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The growing body of evidence that digital distraction is damaging our minds (theglobeandmail.com)
759 points by mmayberry 41 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 463 comments

I am terrified about giving smartphones to my kids.

France's new rule (no smartphones in schools - no exceptions) is genius, and I applaud them for that.

What is a supercomputer in your pocket, with access to a significant portion of the sum total of human knowledge, good for, for most people?

Playing fucking candy crush.

We wish that we, humans, were better, but we are not.

So what can we do about it? I have no idea. The economic model already exists for games and facebook, and so on. And people have since the beginning of time been amused by trivial entertainment.

I guess the fact of the matter, or one way of looking at it is, there will always be people who choose trivial entertainment, and there will always be folks who chase knowledge and self improvement. And now, like always, we can do both of those things. But at least now, we can quantify ourselves better, and know more about the benefits and risks. And in that way, maybe more of us will choose to improve ourselves with these amazing tools.

> I am terrified about giving smartphones to my kids.

Hey smartphone makers, if you're listening: Let me set an alternate PIN that unlocks the phone in a limited access mode, or "kid mode." Only pre-approved apps are available. Only pre-approved contacts can be called/texted. In-game purchases require the more secure PIN. Maybe when the phone is in this mode I can track its location easily, and make it emit a noise. The maximum volume is much lower than normal. A lockout timer auto-locks the phone after X minutes. If the battery dips below 20%, only the voice calling, texting, and tracking will work. Bandwidth caps. Et cetera.

This would also be nice if I ever have to lend my device to a stranger. Smartphone OS makers should be embarrassed that this feature doesn't already exist.

Windows Phone 8.1 had an amazing feature called Kid's Corner[1]. Galaxy phones have a similar Kids Mode[2].

[1] https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/10661/windows-phone...

[2] http://www.samsung.com/global/galaxy/apps/kids-mode/

I‘m pretty sure Apple won‘t do that, because they want you to buy your kids their own iPhone.

Why doesn‘t the iPad have this sort of multi-user mode? An iPad is the perfect device for sharing. But no, if you don‘t want your kids to read your emails, you need to buy them their own iPad.

> if you don‘t want your kids to read your emails, you need to buy them their own iPad.

You're right. But I still think I would buy my kid their own iPad even if my iPhone/iPad had a kid mode. My kid has their own iPad and I still find times when it would be ideal to give them access to the basic features on my phone/ipad. Frankly, if iOS just added the ability to password protect any app then that would be good enough, and it would be useful for more than kids... hand you phone to a coworker or relative to look at photos they can't accidentally/intentionally hop over to your email.

Your last use-case is sort of covered by Android's screen pinning feature[0]. You have to enable it in settings, but it's useful, and seems to work well.

[0] https://support.google.com/nexus/answer/6118421?hl=en This link is for Nexus, but I think it's included in all version of Android since 5.0 Lollipop.

iOS has this too, it's called Guided Access.

iOS lets you block access to a single app, so that even if they click the home button they can't go anywhere else.

I hadn't heard of that. How do you use this feature?

Awesome. Thank you!

Buying kids their own phone is what this leads to. The kid only knows the kid-mode PIN for their own phone.

This would be a phone for the kid that was locked into basic mode during school hours and then maybe unlocked on weekends or for a game session.

Once upon a time, kids went to school without phones, so it is possible...

There's some of that in iOS: "Settings -> Restrictions", which will be locked by a passcode.

It has a lot of options, but probably not enough (like restricting specific apps.) You can however set to allow only apps rated "4+ years, 6+, etc.

Time limitation is possible too, via "Settings -> Accessibility -> Guided Access".

> I‘m pretty sure Apple won‘t do that, because they want you to buy your kids their own iPhone.

The funny thing is, Apple didn't want to call their computer a "PC", but their smartphone is more a personal computer than any other brand.

Android has had multi-user accounts for months or years now (I can't remember exactly when it was introduced).

It's a standard feature on Xiaomi phones. You can set up two user profiles, each with a different lock screen password. Each profile is effectively a different phone - different apps, different settings, even a different SIM card if you like.


It's a standard feature in Android phones in general.

Really? Guest mode is a standard feature since Lollipop, but that just logs you into a completely blank account without any installed apps or user data. You can switch Google accounts, but that's a multi-tap process that can't be activated directly from the lock screen.

Second Space isn't unique in functionality, but it's exceptionally slick in execution.

Android supports multiple profiles, not just Guest Mode.

> Hey smartphone makers, if you're listening: Let me set an alternate PIN that unlocks the phone in a limited access mode, or "kid mode." Only pre-approved apps are available. Only pre-approved contacts can be called/texted. In-game purchases require the more secure PIN. Maybe when the phone is in this mode I can track its location easily, and make it emit a noise. The maximum volume is much lower than normal. A lockout timer auto-locks the phone after X minutes. If the battery dips below 20%, only the voice calling, texting, and tracking will work. Bandwidth caps. Et cetera.

I don’t understand how this is different from parental controls (speaking from iOS experience; perhaps this is lacking on Android?)

Is there a way to enable parental controls with an alternate phone unlock PIN? If so, then my comment is silly and I am silly. If not, then it stands. That's where the control belongs, so one can freely share a working PIN with one's kids, with no need to turn on a setting buried in menus (not to mention always remembering to do so).

Why would you _share_ a phone with your kids? Isn't the whole point of giving your kids a phone being able to call them or have them call you when an emergency arises?

Not that I particularly agree with this, but I've seen it enough to recognize it as a use case.

You're at a restaurant with your kid, and they're bored because you're having adult conversations with your friends. You give them your phone and they play whatever game for a while, while you have no need for your phone because you're in a conversation.

Or, alternatively, you're sitting around the house and they want to play a game on it.

K prisms You're at a restaurant with your kid, and they're bored because you're having adult conversations with your friends.

Call me old fashioned, but my parents just used to make us sit there and be quiet. Bored? That's life, learn to deal with it.

Both the parent and the child in your example are lacking discipline. The parent unable to tolerate a bored child and the child unable to tolerate boredom. This is a pattern I have personally noticed as early as babies being pushed around in prams with a smartphone or tablet in hand. A two year old definitely doesn't need a phone to relieve boredom but it's easy.

I think people have a tendency to find meaning in things they've done after the fact. In this way, waiting on a boring conversation becomes a lesson in the difficulties of life. This is the root of "character building" activities as well. Is it really better to be bored than not bored? Will my children and I both be better off if they are bored, and my conversation is constrained by increasingly agitated children?

I'd prefer my children have something to do. A book, a phone, an iPad or Switch. Why shouldn't they be entertained while I am? Actually, forcing them to sit quietly while I have fun seems like a weird message to me.

Granted, being bored is a part of life. Undoubtedly then, they'll encounter many boring experiences without the need for me to artificially create them. And, if I know I'll have to wait for someone or something, I bring a book or phone. Why would I deny them the same pleasure?

Smartphones are making us interpret every gap in life as boredom, when it could actually be a break. I know, we're talking about kids. But I seriously think that if they seldom exercise stillness they will never be able to enjoy it. And THAT is a loss.

I don't disagree, and I think I made that clear at the start. Looking around though, it happens quite a bit, and since the discussion was about "what's the use case for this?" I think it stands ok.

