Taking the cue from Steve Jobs, Bill Gates on digital addiction

Aneth Ng-Lim

Posted at Nov 05 2018 09:01 AM

Attendees try out the new iPad Pro during an Apple launch event in the Brooklyn borough of New York, US, October 30, 2018. Shannon Stapleton, Reuters

MANILA -- There is a growing Silicon Valley buzz and it does not have anything to do with a new gadget, App, or any software or hardware.

It seems more and more leaders sitting in the recognized technology capital of the world are starting to realize that analog is the way to go, at least when it comes to raising their kids.

It’s ironic that the work they are most proud of, and continues to push to reach all four corners of the globe, are banned within the four walls of their respective homes.

This buzz is not really new, as seniors from Google, Intel and Microsoft, have long ago admitted that they send their children to schools that do not allow computers in classrooms.

A year before he passed away, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs told The New York Times in 2011 that he did not allow his kids to use the newly-released iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

Tim Cook, who took over the reins at Apple after Jobs dies, told The Guardian: “I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on. There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.”

Four years earlier, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates capped his kids’ screen time when his daughter started developing an unhealthy attachment to a video game in 2007.

Speaking to the Mirror in 2017, Gates shared: "We don't have cell phones at the table when we are having a meal, we didn't give our kids cell phones until they were 14 and they complained other kids got them earlier."

He added: "We often set a time after which there is no screen time and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour."

It would seem these men knew the dangers of exposing their children to technology at a young age as far back as 10 years ago, and yet how many of us today are taking their cue?

FROM WARINESS TO CONSENSUS

Featuring interviews with Silicon Valley technologists and parents, a New York Times report on October 26, 2018 claimed the wariness of years ago has turned into a regionwide consensus. They are now saying that the benefits of using digital as a learning tool are overblown, and worse, the risks for addiction as well as stunting development too high.

Brad Huddleston, author of two best-selling books on the subject, Digital Cocaine: A Journey Toward iBalance and The Dark Side of Technology: Restoring Balance in the Digital Age, clued in to the digital addiction problem as early as 12 years ago when he saw how some youth were using MySpace, a social networking site many call the predecessor to Facebook. He was recently in Manila to warn parents and educators of the dangers of screen time, not just too much but any amount of screen time.

While it was his first visit to the country, Huddleston’s online check showed that the Philippines ranks top of the world in social media use and that’s a red flag we all need to watch, young and adults alike.

“I can tell through social media that your country is right in line with other countries who use technology to a great extent,” he said. “I am aware of your growing economy and of course, technology plays a huge part in any corporate setting. Therefore, the Philippines has to tackle the same unintended consequences produced by the hyper-use of technology as all the other countries, richer and poorer.”

Huddleston was one of the keynote speakers at the first Global Homeschool Conference at the SMX Convention Center Taguig which promised to showcase the latest digital trends in the world of education. Yet while addressing over 1500 attendees, Huddleston’s first advice to parents: “Do not allow children under the age of 12 to use technology. This includes using technology for “educational” purposes. I realize that by saying this, I risk being uninvited to many conferences. So be it. Many of the technology executives and employees in Silicon Valley live by this rule in some form. The reasons are obvious.”

Edric Mendoza, president of Homeschool Global who organized the conference, said: "Huddleston’s views on the damaging effects of digital are both relevant (applicable to every individual and family who use screens) and reliable (based on latest neuroscience research). When we came across his book, we instantly realized we need to invite him to the Philippines.”

According to Huddleston: “The internet has now penetrated numerous developing countries. Because the world is connected to the same “pipe” known as the Internet, the resulting problems created by this relatively new medium are generally the same around the world.” And these problems are quite alarming, especially the three that Huddleston highlighted.

Digital Addiction Consequence #1 ADHD. “This condition has increased 800 percent in the past 30 years. The Internet is just over 30 years old. In my opinion and global experience, the clear majority of this 800 percent is digitally induced. It is true that some children are born with attention deficits, but that number is extremely small. The dramatic increase is being caused by hyperstimulation from digital devices.”

Digital Addiction Consequence #2 Multitasking is a myth. “Neuroscience has proven beyond all doubt that the brain is a sequential processor, unable to pay attention to more than one data stream at a time yet, schools often encourage this practice. Because of multitasking as a lifestyle, brain stress is at an all-time high and cognitive abilities are decreasing.”

Digital Addiction Consequence #3 Depression, anxiety, and self-harm. “These are the top symptoms of digital addiction. These very real conditions that result from misusing digital technology will often hamper a child’s ability to concentrate on school work.”

Time to check your holiday shopping list
While listening to Huddleston, I mentally checked my holiday shopping list which included new gadgets for family members. They have since been replaced by analog items that hopefully will stem our own digital addiction.

Huddleston argues for a digital detox but for many "wired" families who may not find if this easy, begin with "intentional."

"The first scientist and clinical psychologist, that I studied, Dr. Archibald Hart, spoke a lot about being 'intentional.' Being intentional means that we literally measure the amount of time we spend on technology (almost no one does this). Perceptually, we think we spend just a few minutes checking email, social media, etc. but when time is measured intentionally, we find that technology has in fact consumed large quantities of our time."

Ideally, your road will begin with intentional and end with detox, and for Huddleston: "Detox means stop. Parents tend to believe their child is the exception. But it’s not about balanced use. It’s not even 'okay to use on Saturdays.' Detox means stop.”