V.O. Complete. Your relation to technology is the best example for your child. Adam Alter
Thank. You so much for making the time I would like to know how you, got into a study and, technology, addiction yeah I think the, way most, behavioral. Researchers, get into a topic is they look at their own behavior, and they, assess whether there's something that's missing or something that isn't working and, like. For, so many people my interactions, with technology, were less than perfect, I noticed that I was spending a huge amount of time every day with. Screens with various forms of tech with games with, laptops. And smart phones and tablets and I. Started. To notice specific, things like I would fly, between New, York and LA for work and I'd, always plan to do work and to sleep and to eat and do all sorts of things and I'd start playing a game before takeoff, and I'd, still be playing the game on landing and I, wondered is there something strange about me maybe I'm just sort of a particular kind of personality, and I. Realized that that wasn't true that there are lots of people playing the same games with the same problems, and it's not just games it's lots of different experiences we have with social media email. With. Messages, with just. All sorts of online screen, based platforms, and so, I started, to get interested in that because, I have, the luxury of being able to study what's interesting and important to me I was able to to, dig pretty deeply in a book came from that would you say we. Are really addicted, to technology you have data that really, shows, that yes. Oh I do. And what was interesting was I, felt, that I was using my screen a lot but I had no idea how much so I found, a guy who had created an app that tracks how long you use your screen and what you're doing with it and I. Called him up and I said to him how, long are we spending on our screens and he said well why don't you guess first, habit tried to work out how long so, I said I think it's probably an hour which seemed excessive, to me I said maybe an hour and a half and, he said almost, everyone, guesses half the true amount so he said why don't you take the device take. The app put it on your your smartphone, and see, how long you're using your your screen and. I was, using my screen for three three-and-a-half hours a day which was obviously a lot more than I thought it was and he. Told me the average American, was using his. Or her phone for three hours a day and that's actually true across much of the developed world including, huge, parts, of Europe and Australia, and, the UK and. I. Contacted. Him a year later and, I said to him I had a few questions about the program and I said so is it still three hours and this, was a year ago and he said no it's now four so, not only is it three hours which is a lot but even within. Just the space of a year it increased to four hours, now to me we have so little free time a day that if we're spending four hours of that time on our screens that, suggests, if that time is not greatly enriching that there's a problem then I think, the question is what are we doing with that time so there are a couple of different things we do one is we use our phone as a sort of utility, Maps. Whether. Things, like that we can do that much more easily with a phone or with a tablet than we could ever do before and so that's that's great and that saves us a lot of time and I think that's probably where the phone is its strongest, you know educate even educational, tools things like that. Going. Beyond that a lot, of the time we spend is fun and that's okay but, the fun it only is okay to the extent that it doesn't encroach on more important, things we should be doing with our time and one, of them important, things we should be doing that we don't do as much or this anytime with real human beings with, loved ones with friends. Exercising. We exercise, less because we don't have as much time to do that.
Pursuing. Things that make us individuals that make us human, beings you know hobbies, pursuits, that are important to us everyone has something that they're passionate about a late they should and we. Have less time to do those things because we spend so much time on our phones now I think we're all it's, it's the modern world we're exhausted a lot of the time we're overworked, we work much too much so. You turn to your phone for a few minutes of comfort and that's okay it's just about finding the right boundaries, and it's different for everyone there is no one prescription but, a lot of it is subjective, you can just ask yourself to what extent do I feel my, use of technology, is hampering my well-being and getting in the way of other things is, everybody. Equally. At risk of, developing. These. Addictions, or are, there groups all, people. Others care that, are more vulnerable. So we all have the same apparatus, the same Anatomy, our, brains are all pretty much the same the way we respond, is basically the same to the same rewards, the same signals, the same triggers so, we were all essentially, if you want to use the term at risk we're all at risk we're susceptible having. Said that a lot of what's going on is structural, you know if you create a universe, where all your friends are on a device and it's expected that you'll respond in 30 seconds, you, will be on the device as well so, the way we've created the. Society, the way it is now is especially, problematic for, teenagers, and for adolescents, because, much of what they do socially, happens online it, is expected, in big, parts of the world that you will be online on, your screen