I think it has to do with how easy it is to enable. Having a second PIN that automatically goes into kid/guest mode would be fantastic. They could even have a little more freedom then too -- they could create their own wallpapers, customize the location of apps, and change other innocuous system settings which only benefits Apple by helping kids learn more than the parental controls currently gives them access to.

Our teenage son carries a flip phone. Always has, always will, until he can pay for something else.

I tried to buy my son the most basic phone available. $5-$10, no camera. I wanted it to do phone calls, texts, and that's it.

Turns out it still had a rudimentary browser. And because the phone was only capable of 3G, his basic line had unlimited data. He spent a ridiculous number of hours watching YouTube on that tiny 1.5" screen.

Maybe Motorola needs to bring back their old Razor phones?

Nokia is already at the retro game: https://www.nokia.com/en_int/phones/nokia-3310

Same for mine. I figure if he displays the maturity and initiative to get a job, then he's qualified.

For us, that's part of it.

The main reason is how worried we are about the impact unfettered, always on, modern Internet/technology will have on the developing brains of teenagers, and beyond.

I don't think the impact was great for me, honestly. And that was 15 years ago. The internet is a different place now - maybe not for the better.

If I didn't work for a telco, I would still carry a basic phone.

The thing I really, really love about having a Google Pixel phone is the camera, and its with me all the time. I was riding my bicycle to work on Friday and saw the sunrise...it was quite beautiful: https://www.realms.org/pics/IMG_20180105_072614_1.jpg

Besides that, I have very few apps installed on my phone. I basically use it as a mobile web browser from time to time.

I switched back to a "good old plain, non distracting phone" 2013 (http://www.atterobay.com/public/upload_images/model_images/o...) and have been pretty happy.

That said, I have to admin that the "features" I'm missing are a camera and a map.

URL seems truncated?

I'm with you! I'd love a smartphone that has a great camera, access to map & weather info and nothing more!

I used to have a Nokia 6700 Slide that was pretty much that, but sadly it died. No GPS though, just maps.

That's a pretty picture. I wonder though, the beautiful Voronoi-like patterns between the leaves are an intentional effect, or camera quality issues rendering as something nice by accident?

Phones jam a lot of pixels into tiny sensors so need to apply agressive noise reduction. I think that’s what you are seeing.

There's very little deeply 'intentional' about any picture I take. I tend to take virtually no time for composition, and shoot some large number of pics when something catches my eye.

I'm told by people who do have some actual talent that a small fraction of the pics I take are good.

For this picture, I was actually riding my bicycle, and snapped two dozen shots over 30 seconds.

Hah. I carried a point and shoot in my pocket from 2004-2010, until I got an iPhone.

I used it for telling time, taking photos of maps and other useful notes, etc. Super useful.

> In-game purchases require the more secure PIN

Wait, what? I'd rather say: No in-game purchases for minors at all.

I think that's what was meant; a limited access PIN for the kid, and a "more secure" full access PIN for the parent. That way the parent can approve in-game purchases and that sort of thing if they wish.

Multiuser support is built into Android in recent versions.

> Let me set an alternate PIN that unlocks the phone in a limited access mode, or "kid mode." Only pre-approved apps are available.

Come to think of it, there should also be a border mode when one is traveling.

I've advocated for that, as well as an ATM PIN to use if one is being forced to withdraw funds. It could alert police, mark the security camera footage to be saved, and show a very low account balance.

Try as one might, the world doesn't seem to want to be better.

OK I'll bite. I think your solution only solves one edge case. And there are too many other edge cases to warrant spending the infrastructure to fix one edge case.

Examples, your solution doesn't solve:

- Mugger waits for you to withdraw the money from ATM.

- Mugger forces you to withdraw everything AFTER you entered your PIN.

- Muggers holding someone ransom until you get them their money.

- You are traveling outside of your home country/unreliable law enforcement.

Good idea. Though the phone will have to look like it's not hiding/restricting the officer in any way for this to work.

I'm fairly sure that feature already exists. On Amazon tablets (and phone) it's called Free Time or child profiles. I'm confident there's an Android equivalent. If not, on a rooted Android phone you could just run your own shell script which could periodically check running or installed apps, and close or uninstall undesirables.

Wow... I would love have this mode on all the time.

(of course, it will never happen because such a mode "reduces engagement")

They have programs that do this now. I dont know them off the top of my head by I know parents that have full control over their kids smart phone from their phone. They allow apps to be run in certain time windows, or lets the parent lock and unlock them at will, etc...

There are a number of apps which provide a mode with features like that, including some first-party ones from handset manufacturers like Samsung's Kids Mode.

I'm pretty sure my current phone (Samsung Galaxy S5) literally has a Kid Mode that does a lot of this stuff. And that came out, like, 4 or 5 years ago?

iOS has a Guided Access mode that does some/alternatives of what you said like lockout timer: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202612. I always use it when I let my kid use my iPhone/iPad.

Android has multiple users mode with a separate pin etc. Not sure about parental controls though

What age group are you talking about? Under 10 or under 13? There are things like kid tablets.

Pretty sure GP was talking about giving their children their own smartphones.

Android has limited access accounts, which would do many of those things.

I do think the Fire Tablets have this feature.

Yes, Amazon FreeTime lets you set limits on the amount of time kids play games or watch videos. You can also require that they spend a minimum amount of time reading or using educational apps before they can get their games/videos.

I had a TI Calculator in my pocket and I learned first learned how to program on it during classes from 7th grade on. I made all sorts of text-based games: rpgs, text-based tetris, action games, fighting games (which was basically just pick an attack and a different formula with random numbers would happen that said how much hp you hurt the opponent), etc.

But 'smartphones' nowadays makes it difficult for you to create on them, especially program code that you can run on the device. I might not have gotten such an early understanding of how to program if I didn't have a programmable device in my pocket to take with me everywhere and play with.

I wouldn't have such a problem with smartphones if it was a fun toy to make things with. Even now, the only thing I ever really 'make' on the device are some notes that I then use on 'real' devices later.

I understand your worry, but your TI calculator was a tinkerer niche that was similar to the openness and simplicity of early home computers. Different niches proliferate, grow, and wane all the time. After you and TI calcs, probably came a generations of web programming tinkerers, and hobby makers and minecrafters. People who are interested in programming will hopefully find their own starting niches. Hopefully we don't ever stop opening up new areas - I think the best we can do as a community is promote tinkering in any form to provide a variety of avenues for kids to get exposed in different ways.

> your TI calculator was a tinkerer niche that was similar to the openness and simplicity of early home computers

It wasn't in the Netherlands. A graphical calculator was required for math and many kids learned at least some programming by creating their own little programs to cheat in tests. Also, you could get code for games and then program them. The newer ones with USB cables made adding games much easier though.

In my public high school in the US, it was required for all my math classes past basic algebra, but I only knew one person who ever tried to code anything on it themselves (although people transferred games pulled online frequently; this was early 00s, transfer was this weird USB to something that looked like an headphone jack to connect to computer), and there were either test calculators, or an instructor would clear RAM.

> to something that looked like an headphone jack to connect to computer

The word you're looking for is "serial port."

> probably came a generations of web programming tinkerers

Neopets allowed "pet pages" containing HTML when I was 10 years old, and this was my first foray into programming.

My girlfriend, otherwise non-technical, still maintains one of these.

