This New Group Wants to Fix Tech’s ‘Digital Attention Crisis’

Is the internet hypnotizing children? China Photos/Getty Images

There’s been increasing worry about the health effects of social media on children in recent months. George Soros has claimed sites like Facebook are an “addiction,” while one of the site’s earliest staffers said he regrets helping to create it.

A new group called the Center for Humane Technology wants to reverse this trend.

The consortium’s campaign to tackle “the digital attention crisis” among young people was unveiled last night.

“Our world-class team of deeply concerned former tech insiders and CEOs intimately understands the culture, business incentives, design techniques and organizational structures driving how technology hijacks our minds,” the group’s manifesto reads.

The initial group of experts includes former Google ethicist Tristan Harris; former Facebook operations manager Sandy Parakilas; former Apple and Google communications executive Lynn Fox; former Facebook executive Dave Morin; Facebook “like” button creator Justin Rosenstein; early Facebook investor Roger McNamee; and technologist Renee DiResta.

The tech industry stalwarts have teamed up with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media on an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort called The Truth About Tech. The ad campaign in 55,000 American public schools will aim to educate students, parents and teachers about the dangers of technology and social media induced depression.

“The Truth About Tech campaign isn’t anti-tech,” Common Sense founder and CEO Jim Steyer told Observer in an email. “It’s for tech that’s for kids. But there’s plenty of evidence that tech is changing the nature of our interpersonal relationships, and it’s time for a national conversation about that—among families, schools, and the industry.”

This effort will be funded by capital raised by the new center, along with $7 million from Common Sense and $50 million in donated media and airtime from Comcast and DirecTV.

According to the new center’s website, its work will center on “humane design.” This principle aims to understand “vulnerable human instincts so we can design compassionately to protect them from being abused.”

In layman’s terms, that means the Center for Humane Technology wants tech companies to redesign their devices and user interfaces to protect young minds from distraction.

Many parents and mental health experts have called on tech companies to reduce marketing to children. YouTube Kids and Facebook’s Messenger Kids have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks.

Common Sense found that the average teenager uses online media nine hours per day, while tweens are exposed up to six hours a day.

The new center is currently gathering data on the harmful impacts of technology, using the same techniques employed in anti-smoking ads. Some of these issues include greater risk of attention and cognition disorders and an increase in depression, loneliness, stress, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.

The  group plans to lobby in support of state and local laws that curtail the power of big tech. One early project is a bill being introduced by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey that would commission research on the impact of technology on children’s health.

This New Group Wants to Fix Tech’s ‘Digital Attention Crisis’