ready to respond and ready to interact with people as. Soon as school ends basically, and until you go to bed now, that means that all that free time that's really the only free, time you have during the school, day is occupied. By screen, time and and, that's really just a structural factor, though it's the way we live our lives now if you could change that teens, would be outside more they'd be playing more they'd be doing other things that are that obviously very very good for them, but. They're at risk because the the nature of. The. Way their worlds have evolved. Is such that they just cannot get away from screens, as easily as older people can because our lives, don't revolve as much especially, socially. Around screens are. There early, sign changes. In behavior, that, cool flag a red light in parenting. May Mikey, be addicted, to technology yeah. I think the first thing we've talked about is monitoring time use so. If you find that your child is using the phone or, any other screen for hours and hours of the day you can put trackers on just to measure how long and you I wouldn't do that secretively, I wouldn't do that without the child knowing or the teen knowing I would, say let's see how long you're doing this for let's try and guess and see what's happening I teach high schoolers every summer and some of them use their screens every day for 10 hours I don't even know how they have time I mean I don't understand, how they exist and do, all the other things they need to do but that's something that's worth knowing if you're a parent so the first thing is getting a sense of time use, the. Benefit of a lot of these trackers is they also tell you what's going on during that time you know is a time when you're typing working. Emails or school emails is a time when you texting, or, is a time when you're spending maybe four hours in a row on Instagram, or Facebook or, Twitter or snapchat so, it's really important to recognize what's, going on with that time but, I think the real thing is to have a conversation once, you have a sense of what your child is doing especially if your child is old enough to have that conversation and, to, say. How. How. Much do you feel is okay let's, try and strike a bit of a balance here so. You. Know why don't we pick two hours of the day maybe between 7 and 9 p.m. or maybe. Between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. and, during those hours every, day we will take all of the screens we'll put them in a drawer or lock the drawer and we'll leave it in your bedroom and you will do other things either, you'll go outside or. You'll talk to us or we'll interact, will do other things that don't involve screens now. Some kids are happy to do that and they enjoy it and they say it's enriching to. Me that's great but there are other kids who have withdrawal symptoms it's almost like a drug you've taken away a drug and they, say this is too hard all I can think about is what my friends are doing while I'm not on the screen so, they get they have FOMO. This fear of missing out and four kids in that position I think that's their nut problem it.
Can Be a small problem that you can address just by discussing, it you know let's try and work out some ways to deal with this but, it can also be a large problem to the point where kids aren't able to do the work they need to do they feel, just. Overwhelmed. Why how, much is going on around them because they don't ever have the chance to get back to those other things outside of the screen and. At that point the most serious, examples, at least in the United States and and in parts of Europe as well lead. People to go. To special. Treatment centers. Those. Are very early on the the efficacy of those is also questionable some of them seem to work better than others there is no tried-and-true, way of treating these, addictions at this stage and. It's only a very small percentage of kids who need something like that but. That would be the step the series of steps usage. What's going on during that time have, a conversation with the child to try and work out if there's an easy way around it and then, if, there's nothing and, potentially. Talk to a doctor about we. All have seen this situation, that we are at a restaurant waiting, for the food and, we. See how parents hand the, cell phone to the kids so they are enter time watching YouTube videos and so. I, mean kids learn by imitation, we also all, know that so what. Should be the. Way parents. Interact, with, technology, with their devices, when kids are around. Yeah the strongest cuter children of, what's interesting in the world is what their parents eyes are focused on so. If, you focus your eyes on a screen your child will think the screen is really interesting, if. You focus your eyes on a book the child will wonder what's in the book it doesn't matter what you're focusing on your child assumes it's interesting that's how children learn you, know they they they look up to their, parents when they're very young especially and they wonder what their parents are interested in and they become interested in the same thing so. Children. At a very very, young age this, happened to my son when he was four months old they, pay attention to what you're doing and so I agree with you completely I think it's very important that parents around their kids put their screens aside just, as they would hope their children would do in those moments so if you're happy for your child to have a screen at any moment then you're okay having the screen if, there's a moment where you don't want your child to have the screen you.