There's this huge tribal knowledge built up around copy-paste CSS hacks to enable things like tab navigation all on one page with no JS. It's actually pretty wild some of the stuff these folks do, especially since almost none of them have any technical knowledge and it's all trial-and-error and sharing what works through the forums.

The amount of hackery they do for their forum guild pages (hosted as pet pages) and such almost blows my mind more than the fact that Neopets is still around and somewhat active after all these years.

Likewise; to this day I still talk about how Neopets' pet pages were my introduction to building web content.

Neopets, MySpace, Xanga, Angelfire, Tripod, Geocities...

Minus Xanga, I made heaps of terrible UI decisions on those platforms. Good times =)

I'm sure they still exist, but like I mentioned further down, none of those are very portable. When you're a kid, you're often forced to be away from home and your computer, because of parents or school or other things, and having something onhand to create with was wonderful when I was a kid, no matter where I was. I carried around pretty much everywhere.

This is the real problem in my view. I blame Apple for this mostly, as they are creating consumption platforms instead of creativity ones.

It is not just tinkering, these devices are made for you to consume, not to produce. Which is a great shame as they are natural creative platforms, we just need somehow to break the chains and liberate them, both phones and tablets.

I did the same with my TI85 as well. Part of it I think is we have to focus on productivity and providing value because the hardware couldn't render high end experiences.

Creating seems to have fallen by the day wide compared to mindless consuming, interaction and feeding content to social aggregation companies who sell users attention to advertisers.

As dreary as this topic is, it's kind of nice to see a healthy exploration about more than the one current way of using tech.

> Part of it I think is we have to focus on productivity and providing value because the hardware couldn't render high end experiences.

Constraint drives creativity.

Early web development had the same principles...you could only expect the user to wait so long for a page load on a dialup connection before you lost their attention, so the goal was to make each and every one worth the wait.

I think the key thing with programming on the T/Is was that input handling and output was super super simple.

Text display addressable by row/column... something like 8x24 if memory serves?

No mucking about with event loops, window handlers, setup functions...


ticalc.org was great too. Build your own serial transfer cable... Build external storage..

Nowadays you can get much cheaper all-purpose computers though; if kids are tinkerers like you were, they will find a way, either on their smartphones or on a raspberry pi or whatever. And if they don't - accept it, they're not you, and they'll probably end up better off than you did.

The portability was a big factor in it. As a kid, you're forced to be in all sorts of places you'd rather not or are totally boring because your school or parents require it of you.

I'd code in the car, at the grocery store, at family gatherings, while my parents discussed serious business (taxes, attorneys, etc), while sitting in waiting rooms, during boring classes at school (because school catered to the lowest common denominator and teachers would have to re-explain things about fifty times) etc and I would spend about half of the time on my calculator and the other half on my Game Boy. Fairly often I'd just leave the Game Boy at home.

We also had a computer at home since I was 7, and I spent as much time as I could get away with on there (mostly writing and working on my personal website). But when that wasn't available, or my parents felt like limiting my screen time, back to coding on the calculator I'd go.

I still did plenty of other normal things, I didn't exclusively do this, but I did spend a lot of time on it, and I got into a Maker mindset when I was really young that still carries over to this day.

It's more complicated than that because distractions play a huge role. If you've got access to endless stream of entertainment and games you're obviously less likely to find time to explore the other stuff that you can do with computers. I know quite a lot of tech savvy and smart people who loved tinkering with computers but never really got to the point of being able to do anything professionally because they've got distracted by too much Starcraft, WoW, etc...

I agree with this. I was also a calculator-tinkerer who learned TI-Basic on my TI-83 (And later z80 assembly.) I doubt I would have ended up down the same path had I had an iPhone 7 instead. Yes, there are educational apps, but then again there is infinitely more content available than what is available for a calculator.

The limitations on the calculator seemed to be a big driving factor in my interest at the time. The drive to push it beyond its intended purpose. With smartphones...you don't really have that because apps already exist for nearly everything.

You're ignoring what they said. They're not you, so stop trying to force them to either become you or be better than you were. Just let your kids be kids and grow on their own.

And how does that apply to what it was replied to, namely this: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16100002

If "but they're not you" (what they? there is no they in that comment) is such a great argument that it absolutely needs a response, "you're not the person you're talking to, stop trying to influence them, they're not you" is a sufficient one. Your own medicine, take it first.

I'm not sure what you're trying to say. I'll clarify what I meant.

Parents need to learn to back off. It's the one thing this generation of parents (Gen X and older millenials) seem to not have gotten. You can't force your children to be you or to be a version of you who didn't make the mistakes you did.

What I'm about to say might be a little bit too much of internet psychoanalysis, but I see it too often all over the internet as well as from people I know in real life, and I feel like this is a general trend because of that. So, this needs to be said somewhere for the chances at least one person will see it: this sort of thinking in my opinion stems from the parent putting too much of their own sense of self in a child. Specifically, seeing a child as either an extension of their being, and even a "second chance" to do things right from the beginning. The success of a kid or their failure is essentially the parents' since said kid is an extension of themselves. This can lead to the child becoming an instrument of the parents' self-validation.

While a lot of this may be intended with the kindest of intentions, it is unintentionally extremely selfish, and it gets parenting backwards. A child isn't you, and they aren't a chance to fix yourself; they are their own person, and they have an existence apart from you and deserve respect apart from you. The point of parenting isn't to have a smaller version of yourself, it is to cultivate an individual who has their own self-agency and own right to self-determination. Of course, in this process, that person will no doubt emulate many parts of you...but that process will be natural. It should not be the focus of your parenting and it shouldn't be forced.

Once a parent realizes this, then a lot of these things that keep them up at night won't turn out to be as terrible as they seem, mobiles, drugs, bad boyfriends/girlfriends, art school, you name it. Sure, you want to take care of your child, make sure they sleep, eat, get a great education, and may be not do too many drugs. But the person I was replying to was fretting that, god forbid, a child be more distracted by a phone like x or y person they know was distracted by games, and not become z person they should be. It's so ironic, because so many distractions have existed for decades, but you've turned out fine. Why not let your child discover for themselves what turns them on, despite the distractions and all? Why do you know who they should be? (hint: it might have a lot to do with who you should be (or are), not what the kid should be).

The entire thing about play is that it is play and adults aren't there to supervise. Parents need to learn their place and let kids fail a little and get hurt a little bit. It's part of growing up. And for the parents, understanding this will hopefully get them to realize you won't "fix yourself" by "fixing" your kids instead of looking inward.

> But the person I was replying to was fretting that, god forbid, a child be more distracted by a phone like x or y person they know was distracted by games, and not become z person they should be.

But that's the thing, they weren't. I can't find that upstream in this thread. But I'm happy to hold that position.

> It's so ironic, because so many distractions have existed for decades, but you've turned out fine.

I'm not convinced that many people actually did. Right now, it's getting more and more absurd, more and more shallow and violent, and climate and pollution nobody really feels responsible for. The branch we evolved on is being cut off, and we suffer from bystander paralysis. But we're fine because we can actually sleep well in this pathological mess? How sure are we that the people who act out in silly or destructive ways are not more sane still than those who don't even do that? Personally I'm not sure at all.

> Why not let your child discover for themselves what turns them on, despite the distractions and all?

