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article imageSilicon Valley pioneers form group to combat tech addiction

By James Walker     Feb 6, 2018 in Technology
A group of Silicon Valley pioneers who helped to create services including Facebook and Google have launched a campaign to resist the "hijacking" of humanity by technology. The early employees said tech has created a "digital attention crisis."
The truth about tech
Concerns over the health impacts of modern technology are growing as more people begin to consider the possible implications on child development and society at large. Two former employees of Google and Facebook have now formed a team of "world-class" tech insiders and CEOs. They will raise awareness of the issues technology is creating.
Called the Center for Humane Technology, the group will develop a comprehensive anti-tech addiction lobbying campaign. CNBC reports it has already raised over $50 million in donated funding from major partners that include Comcast and DirecTV. The campaign will be titled "The Truth About Tech" and will predominantly target children, parents and teachers. It will educate on the potential risks of social media and device overuse.
On its website, the Center explains how modern apps and services are engineered to grab attention and intentionally addict us. It describes Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube as examples of platforms "designed to addict us" by employing persuasive techniques and reward loops to encourage continual app usage.
"Phones, apps, and the web are so indispensable to our daily lives – a testament to the benefits they give us – that we've become a captive audience," said the Center for Humane Technology. "With two billion people plugged into these devices, technology companies have inadvertently enabled a direct channel to manipulate entire societies with unprecedented precision."
Humane design
The risks presented by modern devices are becoming an increasingly topical issue. Over the past year, a growing cohort of tech visionaries, pioneers and leaders have spoken out against the addictive and manipulative properties of social media
In response, companies such as Facebook have commenced highly-public attempts to "fix" their platform by partially de-emphasising the role of algorithms. The Center considers that self-regulation won't be sufficient to keep social media companies adhering to "human" design principles. They'd lose revenue if they moved away from their current business models and placed restrictions on advertisers.
A selection of smartphones
A selection of smartphones
Philippe Huguen, AFP/File
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The Center for Humane Technology intends to use its collective "inside knowledge" of how tech companies operate to push the industry towards "humane design." This encourages the recognition of human psychological vulnerabilities including addiction, micro-targeted persuasion and the expectation of constant connectivity.
The group called on tech companies to consider the implications of deliberately "hooking" people to their screens. It encouraged Apple, Samsung, Microsoft and others to redesign their interfaces to protect real relationships and encourage the minimisation of screen time.
In the absence of these safeguards, the group will now begin an education campaign to increase awareness of the side-effects of using technology. It will also lobby politicians to investigate the impact of devices and social media on the health of children. The Center's launch follows a call from two prominent Apple investors for the company to assess how its devices impact children. Child health advocates have also asked Facebook to withdraw its controversial Messenger service aimed at pre-teen kids.
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