included an investment-management firm and the California State Teachers Retirement System (both of which are Apple shareholders). The letter, available here at ThinkDifferentlyAboutKids.com (behind an irritating agree-to-these-terms dialog) calls for Apple to add more parental-control choices for its iPhones (and other internet-connected devices, one infers). After consulting with experts, the letter’s signatories argue, “we note that Apple’s current limited set of parental controls in fact dictate a more binary, all or nothing approach, with parental options limited largely to shutting down or allowing full access to various tools and functions.” Per the letter’s authors: “we have reviewed the evidence and we believe there is a clear need for Apple to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using your products in an optimal manner.”

Why Apple in particular? Obviously, the fact that two of the signatories own a couple of billion dollars’ worth of Apple stock explains this choice to some extent. But one hard fact is that Apple’s share of the smartphone market mostly stays in the 12-to-20-percent range. (Market leader Samsung has held 20-30 percent of the market since 2012.) Still, the implicit argument is that Apple’s software and hardware designs for the iPhone will mostly lead the way for other phone-makers going forward, as they mostly have for the first decade of the iPhone era.

Still, why should Apple want to do this? The idea here is that Apple’s primarily a hardware-and-devices company ? which distinguishes Apple from Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Twitter, all of which primarily deliver an internet-based service. Of course, Apple’s an internet company too (iTunes, Apple TV, iCloud, and so on), but the company’s not hooked on the advertising revenue streams that are the primary fuel for Google, Facebook, and Twitter, or on the sales of other, non-digital merchandise (like Amazon). The ad revenue for the internet-service companies creates what Manjoo argues are “misaligned incentives” ? when ad-driven businesses’ economic interests lie in getting more users clicking on advertisements, he reasons, he’s “skeptical” that (for example) Facebook is the going to offer any real solution to the “addiction” problem. Ultimately, Manjoo agrees with the ThinkDifferentlyAboutKids letter — Apple’s in the best position to fix iPhone “addiction” because of their design leadership and independence from ad revenue.

Even so, Apple has other incentives to make iPhones addictive ? notably, pleasing its other investors. Still, investors may ultimately be persuaded that Apple-led fixes will spearhead improvements, rooted in our devices, of our social-media experience. (See, for example, this column: Why Investors May Be the Next to Join the Backlash Against Big Tech’s Power.)

It’s worth remembering that the idea technology is addictive is itself an addictive idea ? not that long ago, it was widely (although not universally) believed that television was addictive. This New York Times story from 1990 advances that argument, although the reporter does quote a psychiatrist who cautions that “the broad definition” of addiction “is still under debate.” (Manjoo’s “less addictive iPhone” column inoculates itself, you’ll recall, by saying iPhone addiction is “not the same.”)

“Addiction” of course is an attractive metaphor, and certainly those of us who like using our electronics to stay connected can see the appeal of the metaphor. And Apple, which historically has been super-aware of the degree to which its products are attractive to minors, may conclude?or already have concluded, as the ThinkDifferentlyAboutKids folks admit ? that more parental controls are a fine idea.

But is it possible that smartphones maybe already incorporate a solution for addictiveness? Just the week before Manjoo’s column, another Times writer, Nellie Bowles asked whether we can make our phones less addictive just by playing with the settings. (The headline? “Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone?”) Bowles argues, based on interviews with researchers, that simply setting your phone to use grayscale instead of color inclines users to respond less emotionally and impulsively?in other words, more mindfully?when deciding whether to respond to their phones. Bowles says she’s trying the experiment herself: “I’ve gone gray, and it’s great.”