Because they're not by themselves, we're not talking about kids finding mobile devices in the woods. It's kinda saying let the kid deal with the onslaught of machines and algorithms made by all adults except their actual parents, as if the whole world only wants their best, while the parents just selfishly want to have a second chance at their regrets and so on.

I super duper disagree. I don't disagree with your point in a vacuum (Franz Kafka expressed similar thoughts in letters to Elli Hermann), but in this context I do. Like when someone says "too much sugar is harmful" and someone else talks about how we shouldn't expect others to conform to our ideals of beauty. Yeah, it's technically correct, but in context it smells, because it's not addressing the actual point made in the least, and is making assumptions about people you don't know the first thing about.

If a kid gets hooked to ElsaGate videos ( https://i.imgur.com/AlTHFn5.jpg ), who am I to say they're wrong? Someone paying attention. If 99.99% of the people on the planet said "it's fine" that wouldn't make it fine, it would put 99.99% of the people on the planet my personal trash heap. When I was a child, I didn't hold back with my opinion, so why would I do that as an adult? I haven't even found ONE serious adult who can actually take in ElsaGate (the linked image is a joke, a tiny crop of a still frame of a trailer, but even that's too much already). And that's just a derpy bumbling first step, this shit will evolve and iterate. But oh yeah, let's mock "think of the kids". This is cavemen playing with nuclear bombs, bragging.

There's being hurt a little bit, and there's being swallowed whole, and the thing about getting swallowed whole is that you don't live to get hurt a little bit another day.

Yes, it's easy to write a TI-BASIC program on a TI graphic calculator. It's barely less easy to open your web browser, type in "jsfiddle" or "shadertoy," and get coding environments that have considerably better and more instant feedback than what's available on your TI. And that's before opening up your app store and searching for "compiler" or "IDE."

Yeah you can download an IDE and then not run the code, or run the code by connecting to a server, which you might not even have internet access at the time. And even then you're probably not able to make asset rich games on them, or create graphics, save them, and call them in your program (game). Design websites, yeah I guess. Create shell scripts, yeah no problem. But games are another story. Not impossible, I'm sure, but not easy.

Yes, the TI had this. I would spend 30 minutes drawing a dragon image and saving it, then loading it in my choose your own adventure text game, without breaking a sweat, changing things and iterating quickly while sitting through an algebra class where I knew everything that was taught instantly (because I already used it in code) where all the other kids needed the rest of the class plus more to understand.

I would use the greek alphabet as makeshift sprites, the letter "O" as a ball and the equals sign "=" as bricks in an alleyway clone, etc. I'm not saying kids should still be expected to do this. There should be newer and better tools, focused on that creation.

To make sure I wasn't hallucinating, using an old Droid Ultra, I downloaded an app named "Mobile C (C/C++ Compiler)", turned on airplane mode, launched the app, compiled and ran hello world, than compiled and ran some demo programs that app is bundled with (many of which are simple multimedia demos). That's not opinion.

I looked it up, and that is pretty interesting. It compiles offline, and even has SDL? I didn't think Apple would allow that. I'll have to check into this more. Thanks for mentioning a specific app.

I can only speak for the iOS side. (I understand Android has fewer limitations on what can be done.)

Have a look at Pythonista for a full Python environment, or Coda for a web dev environment. There's also all the web-based tools, hopefully some are optimised for smaller screens. On iPad you have Playgrounds to run all sorts of Swift code. For kids, there's other simple environments in apps like Scratch.

So as you might imagine, I disagree with your statement that "'smartphones' nowadays makes it difficult for you to create on them", and think that's just a case of nostalgia on your behalf.

There’s a tendency to accept without question, in these sorts of conversations, that “trivial entertainment” is bad, or at least qualifiably inferior to either “good entertainment” (less Skinner-box-ish games, going outside, socializing, etc.) or “self-improvement” (reading, thinking, practicing, etc.)

IMHO, most of us in fact choose all of the above; what we should be aiming for is the proper balance, not to replace all of one type of activity with something “better”. “Trivial entertainment“ meets a human need for mental and physical downtime, as well as for the sort of quick gratification that we rarely get from loftier or more productive pursuits. It’s always been that way, from dice in Mohenjo-Daro to graffiti in the Coliseum to, well, fucking Candy Crush. The trick is to engage in the right amount of it - and this is, I think, where the pernicious effect of these sorts of entertainments lies: in encouraging us to make the wrong decisions about that balance.

It’s true that we now have opportunities for self-improvement our ancestors couldn’t have dreamed of. It’s also true that they had opportunities in this dimension that are increasingly rare in modern society: formal apprenticeship, for instance. Put another way: the sum total of human knowledge is, in the end, next to useless without a social, human context in which to learn and apply it. Even those in this thread who are “self-taught” have undoubtedly learned much from mentors and peers. In this respect, it matters very little that we have that knowledge in our pockets unless we also have the tools and social structures necessary to promote its use.

I can't fault anything you've said, but my problem is that just through your diction it is already clear to me that you are an outlier in the grand scheme of media-consumers.

Having broached this subject with various people, it is clear to me that most people are oblivious to the nature of 21st-Century media creation. A vast swathe of it is cynically designed to maximise engagement - the Orwellian term for something being addictive.

Open any successful mobile microtransaction driven game and it will be clear that it has taken very obvious cues from the casino industry. To most people, it is completely reasonable that government should educate people about the risks of gambling, regulate the industry heavily and restrict underage people from access. Pose the idea to people who are not tech-savvy whether similar restrictions should apply to mobile games and they'll look at you like you're insane.

It's a ridiculous example, but if we were to start adding heroin to foods or soft-drinks because they make us feel good or because they make our businesses profitable, you could bet your ass populations would be up in arms about the issue. Yet dark patterns and psychological traps in app-design don't incite the same degree of outrage: there is a lack of awareness on the issue, and businesses are keen to exploit it.

a human need for mental and physical downtime, as well as for the sort of quick gratification that we rarely get from loftier or more productive pursuits

Could this not be said about drugs and alcohol? And while it may indeed be beneficial to use drugs and alcohol in a balanced, well moderated way, the downside risk seems to great to me to be suggesting this to a society.

> Could this not be said about drugs and alcohol? And while it may indeed be beneficial to use drugs and alcohol in a balanced, well moderated way, the downside risk seems to great to me to be suggesting this to a society.

Over half of fatalities in cars have nothing to do with DUI-type impairment. Would you ban those as well?

But lets say you ban alcohol and re-create the problems of the Prohibition.

Banning the way individuals can use their personal freedoms to ruin their lives is generally worse than the disease you are trying to cure. People are very, very resistant to their vices being interfered with.

But, also, if you are comparing video games to drugs and alcohol...you are massively distorting the scale because video games are not killing _other_ people. They are just ruining the life of the addict.

DUIs actually kill innocent, blameless individuals.

That's reasonable, certainly alcohol has real effects beyond the scope of the dangers of mindless games, or, marijuana even. I didn't intend to suggest games have the same types of effects as DUIs, a shortsighted comparison on my end.

I am more interested in how a position of moderation is in theory attractive, and may even show benefits in controlled situations, but in practice use of substances or mobile games can lead to excessive use (i.e., abuse) and have a net negative on a user physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, etc.

> I am more interested in how a position of moderation is in theory attractive, and may even show benefits in controlled situations, but in practice use of substances or mobile games can lead to excessive use (i.e., abuse) and have a net negative on a user physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, etc.

