'Digital Crack: The Hacking of Our Brains'
Smartphone addiction. The acceleration is happening very fast.
Online users are becoming younger, with many surveys confirming what we see everyday with our own eyes. Today, more than 80 percent of US children have a digital footprint established before age two - long before they even utter their first word or take their first step.
By age four, three-quarters of American children have their own device. Yet, especially at that tender age, their brains are not wired to keep up with these powerful gadgets.
One in three Internet users worldwide is a child, and young people are now the most connected of all age groups. In the US, 93 percent of 13-17 year olds go online daily, with many never powering down. About 75% have smartphones.
Once they get hooked, they find it almost impossible to stop: the average American child stays online around five hours-per-day - not including chatting and texting - while up to 10 hours-a-day for some teens is not unheard of. The healthy maximum is considered to be 1-2 hours-per-day.
Devices that have access to gaming apps can have the same addictive powers as crack cocaine, forcing users to drop out of school, lose their jobs and even be forced by their families into addiction treatment facilities.
Adults are almost as addicted: the average American checks their phones about 150 times-a-day. Obsessive screen use has been linked to relationship problems, depression, attention deficit disorder and traffic fatalities.
In the Spring of 2018 I decided to take the plunge and embark on a new work entitled 'Digital Crack.' As the name suggests it will focus on smartphone and social media addiction.
My interest in this phenomenon has its roots in my first TEDx talk in 2015 where I addressed the issue of children as young as two being given iPads and the impact these devices where having on their cognitive and emotional development. And in January 2018, a CNN Opinion piece I had written on smartphone addiction went viral very quickly and elicited hundreds of comments from around the world - including from concerned parents who were worried about the tremendous amount of screen time their children were spending.
For the time being I am calling this undertaking a 'work' as it will probably evolve into many forms: a book, opinion columns, a blog and a video documentary. I am partnering with some very bright and creative minds to make this project a reality.
The project will zero in on a number if issues, including:
- Smartphones vs The Teacher: devices are so ubiquitous in schools that many teachers say they can no longer cope with the interruptions and distractions presented by these devices. The situation has led to France instituting an outright ban on smartphones in schools starting September, 2018. College professors we've met say that, no matter how dire the warnings they put out on multitasking, students continue to monitor multiple screens and apps while in class. We look at how schools and school boards are dealing with the onslaught of technology. You will learn how compulsive multitasking is generating anxiety, stress and sleeplessness among young users of technology.
- The Culture of Selfies: last year we took over 380-billion photos. Photo apps such as Snapchat are designed to be highly addictive, coaxing its users to log-in several times-a-day. Little wonder that one of the most downloaded apps ever has 166-million active daily users. What drives the urge in people to post their most intimate moments online? And is there a social good to the visual web? And should parents start posting photos of their newborns on socials media the moment they leave the womb?
- The 'Digital Divide' - I will explore how young people in disadvantaged communities in North America are coping with lack of access to technology. And with as many as 346-million young people not connected to the Internet, we will travel to communities in remote parts of the world where technology is anything but ubiquitous. Readers of Digital Crack will be treated to an intimate look at how school children in one west African nation spend their time without smartphones.
- The impact obsessive screen time is having on relationships and romance: By now it is well-known that over-use of technology has caused relationship problems the world over. Seeing couples on Date Night starring at their screens is now, sadly, not uncommon. Thanks to platforms such as Facebook it is now almost impossible to make a clean break when a relationship ends. But with Facebook announcing in early May 2018 that it is introducing a new dating service is there a positive side to online dating and hookups? We will feature several real-life stories of how technology has caused painful relationship challenges and breakups. It will also zoom in on couples who owe their union to….online dating. We will canvass relationship experts for best practices and advice on balancing smartphones with relationships.
To be sure, the main goal of this project is to provide a host of stakeholders - parents, teachers, regulators, children and adolescents - with practical advice to help them deal with smartphone and social media addiction. It is intended to raise the alarm on what I consider as one of the biggest looming public health crises of our time. I will also be taking some of the 'Big Tech' company to task for the addictive features they embed into their platforms and apps.
I hope you will join me on this exciting journey!