Have To abide by exactly, the same rule because. You're using a phone basically, is just like the child using the phone it encourages, the same kind of behavior so you will advise to parents, to put. These hours, take. Free every, day yeah. I think it's good for the whole family to do it at the same time it's really hard for a parent to sit there with a phone while the child is supposed to be tech free, now. This is difficult you describe the situation in a restaurant for example and, I've, been with my two very young kids I have a two-year-old and a one-year-old there, are 18 months apart and, being. In a restaurant with them the easiest thing in the world is just to put a video on in front of them and sometimes, you do that because there, are other people around it. Would, be best for them I think if that were not the case they recognize, that as a crutch and, they. Become reliant on the screen they don't self-regulate. In the same way you know if you're out and the child starts to mature and gets better at self-regulating. And regulating, you, know the discomfort, of having to wait for food and all of that sort of stuff, that, comes from having to deal with a difficulty, of dealing with that moment but if you always have a solution in the form of a screen that delivers content kids, don't learn how to regulate, how to become better or what they're doing so I think it's very important that they have those moments of discomfort so they learn how to get past, when. Young, people spend, time on the phone they. Are usually on, social. Media it can be Instagram, it can be Facebook, just really it's any. Of those yeah, so, and what's. The impact, that, being on those, platforms is. Having, on, how. These, young people, are capable. Of, having. We are relationships, yeah, it has a lot of effect so the first one is that the. Way we become better social, creatures the way we learn how to act socially is we try different things out it's a process of trial and error little, kids will take another kids toy and then, the other kid will pop them on the head and say don't take my toy that's mine and you learn what works and what doesn't you learn that if you say something nasty the other child cries and that doesn't feel very good the. Only way you learn that really is by having a rapid feedback as you act and that happens when you face to face when. You're behind a screen and there are thousands of people hundreds, of friends lots, of people, you don't really know your. Actions when you make comments when you type when you say things when you do things are very removed from the consequences, so, as a result you don't really have that same trial and error process you don't learn as rapidly so that's the first thing the, second thing it's it's actually easy, for the process, of being online to be damaging, for the well-being of kids one, thing that happens is because. People curate, their lives online so, what ends up happening online, is people post the best 5%, of their lives and they take the other ninety five percent and they put it aside and so that means if you're a child and you think this is an accurate reflection of, how everyone else lives and you're, only seeing the very best you start, to think that your life is much less interesting, more mundane, you, don't have quite the richness that other people have to their lives and. That's really damaging because we engage, in this constant, process of social comparison, trying to work out what our lives are like am I happy should, I be doing, things differently do I have everything I need am, i deprived in some way and everyone, else looks like they're leading this wonderful, life you start to feel bad so that's a concern and. Then again the same process that leads you not to learn as quickly how to interact socially, that other people themselves, will be able to act and not really see the consequences, of their actions on you, so bullying is very prevalent online, it's. Very easy to say horrible things online and not to really know whether you're affecting other people so. A lot of teens report bullying in a way that wasn't true even, at say 10 or 15 years ago because, it's easy to be bullied and for that not to affect the bullying they don't notice how they're affecting, other people so. There are a lot of potentially, negative consequences, now, having said that there are some positives, as well you.
Can Interact with a lot of people very quickly with low cost it doesn't take a lot of time and that can be rich for a lot of people they develop what feels like a genuine, solid friendship, they, go. Online at the same time every day speak to the same people and there is something really comforting about that that's genuine, it, might not have the richness of a real face-to-face, interaction, but it's still a very rich relationship, for a lot of people and anyone. Who's socially anxious in any way there, is a real benefit to having the buffer that happens, online you. Know it doesn't challenge you and push you in the same way to develop, all the same, suite, of skills but it's. Really nice to be able to say I'm anxious, I'd like to take a minute to think about how to respond, before I instantly, respond in the moment and so, I've heard from a lot of parents who have shy children, who, say this, is actually a lifesaver, for them because they can go online they're. Not anxious as they are when they're face to face with people in the real world and that saves them that gives them a connection, that they might not otherwise have how. How, can we help these young, people, forge, better, relationships. With technology I, think. A lot of it comes down at least in the beginning to communication. So opening up the lines of communication so. Parents actually discuss these issues with their kids I think one of the big problems is technology evolves, so fast that we don't understand what kids are doing they. Are living, a very cutting-edge, life that just doesn't apply to adults and we don't keep up so. You, know now Facebook is something that a lot of people across different age ranges use but when Facebook was out for the first few years adults. Over the age of 35 had no idea what Facebook was because they hadn't been at school they hadn't interacted, with it and. There was a big generation, gap that's not true for Facebook it is certainly true for games like for at night and World of Warcraft then a lot of the things that occupy young, teens. Adults. Don't understand and so the first thing is just to ask what, is it that you do can you explain it to me can you show me sometimes. I recommend. That adults actually try to play these games to get a sense of what's attractive, about them what is it that the child is doing that is so engaging, and interesting and a, lot of the time the adults play the game and they're like this is fantastic, I understand. Exactly and, what, that does is it puts you on a playing field on the same playing field so you can describe and, understand. The same ideas you can talk you can communicate, directly instead of being the parent and the child you, were just two people who understand, that this is a really appealing, experience. And. What that does is it allows you to then go the next step which is to say okay this is a lot of fun I would also play this eight hours a day if I didn't have things to do but I'm an adult and I do and actually you do as well, so let's talk about the concept of balance we, can't always eat dessert, the, same is true about the way we spend our time we, have a limited time so.