At first it seems odd to focus on the device’s user interface (parental settings, or color palette) if the real problem of addictiveness is internet content (social media, YouTube and other video, news updates, messages). One can imagine a Times columnist in 1962?in the opening years of widespread color TV? responding to Newt Minow’s famous “vast wasteland” speech by arguing that TV-set manufacturers should redesign sets so that they’re somewhat more inconvenient?no remote controls, say?and less colorful to watch. (So much for NBC’s iconic Peacock opening logo)

In the interests of science, I’m experimenting with some of these solutions myself. For years already I’ve configured my iDevices not to bug me with every Facebook and Twitter update or new-email notice. Plus, I was worried about this grayscale thing on my iPhone X?one of the major features of which is a fantastic camera. But it turns out that you can toggle between grayscale and color easily once you’ve set gray as the default. I kind of like the novelty of all-gray?no addiction-withdrawal syndrome yet, but we’ll see how that goes.

(5) Social media are bad for us because they make us feel bad, alienating us from one another and causing is to be upset much of the time.

Manjoo says he’s skeptical whether Facebook is going to fix the addictiveness of its content and interactions with users, thanks to those “misaligned incentives.” It should be said of course that Facebook’s incentives?to use its free services to create an audience for paying advertisers?at least have the benefit of being straightforward. (Apple’s not dependent on ads, but they still want new products to be attractive enough for users to want to upgrade.) Still, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has announced that the company is redesigning Facebook’s user experience, (focusing first on its news feed) to emphasize quality time (“time well spent”) over more “passive” consumption of the Facebook ads and video that may generate more hits for some advertisers. Zuckerberg maintains that Facebook, even as it has operated over the last decade-plus of general public access, had been good for many and maybe for most users:

“The research shows that when we use social media to connect with people we care about, it can be good for our well-being. We can feel more connected and less lonely, and that correlates with long term measures of happiness and health.”

Even so, Zuckerberg writes (translating what Facebook has been hearing from some social-science researchers), “passively reading articles or watching videos — even if they’re entertaining or informative — may not be as good.” This is a gentler way of characterizing what some researchers have recently been arguing, which is that, for some people at least, using Facebook causes depression. This article for example, relies on sociologist Erving Goffman’s conceptions of how we distinguish between our public and private selves as we navigate social interactions. Facebook, it’s argued, “collapses” our public and private presentations?the result is what social-media researcher danah boyd calls “context collapse.” A central idea here is that, because what we publish on Facebook for our circle is also to some high degree public, we are stressed by the need (or inability) to switch between versions of how we present ourselves. In addition context collapse, the highly curated pages we see from other people on Facebook may suggest that their lives are happy in ways that ours are not.

I think both Goffman’s and boyd’s contributions to our understanding of the sociology of identity (both focus on how we present ourselves in context) are extremely useful, but it’s important to think clearly about any links between Facebook (and other social media) and depression. To cut to the chase: there may in fact be strong correlations between social-media use and depression, at least for some people. But it’s unclear whether social media actually cause depression; it seems just as likely that causation may go in the other direction. Consider that depression has also been associated with internet use generally (prior to the rise of social-media platforms), with television watching, and even, if you go back far enough, with what is perceived to be excessive consumption of novels and other fiction. Books, of course, are now regarded as redemptive diversions that may actually cure your depression.

So here’s a reasonable alternative hypothesis: when you’re depressed you seek diversion from depression?which may be Facebook, Twitter, or something else, like novels or binge-watching quality TV. It may be things that are genuinely good for you (books! Or The Wire!) or things that are unequivocally bad for you. (Don’t try curing your depression with drinking!) Or it may be social media, which at least some users will testify they find energizing and inspiring rather than enervating and dispiriting.

As a longtime skeptic regarding studies of internet usage (a couple of decades ago I helped expose a fraudulent article about “cyberporn” usage), I don’t think the research on social media and its potential harmful side-effects is any more conclusive than Facebook’s institutional belief that its social-media platforms are beneficial. But I do think Facebook as a dominant, highly profitable social-media platform is under the gun. And, as I’ve written here and elsewhere, its sheer novelty may be generating a moral panic. So it’s no wonder?especially now that the U.S. Congress (as well as European regulators) are paying more attention to social media?that we’re seeing so many Facebook announcements recently that are aimed at showing the company’s responsiveness to public criticism.

