Thoughtful, detailed coverage of the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, plus the TidBITS Content Network for Apple consultants.

Tech Pioneers Fear a Smartphone Dystopia

The Guardian has published a compelling article about how some technologists who helped usher in the age of smartphones and social media are concerned that technology addiction is making us distracted, dumber, and easier to manipulate. Justin Rosenstein created Facebook’s Like button and helped build Google’s Gchat, but he now takes extreme measures to limit his online activity, even having an assistant manage his phone. “If we only care about profit maximisation, we will go rapidly into dystopia,” Rosenstein said. The article profiles other tech pioneers who share similar sentiments, including Loren Brichter, the Apple alum who came up with “pull to refresh” for Tweetie in 2009. But if wealthy tech workers struggle to pull away from the lure of technology, even with their awareness of the corporate motivations behind addictive technologies, what hope does the average user have?favicon follow link


Comments about Tech Pioneers Fear a Smartphone Dystopia
(Comments are closed.)

Nick F  2017-10-11 16:20
While I don't disagree, one of the pulled tidbits is pretty funny. I'll just have my assistant handle my phone. I can't believe I never thought of that!
An excellent article. I'm surprised how many people seem to not realize or not care that social media is leading to mass addiction. If people were smoking like they engage in SM this would be considered a massive public health crisis, there'd be endless debate, legislation, etc.

There's no question in my mind that most SM participants aren't displaying healthy behavior. Rarely focused, easily distracted, lack of attention span, restlessness, etc. all seem to befall people who are chasing one notification/like after the other, constantly distracted by either their watch, their phone, or both. It resembles the kind of behavior children usually display at a certain age and are then trained not to act on.

At work I have serious stuff to do. Nothing is so important it justifes disturbing my workflow or stream of thought. I'm not on SM. I try to shut off all notifications. No push - when I want some information I'll go and get it. It's me who owns the device, not the other way around.
Anonymous  An apple icon for a TidBITS Angel 2017-10-12 16:07
Somewhat similar things were said about radio then television then email and they were right to an extent. So, will we identify and work around the negatives and shoulder on? Or is it too much this time; the costs too high given the benefits?
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-10-13 09:42
Although popular hand-wringing about the effects of any new technology is common, the sophistication of social science research has increased tremendously over the years. We simply may know better that today’s technologies are indeed having adverse effects, rather than just fearing change. So I wonder if the comparison to concern over technologyies of yesteryear is no longer really comparable.
While I agree with your argument, I don't think a like button should be considered "new technology". If anything it's a new kind of social engineering. But I don't think it can be compared to for example the arrival of radio, TV, or the internet itself. In that sense I also do not believe the criticism of the two can or should be compared.

Let me illustrate with just a simple question: which productivity gains come from the like button? You'd have no trouble listing counless productivity gains from radio, TV, or the internet. But Facebook's button? Good luck. ;)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2017-10-13 10:28
I think we’re really talking about smartphones and social media overall, not something as granular as the Like button.
The like button is the whole premise of the quoted article.
Eolake Stobblehouse   2017-10-17 08:46
Thanks for the articles, it’s something I’ve worried and posted about myself.
Once I was able to help out the highly intelligent 15-year-old daughter of a friend with a new cable for her iPhone. Her old cable had frayed. She found that out when it gave her a shock when she reached for it upon waking up. She had not opened her eyes yet... That’s astonishing; to reach for your phone before you even open your eyes in the morning!