Perhaps. We could agree for, certain hours of the day you play the game and for certain hours of the day we do other things could we at least try that, you know just opening up the lines of communication goes. A long way not, every child will say absolutely let's, discuss I'm happy to play two hours a day but it's a very good first step because it shows a willingness for the from the adult to communicate, and it opens up the lines of communication so. Children are then happy to come to their parents to discuss issues they are having with the, screens and with tech. As. I said earlier though once. You have. Tried communicating. And, you understand, what the process is the next thing is really probably to talk to a therapist. Or a counselor, or someone who can help and actually. A lot of therapists, now who deal with with, adolescents, and teens understand, these issues because it is it's. Such a common, problem now that they have to understand, them you know to deal with that age group it's not a new thing I, have. A number of friends who are therapists, who see teenagers, and all of them understand, these issues and actually all of them play these games to get a sense of what goes on now. I want, to go into schools, and talk, about the relationship, between teachers, educators, kids. And Technology I mean it was surprising, to me that. French. Schools. Are, going, to run mobile. Phones. A start in September, this, year but. Do you think about that that's great I think it's fantastic I think it's a really good idea see, unfortunately schools, a lot. Of schools compete with each other there, are government schools but then there are obviously private schools and is, especially private, schools compete with each other and one very clear way to signal that you are a good school is to have all the technology available so. You give everyone, an iPad you give everyone a laptop, you do all that sort of very. Ostentatious, giving. That shows that you are a high level school and. Unfortunately. As obvious. As that seems it actually undermines learning, it undermines, engagement, and so there are a lot of schools now that have gone completely the, opposite, end and and I think that's the better way to educate and. Actually if you look at the the tech Titans in Silicon Valley look. At what Steve Jobs did when he was still alive and you, look at what lots of other CEOs. Tech, Titans do with their kids as they send them to schools that don't allow technology, and there are some schools that advertise. This way we, do not give technology to kids until they're 14, or 15 we, learn the old-fashioned, way we have pens and, paper and we discuss, and we watch some videos occasionally, but. We go outside and we engage with with real physical, objects as we learn and, that's. Very different from the way a lot of schools teach, now I think. The better way to learn by far is to engage with real things and what, screens do in large part is they they act as a sort of crutch you, are not as engaged you, don't remember what is on the screen as well as you remember what you've taken notes on or what, you seem physically, and, there's actually research showing that that when people take notes on a screen even if they're taking notes they don't remember as much or. When they're typing they don't remember as much as they do when they're writing. So. I think there are very good reasons to remove tech from from the classroom, you. Know one of the concerns I hear from parents is what, if my children don't learn how to use the iPad, for example or. An iPhone those. Devices are so well made it takes about five minutes and you know how to use them you know I don't think we need to have them in schools for years and years for kids to understand if, you can give it to a one-year-old, and the one-year-old understands, how to basically use the device so. That argument that we need to teach kids how to use cutting-edge tech because it's complicated. Only works if we're teaching them things like programming I, absolutely. Feel the programming, is something that should be taught in schools and in high school in particular. Maybe. You and earlier than that but that is a deeply, engaging, way, to interact, with screens the way a lot of schools interact with screens is to deliver content in, a very passive way where, it's the middle point of the benefits. Of technology and also. How, we. Put. That into balance, yeah well. What technology, does that, you can't really get without it is it delivers very rapid feedback and it's, rapidly evolving, so if, you're using a screen and you want to make sure that a child has constant, feedback the, screen is much better than say paper and pencil where it takes time, you have to grade, that's.