Whether you think anxiety about social-media is merited or otherwise, you may reasonably be cynical about whether a market-dominant for-profit company will refine itself to act more consistently in the public interest?even in the face of public criticism or governmental impulses to regulate. But such a move is not unprecedented. The key question is whether Facebook’s course corrections — steering us towards personal interactions over “passive” consumption of things like news reports — really do help us. (For example, if you believe in the filter-bubble hypothesis, it seems possible that Facebook’s privileging of personal interactions over news may make filter bubbles worse.) This brings us to Problem Number 6, below.

(6) Social media are bad for us because they’re bad for democracy.

There are multiple arguments that Facebook and other social media (Twitter’s another frequent target) are bad for democracy. The Verge provides a good beginning list here. The article notes that Facebook’s own personnel?including its awesomely titled “global politics and government outreach director” ? are acknowledging the criticisms by publishing a series of blog postings. The first one is from the leader of Facebook’s “civic engagement team,” and the others are from outside observers, including Harvard law professor Cass Sunstein (who’s been a critic of “filter bubbles” since long before that term was invented?his preferred term is “information cocoons.”).

I briefly mentioned Sunstein’s work in Part 1. Here in Part 2 I’ll note mainly that Sunstein’s essay for Facebook begins by listing ways in which social-media platforms are actually good for democracy. In fact, he writes, “they are not merely good; they are terrific.” In spite of their goodness, Sunstein writes, they also exacerbate what he’s discussed earlier (notably in a 1999 paper) as “group polarization.” In short, he argues, the filter bubble makes like-minded people hold their shared opinions more extremely. The result? More extremism generally, unless deliberative forums are properly designed with appropriate “safeguards.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that Facebook is hosting his essay, Sunstein credits Facebook with taking steps to provide those such safeguards, which in his view includes Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg’s declaration that the company is working to fight misinformation in its news feed. But I like Sunstein’s implicit recognition that political polarization, while bad, may be no worse as a result of social media in particular, or even this century’s modern media environment as a whole:

“By emphasizing the problems posed by knowing falsehoods, polarization, and information cocoons, I do not mean to suggest that things are worse now than they were in 1960, 1860, 1560, 1260, or the year before or after the birth of Jesus Christ. Information cocoons are as old as human history.”

(I made that argument, in similar form, in a debate with Farhad Manjoo?not then a Times columnist?almost a decade ago.)

Just as important, I think, is Sunstein’s admission that that we don’t really have unequivocal data showing that social media are a particular problem even in relation to other modern media:

“Nor do I mean to suggest that with respect to polarization, social media are worse than newspapers, television stations, social clubs, sports teams, or neighborhoods. Empirical work continues to try to compare various sources of polarization, and it would be reckless to suggest that social media do the most damage. Countless people try to find diverse topics, and multiple points of view, and they use their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds for exactly that purpose. But still, countless people don’t.”

Complementing Sunstein’s essay is a piece by Facebook’s Samidh Chakrabarti, who underscores the company’s new initiative to make News Feed contributions more transparent (so you can see who’s funding a political ad or seemingly authentic “news story). Chakrabarti also expresses the company’s hope that its “Trust Project for News On Facebook” will help users “sharpen their social media literacy.” And Facebook’s just announced its plan to use user rankings to rate media sources’ credibility.

I’m all for more media literacy, and I love crowd-sourcing, and I support efforts to encourage both. But I share CUNY journalism professor Jeff Jarvis’s concern that other components of Facebook’s comprehensive response to public criticism may unintentionally undercut support, financial and otherwise, for trustworthy media sources.

Now, I’m aware that some critics are arguing that the data really are solidly showing that social media are undermining democracy. But I’m skeptical whether “fake news” on Facebook or elsewhere in social media changed the outcome of the 2016 election, not least because the Pew Research Center’s study a year ago suggests that digital news sources weren’t nearly as important as traditional media sources. (Notably, Fox News was hugely influential among Trump voters; there was no counterpart news source for Clinton voters.)