Some people, unfortunately, have personalities that are vulnerable to be exploited (at the most cynical case). However, if we are being really honest, the same is true of things like sex addicts.

The reason we are reacting to this is the newness of it and the fact it is being marketed to kids. Really, the only restriction that might be reasonable, is restrictions on childhood consumption.

It is reasonable for you to find the link between videogame (or content) addiction and chemical addiction more tenuous.

I would be curious to know what your thoughts on gambling are? Irrespective of any solution, do you feel that leaving the gambling industry unrestrained would not be damaging for society?

> I would be curious to know what your thoughts on gambling are? Irrespective of any solution, do you feel that leaving the gambling industry unrestrained would not be damaging for society?

I don't think it should be unrestrained. But then again, I don't think in game purchases should be marketed to children either.

Basically, if they are an adult, I don't think restraining them is practical but providing them with opportunities for education and requiring the gambling industry to be a part of that process (by providing the materials and the odds of their games in very visible ways) is really all the "restraint" required.

Of course it is about moderation, but how can you moderate yourself when there is an infinite supply available? If my fridge contained an infinite supply of chocolate and ice cream I'd get so fat so fast...

> Of course it is about moderation, but how can you moderate yourself when there is an infinite supply available?

Correction: an infinite supply using psychology tricks A/B tested to keep you going as long as possible.

I'd likely do the same if those were the only things that existed in infinite quantities, but if said fridge also contained equally infinite meats and cheeses I'd be more likely to stick to a diet and reach goals I'd set for myself and just ignore the sweets unless I declared a cheat day.

Then again, I'm also the sort that has a phone in front of me and spends more time on HN, Quora, and in coding/interest-related discord channels than social media or games.

Are you sure browsing hn and quora are productive uses of your time?

If you can limit yourself not to eat everything available instantly with a finite supply, you can probably limit yourself in the same way with an infinite supply.

My half-sister (13) got a new iPhone 7 for her birthday (which I find ridiculous, because expensive). I really feel like it's messing up her as a person. As soon as she holds it she's oblivious to the outside world.

I took it away from her on new-years eve and stuck it in a closet. She said she wanted to get it back at 12 am, I told her 12:15. At 12, she went outside with us, to watch the fireworks. She stayed outside until at least 12:30 and didn't ask for her phone once.

Pretty much every time her phone is placed out of sight, she turns into a fun, engaging person. But when it's in sight, she needs to have it, to mindlessly scroll, double tap in instagram, or whatever the latest app fad is.

The only way to possibly control this, is to talk about it to others. To spread awareness of what it does to kids and to make it normal for kids not to be stuck to their phones. Because most parents don't want their kid to be left out, so they do the same thing all parents to.

Pessimistically, though, I think this isn't going to happen. Too many parents are happy to have something that distracts their kids, so they can indulge in their own addictions. I feel like this will become the smoking of this generation and it will take decades for the real implications to become apparent. I'm just happy that it seems to coincide with autonomous cars, so at least the damage from texting and driving will get reduced.

> Pretty much every time her phone is placed out of sight, she turns into a fun, engaging person. But when it's in sight, she needs to have it, to mindlessly scroll, double tap in instagram, or whatever the latest app fad is.

Are you absolutely sure they're "mindlessly scrolling", and not just being fun and engaging to their friends on the other end of the social network?

I hate this assumption - one sees a person glued into an IM or a social feed and thinks they're just being a drone. They're not - they're engaging in an amazing achievement of humanity that is immediate communication that transcends physical boundaries. And quite often, what's happening on the remote end is more important than what happens next to you.

That is a very generous view. Many people are just scrolling aimlessly through a feed and not engaging at all. The addictive nature of the feed keeps them scrolling even when they can realistically gain nothing of value by continuing. That is the core of the issue.

I know what a rich and enjoyable online experience is like as for the better part of my life I spent most of it online. Facebook and instagram and other feed based sites are nothing like that. Most people don't engage that much with their feeds outside of hitting a like button or two, which is hardly a wonder of human social interaction.

Yeah, this view I presented is a tad optimistic, but I see people in this (and similar) thread getting applauded for doing what's essentially a "proof from fundamental attribution error" - "people in front of a smartphone are zombies, therefore smartphone bad (but when I can be seen stuck in front of the screen, it is something important)" - and I'm trying to make a counterpoint.

That, and people forgetting how boring and irrelevant forced social ocassions can be, now that they can choose not to participate.

That's definitely a fair counterpoint, I've had to laugh at myself a number of times (right now, for example) when I'm making criticisms of devices while on a device myself.

I'm also a pretty bias because when I did start giving up my phone for long periods, my experience was excellent. Whereas my experience with social media sites and the death of all my previously favourite online communities has been a real bummer. There used to be a HN style community for every one of my interests. Now everyone is isolated in their own Facebook silos and there are fewer collections of random internet strangers, like forums, BBs and chatrooms would provide.

> Are you absolutely sure they're "mindlessly scrolling", and not just being fun and engaging to their friends on the other end of the social network?

Hasn't there been a drastic rise in teenage depression linked to smartphone and social network use?

Has it?

Yeah, it has, apparently:


The idea of a fully private social media profile actually scares my half-sister, since it would mean less likes on her posts, so her friends would get more. We had a conversation about this and the way she reacted wasn't pretty.

> The idea of a fully private social media profile actually scares my half-sister

Not commenting on the motivations of your half-sister, but the very concept of a "fully private social media profile" makes zero sense, since social media is what you engage in to share stuff with lots of people. Compare with "fully private blog".

Fully private wasn't really the right description. What I meant was only accepting people she actually knows. In stead of anybody who sends her a friend request. She has a couple thousand 'friends' now.

I see what you mean now, thanks for the clarification.

Compare with "fully private blog".

It's called a diary or a journal.


You are right to be concerned. My pet prediction is about the current generation of kids growing up.

Some kids will use this thing that, as you say, allows them to access the sum total of human knowledge. There will be precocious kids who learn everything to grad school level before they reach 15. There always have been, but there will be more.

There will be kids who become addicted to games and entertainment, and they will waste their lives in a way that was not possible just a few years ago. There always have been kids who wasted their lives doing nothing, but there will be more.

That depletes the middle ground; in a few decades you will run into more idiots and more geniuses than you had ever imagined possible.

I am mightily concerned. My own experience was that I wasted a fair bit of time doing games. Still made it to a world class uni, but that was on 1990s crack. The new stuff is a lot more addictive and comes in more varieties through more media. I did manage to learn some things from the internet, but it could have been much more.

Now I have two kids with my genes in them, genes that never evolved to cope with this world.

I think this dovetails well with the idea that salaries are increasingly becoming bifurcated with the top 10-20% in any given skilled profession being paid 2-5x what the bottom 80% are. It also ties in with whether or not you are living your life "above or below the algorithm" AKA are you ordering Ubers or driving Ubers? Are you creating content and building a "personal brand" or are you mindlessly scrolling through a skinner box feed?

Its an interesting trend that I'm seeing more and more. Its much more subtle than a Black Mirror episode but its worrying nonetheless.

> What is a supercomputer in your pocket, with access to a significant portion of the sum total of human knowledge, good for, for most people?

> Playing fucking candy crush.

