The documentary, Swipe Left For Addiction, will explore what tech is doing to the minds and emotions of our children and how our addiction to screens is fuelling today’s tech revolution. If we don’t fight our addiction to tech could we, very soon, find ourselves living in a highly dysfunctional society?
This short video gives a taster of the themes that will be covered in the documentary.
Have we unwittingly created a monster? In the late 90’s when Generation X were signing up for their first email accounts and dialling up on modems to look at web pages that took minutes to load, they were excited about this new invention, the internet, it was to be a democratising force that would level the playing field, enable sharing and improve communications.
Fast forward just twenty years and we are all tethered to our smartphones and wearable devices, constantly checking them – checking the time, checking the way, checking our likes, checking our messages and notifications, checking we’re not missing out on something, taking snaps, googling every time we have a question we need an instant answer for.
We see it as a positive that we can do everything on this one small object we can carry in our pocket. We can’t imagine a world without it, and we wouldn’t give it up if you paid us handsomely to do so. But at what cost?
WMD OR A LIFE SAVER?
Most of us are hooked on our devices to a greater or lesser degree. What impact is this having on our teens, a generation who’ve never known a world without mobile connected devices? What will happen as they become adults? Are Wireless Mobile Devices, “WMD’s”, actually weapons of mass destruction for today’s children or do the positives outweigh the negatives?
Are the algorithms behind our apps, that we are fuelling with our clicks, swipes and likes, a good or a bad thing? Algorithms have been shown to make better decisions than humans because they’re not encumbered by human biases: soon smart machines will be better able to diagnose illnesses than your doctor. But to what extent do we want algorithms making decisions for us? And, as we start to rely more and more on machines will we become dumber? As algorithms become interwoven into so many aspects of our lives, are we conceding control to a completely unaccountable force?
The companies designing the applications that run on our devices are powered by a business model of clicks, data and advertising which means they have to design their products to keep us hooked so that we come back time and time again to keep feeding the business model. Today’s designers know how to hijack neurological processes in the brain. The new breed of communications agencies look more like science labs than art studios as they incorporate neuro-marketing, psychology and behavioural economics into their offering. The more addicted we are to their applications the better it is for business.
This tech revolution – the fourth industrial revolution – is happening so fast we haven’t had time to react or legislate and as artificial intelligence and smart machines come of age are we at risk of creating an even bigger monster?
A MENTAL HEALTH STORM IN A TEA CUP?
We are beginning to hear stories from “regretters”. These are product and games designers who played a role, often unintentionally, in making our applications addictive who now regret their inventions. Justin Rosenstein who developed the “like” button on Facebook being among them.
We are starting to see terrifying statistics showing that levels of anxiety, depression and suicide are skyrocketing in today’s teenagers.
Is all the press about the effects of too much screen time on our youth a mental health storm in a tea cup or are we on a dangerous trajectory towards a society mired in anxiety and depression?
WHAT’S HAPPENING TO OUR IMAGINATION?
Boredom no longer seems to exist these days. Every time we are bored we can flip out our phones and seek stimulation through endless streams of content. But it is precisely in the state of boredom that we learn to use our imagination. What will the impact be if vast swathes of society lose their ability to imagine? The World Economic Forum produced a report of the top 10 skills they believe we will need by 2020 and complex problem solving, critical thinking and creativity are listed as the top 3. Complex problem solving and creativity are underpinned by imagination.
Or, are we in fact arming our children with an incredible resource of information, games and creative tools that are enabling them to innovate and problem solve?
A COMMUNICATION REVOLUTION OR A LOSS OF HUMANITY?
As the way we communicate changes and we move towards more aural and visual forms experienced through our screens, what impact will that have on our human relationships?
As screen life takes over, what is it doing to our children’s ability to empathise? We are seeing evidence that, as they live their lives more and more through screens, they are not learning some of life’s most important lessons and coping mechanisms. They are not learning those essential skills you gain through in-person interactions and real life experiences, and as a result they are less well prepared for adult life.
Outside of screen life you have to work harder at making friends but in doing so you create deeper bonds. In screen world you can make and break friendships a lot more easily.
Is the way our children communicate these days just poorly understood by adults and a manifestation of the generation gap, or is there more at stake?
WHO IS YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA SELF?
Screen life is often more alluring than real life, no wonder our teens choose to hide in their bedrooms living their lives through their screens, whether locked into a game or their bottomless social media feeds.
There are good evolutionary reasons why humans are drawn to being social and mobile internet access and social media platforms have enabled us to be hyper-social.
We constantly engage in high speed comparisons with social media, but is what we are seeing on our friend’s feeds a true reflection of their reality?
Our feeds are carefully curated showreels biased towards positivity and our teens are comparing themselves to that. What does this do to self-esteem and psychological safety?
Will our children just learn to be more resilient and find their own coping mechanisms or are we hurtling at speed towards a mental health crisis?
SLEEP DEPRIVED & DISTRACTED
Our children’s ability to focus and concentrate on a single task is being diminished and their sleep patterns are being disrupted. Are we creating a society of distracted, exhausted and isolated people?
How is this impacting their ability for deep thinking?
As fake news proliferates, echo chambers grow and with tribal politics on the rise, it is becoming ever more important to be able to think critically, but because of the way our brains are designed constant distractions don’t allow us to focus our attention on any one thought or idea. We learn to think quickly and the rational part of our brains can’t keep up.
WHAT SHOULD THE ROLE OF TECH BE?
We can’t know for sure what the future will be like, but we do know the world is changing fast. It is critical that we ask questions now about the role we want tech to play in our lives and make conscious decisions about how we engage with it. Only then can we act as role models for our children, instil in them positive behaviours and teach them the right skills so they can prosper in this brave new world.