That said, there’s no reason to dismiss concerns about social media, which may play an increasing role?as Facebook surely has?as an intermediary of the news. Facebook’s Chakrabarti may want to promote “social media literacy,” and the company has been forced to acknowledge that “Russian entities” tried to use Facebook as an “information weapon.” But Facebook doesn’t want in the least to play the rule a social-media-literate citizenry should be playing for itself. Writes Chakrabart:

“In the public debate over false news, many believe Facebook should use its own judgment to filter out misinformation. We’ve chosen not to do that because we don’t want to be the arbiters of truth, nor do we imagine this is a role the world would want for us.”

Of course some critics may disagree. As I’ve said above, the data are equivocal, but that hasn’t made its interpreters equivocal. Take for example a couple of recent articles?one academic and another aimed at popular audience?that cast doubt on whether the radical democratization of internet access is a good thing?or at least, whether it’s as good a thing as we hoped for a couple of decades ago. One is UC Irvine professor Richard Hasen’s law-review article published last year (set for formal publication in the First Amendment Law Review this year), which he helpfully distilled to an LA Times op-ed here. The other is Wired’s February 2018 cover story: “It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech.” (The Wired article is also authored by an academic, UNC Chapel Hill sociology professor Zeynep Tufekci.)

Both Hasen’s and Tufekci’s articles underscore that internet access has inverted an assumption that long informed free-speech law?that the ability to reach mass audiences is necessarily going to be expensive and scarce. In the internet era, what we have instead is what UCLA professor Eugene Volokh memorably labelled, in a Yale Law Journal law-review article more than 20 years ago, as “cheap speech.” Volokh correctly anticipated back then that internet-driven changes in the media landscape would lead some social critics to conclude that the First Amendment’s broad protections for speech would need to be revised:

“As the new media arrive, they may likewise cause some popular sentiment for changes in the doctrine. Today, for instance, the First Amendment rules that give broad protection to extremist speakers-Klansmen, Communists, and the like-are relatively low-cost, because these groups are politically rather insignificant. Even without government regulation, they are in large measure silenced by lack of funds and by the disapproval of the media establishment. What will happen when the KKK becomes able to conveniently send its views to hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the country, or create its own TV show that can be ordered from any infobahn-connected household?”

There, in a nutshell, is a prediction of the world we’re living in now (except that we, fortunately, failed to adopt the term “infobahn”). Hasen believes “non-governmental actors”?that is, Facebook and Twitter and Google and the like ? may be “best suited to counter the problems created by cheap speech.” I think that’s a bad idea, not least because corporate decision-making may be less accountable than public law and regulation and, as Manjoo puts it, they are “misaligned incentives.” Tufekci, I think, has the better approach. “[I]n fairness to Facebook and Google and Twitter,” she writes in Wired, “while there’s a lot they could do better, the public outcry demanding that they fix all these problems is mistaken.” Because there are “few solutions to the problems of digital discourse that don’t involve huge trade-offs,” Tufekci insists that deciding what those solutions may be is necessarily a “deeply political decision”?involving difficult discussions what we ask the government to do… or not to do.

She’s got that right. She’s also right that we haven’t had those discussions yet. And as we begin them, we need to remember radically democratic empowerment (all that cheap speech) may be part of the problem, but it’s also got to be part of the solution.

Update: Part 3 is now available.

Mike Godwin is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at R Street Institute.

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Comments on “Everything That's Wrong With Social Media And Big Internet Companies: Part 2”

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Anonymous Coward says:

""Addiction" of course is an attractive metaphor"

No. Addiction is an AMA defined medical condition, consisting of neurological conditioning that results in dysfunctional behaviors.

By the AMA’s definition TV is more addictive than heroin, and that has been the case for 50 years. And the fact is that marketers are trained in psychology, and do use techniques that are known to cause dysfunctional behaviors, with foreknowledge. And the way you know that, is by observing the amount of time they invest in debunking psychology and psychiatry in pop media.

They are hedging to keep their addicts where they want them, just like any good dope dealer does.