This is my go to rant for the last few years. Not the fact the people do play silly games, but the whole surrounding myth "computing era is paradise of heavens, highway of information to make your life better, only need an better octocore for your digital life !" ..

this computer era is problem trying to find its solutions.

They solve some problems:

I remember carrying around physical reference materials for my ti84+ because back before smartphones there wasn't instantaneous access to stuff like that and the calculator's memory got cleared too often (and was probably too small, not to mention the horrible screen) to hold it for me.

They're like knives: in the hands of someone with self control they can extend what you're capable of but they can also be abused by the owner and the people around him.

I taught myself my first instrument last year and being able to look up reference material while my laptop wasn't around was super convenient. At night I watch OCW lectures from math and physics classes I can't afford to take, and I have instant access to an incredible collections of art, music, and literature.

The problem with smart phones is due to the misalignment (almost inversion) of profit incentives of application developers and application users. This wouldn't be such a problem either if it weren't for the increasingly popular idea that application developers need special training and the computer configuration should be left to special experts (in the name of security or DRM or whatever) which severely limits the creation and adoption of community maintained software that is more likely to serve the user's interests.

It cracks me up because that's what I used to say about solitaire. You mean you built a $4,000 computer and are now playing solitaire on it?

The real problem is see is more about the ecosystem though. The user controlled their pc (to a certain extent), but the user has so little control over mobile devices that they get fed what advertisers and companies want them to see.

It really feels like corporations and governments are sucking everything good about the internet out (anarchistic freedom of though, discovery of free information, etc).

What I see is a future where computer scientists and hackers are extremely powerful because they understand and (can) control their own systems, but the majority of the people are beholden to some combination of orwellian ecosystems seeking to control and profit off them.

Once again, this is why I think RMS was and is right and we need to start pushing more copyleft now.

I agree with this. Mobile to me seems boring but I grew up in an age, and with a cohort, who was much more into messing about with computers and seeing what we could do with them.

Mobile seems so restricted and I'm always amazed by how effectively distracted by phones people generally are. The games and apps to me seem utterly boring in comparison to hacking about on some open source project, making games, or working on something. Computers are fun, and were always fun because you could do so many things. iOS seems like a bunch of lame apps and a web browser with a camera somehow wedged in there.

I'm friends with a Computer Engineer who just finished his undergrad and he doesn't have the hacker spirit at all. I doubt he even knows who Stallman is and considers some of the most basic config a huge hassle. I don't think this is necessarily a reflection of Engineers in general but I always wonder why he studied computers at all. He doesn't seem to enjoy them.

I remember when what.cd was taken down someone on reddit saying, perhaps hyperbolically (perhaps not) something like, "this has ruined the internet for me; it's no longer for fun. only work" or something along those lines. I always think of that comment and don't really disagree with it: as this technology ages and matures the things that made it fun or interesting in the first place to me seem to be slowly getting destroyed. All these little battles keep getting lost and as time progresses it's just kind of "meh..". Instead of wondering what we can do with computers maybe we're finding out?

Proverbs for Paranoids #3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers. --Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow

About your friend, I feel some sympathy. I feel I have a huge disadvantage growing up starting with Windows (early 90s). Graphical UIs are great for usability but they hamper understanding of the underlying systems. Even though I loved computers, it took me way too long to get into programming as a result. Part of that is also that I had no mentor around to guide me.

I tend to hate configuring things and getting other people's software working the first time, but once things are set up I love programming and algorithmic work.

I can only imagine how opaque these small black rectangles are to the younger generations. Without a mentor, preferably a programmer mom or dad, I don't think kids would even know where to start. Sure, you can find all this stuff online, but the problem is that you can't learn much by just playing around anymore.

I also came up in the dawn of the PC era, when it was truly a hobbyists paradise. I don't think the hacker spirit is gone, it's just drowned out by the big business of tech which didn't really start to make in-roads with individuals until ~20 years ago. Distasteful as popular tech maybe today, look on the bright side: it's never been easier or cheaper to build cool shit. The only issue is sifting through the ubiquitous advertising, self-promotion and hype to find the genuinely cool stuff.

>this computer era is problem trying to find its solutions.

I don't think this is true. I watched a local mechanic fixing my car, and YouTube was an important tool for them. Watching someone else fix a car was much more effective than reading a schematic. Finding part numbers was easy. Ordering them was easy. I strongly suspect that health care people do the same thing (but don't want to admit it and do it behind closed doors). Certainly lawyers do this, via Lexis Nexis.

For anyone doing creative technical work, the Internet is wonderful. You can find authors, papers, howtos, videos, etc. Of course a good 80% of this content is awful bordering on harmful, but that 20% is vast. For software, HN manages to capture a large fraction of that 20%, IMHO.

It's also true that smartphones have brought addictive gaming behavior to the masses. But if you can avoid this then you've got a great resource.

I mean, the massive progress in science, medical, renewable energy, etc. are pretty good problems to be solving. The silly games and facebooks are only a problem for those who choose to participate in them.

> The silly games and facebooks are only a problem for those who choose to participate in them.

This is a bad argument. Usually it's not an informed choice, often made by someone who's immature.

Also, some of the...

> massive progress in science, medical, renewable energy, etc.

...was used to make stuff like...

>>> Playing fucking candy crush.

...as addicting as possible.

I understood the point of the article to be that it's addictive -- and intentionally so.

"...smartphones hook people using the same neural pathways as gambling and drugs."

We have laws regulating the others. Or in some countries, treatment programs. But either way, we don't just say "Cocaine is only a problem for those who choose to use it".

Making cocaine illegal hasn’t been too successful either though :(

We would be better of learning from the war on drugs that “Wars” don’t solve any problem...but sitting down, listening and providing help to addicts does!

I stopped believing in progress personally. Progress doesn't help you in many important part of life. We're spending too much time on science, and often to fix economic / political errors of the past.

I empathize with what you're saying. But the error is in the meaning we put into the word "progress".

We need to talk a lot more about "false progress". Because that's what it is if we create more problems than we solve when society changes.

It would be irrational to not believe in "true progress", any change that solves more of our common problems than it creates new one's.

If we can't have true progress then human society has kind of lost its point. It seems illogical to say that it's not possible. But we often seem lost at adopting the right process for it.

Interesting. Personally, I enjoy living in a world where my friends have overcome cancer, where I can spend < 1 hour a day focusing in food, and I am able to travel halfway around the world to experience machu picchu and be back by then next monday. At what point do you think we stopped productively progressing? Have you considered joining an Amish community?

> At what point do you think we stopped productively progressing? Have you considered joining an Amish community?

For all the miraculous cancer drugs we develop, we don't spend enough time or effort making sure they're obtainable by actual cancer patients. All of the "advances" you tout are only available to a certain privileged class of first-world citizens.

It's great you have access to prepared food and an airplane, but for those who aren't part of the jet-set, no progress has been made in addressing or solving any of their problems or making their lives easier.

There's no app to make daycare more affordable for single parents. Laundry doesn't do itself any better than it did 50 years ago. The blockchain doesn't hold police accountable for shooting unarmed civilians during traffic stops. Owning a smartphone doesn't provide you with competent or affordable legal representation when you need it most. Having a GPS transmitter on your person still can't reliably help 911 operators guide first responders to the actual scene of an incident. Nobody dependent on public transit to get to their retail job is saving up for a Tesla. Public schools are still underfunded, and we have entire generations with underdeveloped critical thinking skills plugged into a global network of lies and misinformation for most of their waking hours.