Pretty Laborious but. Screens don't do that they give you instant feedback you're correct you're not right this is too difficult I'll give you something easier next time it constantly, adjusts, in a way that you couldn't have any analog non. Digital world, for. That use, when, you're trying to create a system that's much more responsive, I think screens are very important, but. They have to be limited it has to be like half an hour a day or an hour a day to structure, an entire education, around screens I think is a big mistake because they end up being a crutch and also there's. Concern about making education, fun I think it's really important that education, is engaging but, when it's fun in the same way as games of fun I think there's a hollowness, to education, it's a problem kids, start to think of education, as something, they are effectively being bribed to engage, with the, same way as you would bribe them with a video game when, they're being noisy at brunch you know you're or you're out of lunch at a restaurant you're. Kids being noisy and you use that as a thing, to keep them quiet, there. Should be some intrinsic, interest, in learning in the education, that can be taught without the use of bribes, in the form of games and screens. That are flashy that have lots of pictures, so. I think relying. Too much on screens is dangerous, but when you want to deliver rapid feedback you want to deliver something that can adjust very, nimbly, in in short time I think it's very important to use screens what, was, the igniter. Of that tipping, point was that the, smartphone. That make it are we see, yes, the beginning, of this problem, I think the the, introduction, of the smartphone in the form particularly. Of the iPhone and then the introduction of the iPad so the tablet that became a huge sensation around, the world those, two events, when you talk to psychologists. They, will say, there. Was a spike when the iPhone was introduced in in problems especially for young people and then there was another spike, when he when the tablet came about so. I think those were two of the big watershed events, that made this something that everyone wanted to discuss that, was 2007. And 2010. Now. We talk about being a digital native the. 2007. Is 11 years ago the kids who were born into the iPhone, here are only 11 years old so, they aren't even teenagers, yet we don't know what there will be like as teens or. As a generation, of adolescents, or young people, in college in the workplace. Parents, themselves middle-aged, adults and so on we have no idea how they will look what, they'll be like so we don't really know what the future will look like for them whether they'll be in some way different from generations, that came before.
We. Spread all the generations, in a way that we we understand. Technology I think in a way that older generations, don't and we came about we came to use these forms, of tech quite young, but. We weren't born into them we remember an era before and, I think that's we're very lucky because we have a sense of what. We should be nostalgic about and if you're born into this era of phones you don't have that my kids who are wanting to have no idea what what, happened before they were around a my, concern, is that. Because. This. Form, of technology is young we have the iPhone, and the iPad and, it feels like we've reached a sort of destination. But, there's a lot more to come we're at the bottom of a very very steep long, and tall mountain, and I. Think in the next 20 years we'll look back at the iPhone and the iPad as curiosities. As ancient sort of relics because, they'll be much more sophisticated technology. We'll be paying attention to we'll think of Facebook is just the first social, media app that we paid attention to already. Kids are starting to scoff at Facebook, and now they use Instagram, and snapchat, in a way they don't use Facebook anymore so, things are evolving the, the biggest change for me will be the mainstream, adoption, of. Virtual. And augmented reality, technology, which, has not quite happened, you, can certainly buy it but it's still on the fringe we have some early adopters, now but. There's it hasn't been the same market penetration as, you see for things like smartphones and tablets now, once everyone. Walks around with his or her own goggles, in a bag or even, in a pocket when they're small enough and at any moment you can escape this world and go into the perfect digital world or. Virtual, world that to me is when we will we, should be really concerned because if, a smartphone can take you out of the here and now to remove you from where we are to remove you from if, you're a child from learning, to remove you from social, interactions, imagine, how remove, will be when we're actually inhabiting, a different world through a goggles so, that, to me is the real concern and I think that's why we should be paying so much attention to, this issue now while it's, still a young issue there. Are problems but, only a small percentage of people have major major problems, and I think we should grapple with these issues before they become bigger so. That there are really good structures, in place like. France's ban of smartphones, in the school for example that is an attempt to deal with issues that haven't yet happened, i think and so, by bringing about these kinds of policies when, more. Addictive, more widespread tech, is is introduced, and then adopted will, have ways of dealing with it one of the of the big question, is who is accountable for this because. Now we have experts, like you that are warning, about this problem, and that, is just the type of the ice work then.