Anonymous Coward says:

"I'd hubristically imagined" -- huùbris n. wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or from passion

You emphasize that by giving Wikipedia source for no rational reason, but in any case I save persons the click.

Anyhoo, quite an admission. Evidently you think that claiming you were hubristic then is some recommendation for future. But it’s not.

>>> “there’s something out of control with social media and internet companies that needs to be brought back into control.” — Sheesh. I been railing ’bout that here for years. You are in the wrong venue for even worry, let alone thought.

The rest: skimmed. There’s details of how you play with your Iphone that should be enough to zero out any last shreds of credibility, but of course won’t among your own class of nebbishes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "I'd hubristically imagined" -- huùbris n. wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or from passion

Oh, and as always with weenies, it’s just a piece on preparing to talk about actual problems, NEVER actually getting to problems or causes or solutions. — ENDLESS MEETINGS are the key characteristic of weenies. They’re too stupid and timid to take any position (as I remarked in prior piece: the first comment is by an AC who can’t even decide which way to lean).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

That said, thanks for pointing out my poor communication, I’ll do better next.

I can’t defend Godwin though, except to say if he truly believes there’s enough truth in these arguments to open up more free market competition (not that it really sounds like it), than I welcome it. By, for instance, requiring these companies to interconnect with protocols like ActivityPub and Matrix. And some privacy legislation like the GDPR at first brush sounds good.

I don’t believe in much more regulation than that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "I'd hubristically imagined" -- huùbris n. wanton insolence or arrogance resulting from excessive pride or from passion

The position I take is that you’re a poorly deluded nincompoop who keeps revisiting a site that gives you a twist in your thong by the mere fact that it exists, and Shiva Ayyadurai failed to take it down.

Have yourself a DMCA vote.

Anonymous Coward says:

Volokh correctly anticipated back then that internet-driven changes in the media landscape would lead some social critics to conclude that the First Amendment’s broad protections for speech would need to be revised:

Those critics wouldn’t be the ones who have a publication channel via traditional media, and are less than happy that their power is being reduced by the real freedom of speech that the Internet allows?

Anonymous Coward says:

If your going to talk about mental health

it might behoove you to reference folks who are actually in the mental health business.

I’m not. But I do know a thing or two about the techniques that are used to facilitate emotional battery. And there are hundreds if not thousands of videos available online that codify the basic scope of those techniques, both within the context of interpersonal communication (gaslighting and other forms of abuse), and industrial applications such as interrogation, and intelligence.

Quoting a bunch of journalists and techs isn’t going to help you here. It is isn’t about the transmission method, or the formatting. It is about the techniques. If you understanding gaslighting fundamentally, then the abundance of it in modern marketing (content embedded marketing as much as any) is obvious.

Ad tracking provides the accuracy required to leverage peoples emotional insecurities to harm them. The next step is to offer solace in the form of ego-bait. Typically this is simple two step process. First the person are exposed to content that degrade or emasculate them followed immediately by content that demostrates that people who want X are awesome, and aren’t you awesome because you want X.

This activity, combined with the use of subliminal and subconscious oriented neuromarketing techniques causes dischord between the conscious and subconscious mind. That dischord manifests as feelings of disorientation and hopelessness.

The accuracy provided by ad tracking increases the severity of the harm. Which is why the breadth of the problem is a new thing. But what causes it has been around forever.

Head shrinks see this every single day. Ad tracking has brought the dysfunction that was normally reserved for interpersonal relationships, into industrial application, and it is being industrialized en-mass without remorse.

It isn’t about addiction. It is about battery. Anybody in the mental health industry will tell you that addiction is typically a symptom of another problem. And as long as your talking about one without talking about the other, you are screening the perpetrators.

Like global warming, it is an inconvenient truth. But it is no less a crime for being so. That our fathers and mothers were less aware of the crimes perpetrated against them, does not preserve the perpetrators from their debts.