It's obvious none of these things affect you, but come on. At least pretend like the little people exist. The answer to a perceived lack of social progress is not suggesting the dissatisfied should renounce materialism and adopt someone else's rural way of life.

I do think about amish lifestyle a lot.

curing cancer is a worthy endeavor that is not on the same plane as most technology we spend time talking about (believe me I wish I could have saved some family members)

experiencing machu picchu and coming back in a week .. feels pointless to me. time is required to experience things fully. there's a middle ground between risking your life on a boat for 6 months before reaching south america and uber fast tourism.

And in a way I think that only people that really want to go the distance should travel.

The old agricultural system was too demanding it's true, but it's not removing it that makes life better. See how people eat shitty things, waste meat etc .. Also with proper education, one can go really far if he knows how to use energy, even without heavy industry behind.

It's a shifting plane, new ideas create new societies, they don't make the previous one better.

>The old agricultural system was too demanding it's true, but it's not removing it that makes life better. See how people eat shitty things, waste meat etc .. Also with proper education, one can go really far if he knows how to use energy, even without heavy industry behind.

>It's a shifting plane, new ideas create new societies, they don't make the previous one better.

Would you mind explaining this more? It sounds rather cryptic to me the way you are saying it.

It's a bit of wild speculation but you don't need industry to save you time.

Solar concentrator (lens, mirror) can harvest large amount of energy.

Proper use of levers and gears can make you move tons with your fingers (although you need experience), see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5pZ7uR6v8c and the likes

You don't need to reproduce horse plow with an oil based engine.

Interesting 3 examples.

Curing cancer is obviously positive progress. No-one who has cancer would prefer 19th century medicine.

Spending less than 1 hour a day focusing on food seems less clear-cut. It's really good not to starve or think you might starve, and we are really lucky that we don't have to spend most of the day meeting our basic nutritional needs. There also seems to be a risk that we put not enough thought into taking care of and fulfilling our biological needs, because we can. We can't escape food, sex, exercise and other meatspace needs, and attempts to do so often become pathological. If we have to eat, shouldn't we be taking our time and trying to enjoy the full rich experience of doing so?

Similarly, visiting Machu Picchu and being back by Monday seems like a double-edged sword. Maybe it would be worth spending more time in Peru. Does the short stay really allow time to absorb the history of the Incas and how it fits into the present-day culture of people living in the area? In the 19th century, the vast majority of the people living in the United States couldn't visit Europe. But those who did went on a tour for several months to a year, visiting many countries and cities and staying long enough to learn a bit about the language and lifestyle. Were they missing out by not being able to go in a day, take photos in the right places, and get back a few days later?

Or does it just seem that way because science and technology have already solved so many problems?

"People get distracted by smartphones" is a problem. But so is, "India doesn't produce enough food to feed its people", and that problem had a technological solution. Climate change will require technological solutions. Energy sustainability will require technological solutions. More diseases have been eradicated through science and technology than through any other mechanism.

I'll take a bunch of distracted teenagers over a bunch of crippled teenagers who barely survived polio any day.

I think the main issue these days is a lack of root cause analysis, so solutions tend to be superficial. Of course I'm not referencing things like the polio vaccine, but for the past few years my mantra has been "strike at the root", but after I've waded through the branches to get to a root I look up and see hardly anyone else is there, it gets lonely.

Politics is the perfect example of this in my opinion.

> I mean, the massive progress in science, medical, renewable energy, etc. are pretty good problems to be solving.

Yet the greatest minds of our generation are trying to make people click on ads more (forgot who this quote is from)

> The silly games and facebooks are only a problem for those who choose to participate in them.

Perhaps. When the question is addiction, who really had free will to choose?

My wife and I are going to have a son in a couple weeks. We literally were discussing today. We came to the conclusion we don't want them to have a cell phone until they are fairly old. We plan on actually installing a landline instead.

We subscribe to the theory that, to some extent, we need to struggle to grow. So, I've actually convinced her to pretty much let our son (and additional children) get free access to a computer though. The only catch, is it's going to be an older computer with linux installed.

Myself (and many people I know) learned so much from just trying to make our old machines keep working. I remember figuring out how to disable parental controls, figuring out how to remove portions or all of applications I didn't need to free up space, etc. I think it's important, and if my son can figure that out he's earned it (of course I'd help).

We both found it scary regarding cell phones, because it doesn't breed this kind of improvement. Children don't even need to learn to be responsible and meet where they say to meet. Parents can keep in contact at all times. I think there's something to be said for letting children learn to fend for themselves, but also be responsible.

We did agree on perhaps super old phones, that they can then figure out how to speed up - yet still call us. Too slow for modern games and probably even social media.

As I posted elsewhere, our teenage son has a flip phone. He always has, and he always will, until he can buy and sustain something more fancy himself.

As far as desktop, he runs whatever the latest version of Ubuntu LTS. He does not have administrative access to it.

I wrote a small program that watches the title of whatever the current/foreground window is and compares that title to a configured list of regular expressions. If any regex matches, then the program kills the process. It logs the current window name in any case.

So we basically blacklist the web sites/apps/whatever that we see in his activity log as needed.

He is required to have a 'chromebook' for school, and they provide one. But instead we got him an old sturdy thinkpad, put Ubuntu on it, and it has the same basic logging/security framework, but with a different blacklist set of regexes.

We have received very positive feedback from his teachers, who struggle to keep the rest of the class off of inappropriate (for class time...ie, time wasting) web pages.

I've been asked how this minor miracle is accomplished, but things go right downhill when I say the first thing you need to do is throw away ChromeOS and install Linux proper.

Teenage me would have been all over that box.

"Little johnny spent 3.5 hours on 'advanced algebra last night'".

Our family PC (this was back in the 90's) had RH on it for about a year before anyone noticed, I grew up around computers (family friend was a sysadmin for an aerospace company so we got lots of 'broken' stuff and cast offs), I had frankenbuilds with drives duct taped to the outside of them but my favourite was the monochrome VGA 386 laptop when the family PC was a 286, the internal ribbon had snapped from been opened and closed, it cost me about 50p to fix it and it was going in the skip (dumpster) anyway.

My plan with my step-son is to keep the bar low enough that he'll keep pushing beyond it, he's already shown a fair amount of interest in Linux, he figured out how Gnome works faster than my GF did, I caught him watching videos on Linux the other day and now he wants to try some of the other DE's.

I find it really hard though, I remember what I was like at 7 and I want to sit and explain it all to him but then he loses the part where he has to work it out for himself so I restrict myself to answering his questions when he gets stuck or nudging him in the right direction.

The family friend just dumped programming books on me and answered stuff when I got really stuck but his response to any question was "and what have you tried so far?", I still remember getting a mouse driver written in assembly to work (pretty much the last time I wrote any actually since I discovered Turbo C and Turbo Pascal pretty soon after).

I think our next project will be a tracked robot with one of the r-pi's I have in the drawer.

How old is your son approximately? Purely out of curiosity, what are you most afraid of him doing that makes you install spyware? Are you worried about time wasting or porn or social media or what?

I have friends who had parents that installed NetNanny etc on their computers and their recollections of their parents behavior around their use of technology are now mostly bitter and they ended up becoming obsessed with accessing unfiltered internet (which they invariably did at a friend's house or some such).