We Have the tech companies, that put a lot of money into it in these devices it can be the smartphone the computer. Or the, arv, our cables are we were explaining then, we have the developers, that create all these very fancy games, for, all these different platforms so. Who. Who is the one who has to really take. Care is everybody. Is, yeah. I mean I think it's, a it's a really sort of natural human question, to find where, we can blame you know I I make, sense I think in this case it makes sense because if you know who to blame you know what we're where to intervene no. Should, the government be intervening, should we blame the government for not being more activists, are, we as consumers to blame because we have self control we have free will to an extent should we not be exerting. Our own self control I think it's the government to some extent I don't think it's consumed as much I think we've been put in a very diff position, its, the developers, it's the designers, of the platforms the iPhones, the the devices, that convey these apps and games and products to us I think. All of them recognize, that you know for a while they argued we don't we don't know this we don't know what we're doing and you. Know they sort of turned a blind eye and the way that a lot of tobacco companies, did in the 50s, and 60s they said we don't really know the effects and we think it's fine, but. We know we have enough evidence now I think to at, least suggest that this is a concern that needs to be investigated. More carefully, we. Also know that the people behind these companies are aware of these issues and have been for many years Shawn, Parker who was one of the early investors in facebook was interviewed at, the end of 2017. And. I asked him what. Did you think no everyone's trying to understand were. You just trying to make the best platform. That connected, people like Mark Zuckerberg says, or were you trying to do something different he said we weren't interested in the best platform, we were interested in hooking you we, wanted to make sure that you spend every spare moment you had on our device and if we could tweak something and it meant you spend five more minutes that's, what we did we, had no idea what we were doing to children we had no idea what we were doing to adults we didn't care as long as we were making lots of money and we were making all the right moves we were happy, it, was very honest, of him but I believe that's what that's bid that's business that's business in technology, and elsewhere.
So. I think those those, people are obviously accountable. Because they knew what they were doing and they were reckless, about it I think what. We need now I'll. Say, is we need a really definitive study, that, that randomly. Takes, children and a sign I don't know that we'll ever be able to do it but we, need to know if children are randomly assigned to use screens for say zero an hour two, hours three hours four hours a day and we, follow them through their lives how does that affect them how does using Facebook an hour rather than three hours a day change, how you act as a social, creature or as, a parent or in the workplace we. Don't really know the answer we haven't been able to run that that study but I think it's necessary, it's. Very tricky logistically, but, with that answer without, long-term evidence, I think we'll be able to make a very definitive claim, that, assuming. It shows some problems we need to change the way we interact with tech we're just not quite there yet and, we like you too, to, share a final message with the people that would watch this video is can be an idea that we have already commented, but you think it's important, enough or a new thing sure. Yeah, I'll say two things first. Of all humans don't have natural self-control. We we. We. Deplete, our self-control resources. Very quickly so what I would suggest is instead of trying to exert self-control if, you want to use your phone less. Don't. Do that just have a structure, that means you don't even have to think about it the things that are near us physically, are the things that we have to exert control over so, put your phone aside for an hour a day or, during dinner just, pick some time every day as a first step and don't, use your phone put it aside make, sure that you aren't constantly tempted you'll notice in the beginning, oh my phone's not here oh I wish I had it nearby but, it'll be kind of habit and you'll start to enjoy that time away from your phone I've done this with lots of people and they almost universally. Feel that way the, second thing is I, think. What we should try to do is spend. At least part of the day in situations, where you have no idea what your it is based on what your eyes are telling you so, if I look around I can see it almost any point that there are computer, screens tablets, phones, and that, tells me this is not 1950. It's not the 1500. It's not any other year but right now and I think a really healthy thing to do to gauge whether you're living in your life well, is. To have some time during the day aware you have no idea what you're at is you're looking out at a forest or an ocean, or at a stream, or into, the eyes of another person, which. Is something you could have done any point in history as, long as humans have existed, I think, doing that for at least part of the day is a really good way to reclaim our humanity, much, of the humanity, that has been leached out by, these, devices so, that would be my recommendation. Thank. You so much thank you. You.