And the truth is everybody in tech who hasn’t stood out against this is responsible. The technology evolved at the same rate as our cognitive dissonance. We failed to act in the preservation of our own Constitutional rights. That doesn’t mean we can’t correct that. But it does mean that we will have to suffer to do it.

The question remaining, is: “What happens when the millions of Americans who have suffered battery become aware of who perpetrated it; all at the same time?”

I can think of few responses that are more severe than what is justified.

cattress (profile) says:

Where is personal responsibility?

Why is no one responsible for their own behavior? Whether a person engages in an activity compulsively, or simply enjoys the fad du jour, we are constantly jumping from moral panic to moral panic. From riding bicycles to reading novels, to masterbation, to drinking, gambling, listening to the radio, watching TV, talking on the phone, playing D&D, reading comics, watching porn, playing video games, chatting in chatrooms, and engaging on social media. Most of us can moderate how often we touch ourselves and watch porn, even if we enjoy it to the point of chaffing. Most of us can moderate how often we drink to drunkenness or only a beer with dinner without any struggle. Is checking our phones for likes and social interactions really that much more addictive than the quest or sexual gratification, the escape of intoxication, or even the thrill of winning, be it bragging rights or cash? You need “grayscale” to help you control yourself? Puh-leese! Phone “addiction” is just the most recent bullshit moral panic from people who clearly don’t have any real problems to worry about.
And stop trying to control the closest form of freedom kids have and demonize phones and maybe they will be more interested in looking up from their devices to have an actual conversation with eye contact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Where is personal responsibility?

In the states training of the conscious mind is mandated by the state by means of primary education. However training of the subconscious mind has traditionally been the domain of religion.

Doctrine is divorced from enlightenment. That isn’t to say that religion can’t be enlightening. It is just to say that religious practice tends to effect the subconscious mind, while religious doctrine primarily effects the conscious mind. The two may work together to create emotionally healthy persons, or may not depending on how they are managed.

In the U.S. TV has been the religion of the masses for decades now. While traditional religion has been perverted from time to time, TV is nothing but perversion. It’s appeal to the subconscious mind has only one purpose, which is to sell goods.

When you plop a kid down in front of the tube instead of raise them, what you are doing is exposing them to a stimulus that is controlled by somebody who you probably wouldn’t trust to watch them. But this kind of irrisponsible behavior is not uncommon among addicts. That is why they take kids away from junkies.

Of course we can’t all be addicts right? I mean EVERYBODY has a TV. Well, think about how many people smoked cigerrettes 50 years ago. And back then how many knew what the long term costs were?

Yes we are all addicts. Yes the products we are addicted to are harmful to us. Yes, as a culture we are mostly ignorant to the harm we are doing to ourselves. Yes it is our responsibility to fix it.

cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Where is personal responsibility?

The concept of the “state” mandating it’s role in educating the conscious mind of my children is terrifying to me- and it should be to everyone else as well. Also, compulsory schooling in the US became law out of fear of Catholicism and ignorant beliefs that immigrants and poor people could not educate or provide moral guidance for their own children. Like religion, the state is not immune from the perversions coming from the will of those in power. And just like religion, the purpose of state education is ultimately the indoctrination of young people to be obedient to the will of the state.

All forms of media have had some ties and dependence on advertising, but that doesn’t mean the media is poisoned. It’s simply a financing mechanism. Radio, television, and the internet connect people to art and information that is made more affordable and accessible through advertisements. Unfettered access to art and information is exactly the kind of things authoritarians suppress to prevent dissent. Your claims that the devices which provide platforms for speech, connections with people we never would have met in person, education, opportunities to take in, interact, and create art and music, are causing us psychological damage, because we are potentially influenced by advertisers- whose motives are nakedly profit driven. And it’s this unknown “we”, who are some how self-appointed to save the children?

No thanks and mind your own business! I actually trust the artist and writers on television to entertain my child, even if it means I have to say no to some material requests, over some agent of the state. I am 36 and expecting my first child; her father and I have already decided on un-schooling our future children. Un-schooling includes media and technology alongside free play indoors and out, hands on activities, real world exposure and interactions with with kids of all ages and even adults. We don’t need you or anyone else to interfere with how we or any other parents raise our families.

Your claims that letting kids watch tv- instead of the helicopter parenting and micro-managing every waking moment into organized activities (which is proven to cause actual harm)- is irresponsible parenting akin to the sort of things junkies do is condescending and inaccurate. Working parents aren’t being lazy or irresponsible for allowing or expecting their kids to entertain themselves, including spending time in front of a screen. Society has chased kids indoors, I’m part of the last generation of kids that could play outside unsupervised (something tells me you support constant supervision out of baseless stranger-danger paranoia).

No, I’m not an addict and addiction is a serious matter that should not be diminished by the current moral panic. Like most people, I feel my life is enhanced by technology, not harmed. It’s not your responsibility to “save” me from myself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Where is personal responsibility?

“The concept of the “state” mandating it’s role in educating the conscious mind of my children is terrifying to me- and it should be to everyone else as well”

” I actually trust the artist and writers on television to entertain my child”

“Society has chased kids indoors”

IOW, mandatory primary education is bad. TV is good. It is really things like sports and music lessons that have caused the problem.

When you regard something that is causing dysfunctional behavior, as the solution to that dysfunctional behavior, that is pretty much the definition of addiction.

I am not trying to be mean here. I get that you don’t understand what I previously posted. I understand why that is so, as well. The behaviors of addicts are perplexing because of their self conflicted nature:

Why are people addicts? Because they do things that are harmful to themselves. Why do addicts do things that are harmful to themselves? Because they are addicts.

This loop is not intended as jest. The dysfunctionality of this loop IS addiction. The behavioral loop is the pathology. While dependency is part of the loop, “dependency” can form around almost anything. It doesn’t have to be a chemical.

“something tells me you support constant supervision out of baseless stranger-danger paranoia”

I believe you when you say that. That is not what I’m suggesting at all. The question you might want to ask yourself, is: “what or who is telling you that?”

Your facing some very challenging questions at this time in your life. You are compelled by biology to seek social support. You reach out, and everybody around you is an addict. So you adopt the behavior of addicts because it provides what appears to be support for your subconscious health. You are conflicted because your subconsciousness at some level knows that this is wrong. (otherwise it is unlikely you would have posted) So you lash out.

I’m not offended. I regard it as the first step in your recovery.


cattress (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Where is personal responsibility?

Education is not bad, as I said my family is pursuing an un-schooling model of education. Compulsory schooling, mandated by the state- and not rich education sought by families that includes a variety of formal schooling and activities along with informal and flexible learning opportunities that foster the love of learning- is causing real harm. Kids being forced to go to school and follow highly unnatural routines, like being forced to sit still for hours on end, not permitted to eat or use the restroom when their body tells them to, on schedules that conflict with their sleep needs; all of that in addition to limitations on what they are permitted to read or study, how much time they are allowed or required to spend on a subject is regimented, regardless of interest. The increase of mental health crisis in kids and teens coordinates with the beginning of the school year and drops during summer break. Education for education’s sake ended when school became compulsory and education became indoctrination of the state.

I’m a libertarian and I believe freedom is the key to the pursuit of happiness. We must be free to make mistakes and sometimes that means harming ourselves. I had a shopping addiction, racked up tens of thousands of dollars in debt. It hurt me and a long term relationship and my mother, who ended up supporting me when I lost my job during the recession. But I was forced to confront the underlying problems that drove me to shop for happiness, but only ever brought anxiety and guilt. I also had to learn how to write and follow a budget- a skill I consider priceless. I gained self-control and coping mechanisms so that I could do routine shopping and make necessary purchases. If someone had the authority to take over my finances and put me on an allowance, I would have turned to other more destructive behaviors in an attempt to gain control over my life and never would have learned anything or improved myself. I don’t feel any of the negative effects or bad feelings from screen time. If I, or anyone else, does feel negatively affected by screen time, it is our personal responsibility to change our lifestyle.

Yes humans are social beings and we seek social support; but, when people feel bad, or sad or guilty, they often withdraw and become reclusive. I call it “hermitting”, it’s what I do when my depression gets out of control, even though social support is what I need. Something that helped me cope and hedged suicidal feelings the last time was actually interacting with others in a depression forum online. It made me feel useful, and gave me a sense of purpose to provide a friendly ear and supportive attitude, and even a little advice or perspective. I know there are plenty of toxic interactions online, but that doesn’t deter me from seeking the positive ones. I have the right to free association and again I counter that screen time is not harmful.

I lash out because I do not like other’s thinking they have the right or the responsibility to protect me from myself. I lash out because I do not tolerate authoritarians. I think capitalism is awesome- Not cronyism that is incorrectly called capitalism in the US- and I’m not worried about profit driven advertisers. Their motives are clear. Most expecting parents, especially first timers, probably are struggling with tough questions. I’m actually the most sure and confident about my life and future that I have ever been. I’m not even scared about labor. I’m 36, secure in who I am and not only my relationship with, but the quality of the father my baby. I know myself pretty well, I didn’t post for subconscious reasons. What makes me think you ascribe to helicopter parenting and stranger-danger nonsense is over-protective nature of the idea that not only are we all addicted to our devices, but we are blind to the addiction and the harm you claim it is causing. It’s people who think they know better than the parents that report kids walking to the park or playing in the yard alone to the cops. People who think it’s the state’s responsibility to educate kids because the parents aren’t capable.

I’m glad your not offended, as that wasn’t my intention. But I haven’t considered changing my mind or actions. I haven’t even questioned my position. Actually, authoritarians tend to bring out my stubborn side, drive me to dig in even more. I get it honest from my grandmother and mom. We got along best when we weren’t trying to tell each other what to do.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Where is personal responsibility?

You’re ascribing some positions to me that I never made. I get it. You’re pissed, and by the sound of it you have a right to be.

But I offer the following closing thoughts:

In the 50’s everybody smoked cigarettes. I don’t know what the market penetration was, but my guess is that it was over 60% of adults nationally. By the 70’s the link between cancer and cigarettes had been statistically proven.

Since then it took 40 years and damned near a national revolt from the whole healthcare industry before that statistical truth overcame the marketing hype. That revolt was subsidized by the placement of warning labels on packs of smokes the banning of cigarette ads on television, and thousands of hours of anti-smoking advertising subsidies. These are all things that conflict with free market fundamentalism.

Are you glad that your kids are less likely to think that smoking is cool? Do you think that would be the case if all of those efforts had not been made?

TV has a market penetration of over 95% of adults. Polls have shown that most people believe that they watch too much TV and that their lives would be better if they watched less. Yet they still watch. (again, pretty much the definition of addiction)

Where I’m going with this, is that if we use the model of the former as a basis for evaluating the latter, what parallels can we draw? IOW, what is the equivalent of the camel cartoon, when it comes to the television industry?

It doesn’t take much critical evaluation before you realize that the amount of contempt that the TV industry has for your health is no less than the contempt the cigarette industry had when it was still telling everyone in the 80’s that cigarettes were good for you.

Of course nobody in this country is a media addict. We know that because the crutch that we’ve all leaned on since we were all 5 years old, tells us so.

Incidentally I’m also a civil libertarian. The first liberty we possess is the sanctity of our own mind. We derive an understanding of our human rights from reason. The right to reason therefore is the first human right chronologically preceding all others. How can I abide mass casualty assault on that particular bastion? Even if the victems are unaware that they are victems?

That isn’t to say that I wish to control others minds. It is to say that I wish to preserve that which allows others to develop mastery of their own minds. We are fools if we do not recognize that this particular garden requires tending. If we are to defend each others rights, we must also defend each others right to reason. And that particular right almost all of us have conceded. Though we presume to recover it through its repeated prostitution.

Again, it is the behavior rather than the medium that is the pathology.

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