My parents didn't know what a regex was so when I was a teenager with a computer and an (extremely slow dial-up) internet connection we had to have conversations and build trust rather than involve blacklists and non-admin Linux accounts.

I'll answer your questions directly and then add some explanation, because neither our situation nor our son is anywhere close to normal or typical.

Our son is 15 years old, and he's in his second semester of high school, a year behind. > what are you most afraid of him doing ... Are you worried about time wasting or porn or social media or what?

The 'advanced', regex based spyware only arrived after he started high school. I've been logging (via a different system) his activities for many years now, so we know what kinds of things he gravitates toward, and it's not porn or social media. In fact, in most contexts, the stuff he looks at online is quite harmless. The key thing is 'wasting time'.

Very briefly, our son is both autistic and also pretty heavily ADHD. He gets 'stuck' on things very, very easily, and he has virtually no innate self motivation to do things academically. Finally, because of the way he is, he currently has no friends, and has historically very, very few friends.

All this adds up to a lot of challenges that would take all day to write down. What he can do on his laptop is heavily locked down most of the time. Basically anything that's currently drawing his attention or anything that's 'fun' isn't available. We're using that as a lever: a lot of that laptop lockdown will be lifted once he is failing none of his classes.

The lockdown on his personal desktop is usually a lot less severe. In fact, right now, since he just started a new semester, nothing is locked down at all.

I can understand that a lot of this might seem rather draconian, and under more typical circumstances it would be. But there's a lot more going on that I don't have time to get into, and would require a whole lot of context.

> now mostly bitter and they ended up becoming obsessed with accessing unfiltered internet

For all of the trails he faces, our son is surprisingly self aware. He understands his own character, weaknesses, strengths and challenges.

Thank you for your earnest inquiry. I would be happy to answer more questions, if any.

Ahh that's very interesting, and sheds a totally different light on your original post. That makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the thorough reply, I had not considered a more complicated situation when I was pondering your approach.


We actually err on the side of 'open' and 'permissive' in general, because that's how my wife and I were raised. We honestly find the steps we often have to take to influence our son uncomfortable. But it's been the only way to wedge him out of the enormous, intricate, detailed, persistent, fantastic, odd and amazing world that is in his head from time to time. He must join with society at some point.

lol I read some of these comments and all I hear is "Protect the children!"

Introducing your kids to any technology is an excellent way to teach them responsibility and how technology can be used to increase their understanding of the world around them. But this would require you to spend time with your kids and guide them along their journey with enough freedom to make mistakes.

I have 2 kids 5 & 10 that started using phones at 2 years old. A couple of broken screen and a few dramatic crying fits, but I can trust both of them to use technology with respect. Of course the 5 year is still learning and that happens everyday. The 10 year old is amazing now at self control with usage of his phone while interacting with others.

I say start them early to learn good habits, but also demonstrate good habits in your household.

Agree with you. I absolutely loved my first computer at age 10. It became one of my biggest passions and skills in life (to this day). At one point (13 or 14 years old), my parents sincerely told me they were concerned that I was losing focus/attention on other important things. I took that conversation to heart and I tried to be more cognizant of my use patterns. Sure I stayed up to 3am some nights but I was exhausted the next day and I learned my lesson. It was unhealthy.

As they say "Better to teach a man to fish".

This can be translated to "Better to teach a kid how to know when they are using something in a unhealthy way." (rather than do it for them). May take some time but I think that approach pays higher dividends.

I love the idea of giving kids access to the net on an old computer. Even better would be to simulate a 44k modem over wifi. This makes it possible to load anything, but you have to really want it, and you may even have to plan ahead (gasp!) before downloading something. It also inherently biases the kid to learn more about the local machine locally, which I believe is the key to growing a healthy adversarial relationship to computing devices. If you make the usual way of getting entertainment hard (e.g. youtube) my hope is that they will create their own entertainment (hacking the machine).

You would limit your kids’ internet access to dial-up speeds? That’s a little ridiculous.

Would you make them walk to school uphill both ways in the snow too?

Kids don’t have to have their parents’ exact childhood experiences to properly grow up.

You should be prepared for the possiblilty that your son will have no interest in Linux or figuring out how computers work. Kids are not always interested in the same things their parents are, and it can be a hard lesson to learn (ask me how I know).

I have kids and they will get phones soon. They already have some tablets and a Chromebook.

I don't care if my daughter ever memorizes a phone number or leaves the house without a map any more than I care if she learns to write in cursive. She plays games, but is also reading Kindle books and learning to code. I even chat with her on Slack.

And not to pile on, but please be aware that whatever plans you make for how you want your future children to be are 100% guaranteed to go off the rails and your kids will probably be fine anyway :)

When it comes to super old phones, what would you do about security concerns?

> I am terrified about giving smartphones to my kids.

I am terrified by the fact that so many other people don't think twice about handing their toddler a smart device. Every time we go to dinner, there's a table nearby with a tablet planted in front of a child in a booster seat.

"There's no evidence that it's harmful", people say, but how could the evidence possibly exist? It would take 16+ years to do a thorough study (possibly longer), but smartphones have only been popular for half that time. And people have only been using them as babysitters for the past 3-5 years, at most.

We may not know the true extent of their damage until it's far too late for the affected generation. There's always a chance that the damage will be minor and/or reversible, but most people don't seem to grasp the risk they're taking.

> Every time we go to dinner, there's a table nearby with a tablet planted in front of a child in a booster seat.

I'm guessing you're not a parent. As the parent of a 3-year-old boy, I'd like to weigh in on this. There are three kinds of parents out there:

1) Those that simply hand their kid a phone/tablet every time they're out and about. This is probably bad.

2) Those that never let their kid use a device at a restaurant. This is pretty rare.

3) Those that use the device in times of true need: their kid has been at the dinner table for a long time and needs some distraction so the parents can get through their meal. This is where I fall, and I think it's ok. Most three year olds are not built to sit quietly and eat a meal at a restaurant. I guess maybe back in the day, people would simply leave their kid with a sitter and go out to eat, but that's not always an option.

All the 1's probably think they're 3's, though.

> 3) Those that use the device in times of true need: their kid has been at the dinner table for a long time and needs some distraction so the parents can get through their meal.

Sounds like us. Either that or my wife and I would take turns carrying our kid around while the other finishes off their meal.

If you need to come armed with facts:


Scroll down to "Among the AAP recommendations" for the tl;dr.

>What is a supercomputer in your pocket, with access to a significant portion of the sum total of human knowledge, good for, for most people?

>Playing fucking candy crush.

The same could be said for any entertainment that people get via computers, and none of it is really relevant.

If they only use wikipedia once a month from their phone in a situation where they wouldn't have used it at all, I count that as a win.

Sure, they might spent 99.9% of their time on the device for entertainment purposes... But that other .1% is still enriching them.

And I suspect the numbers are quite far from that.

Sure, they might spent 99.9% of their time on the device for entertainment purposes... But that other .1% is still enriching them.

This assumes only positive externalities. The problem with things like Candy Crush is that there might be a net negative for the user in the highly engineered feedback loop.

Finding ways to waste time isn't unique to computers - you could subscribe to a newspaper because everyone else does, but only look at the sports results or the crossword. For that matter I can read books abusively as well as informatively - computers aren't the cause of people wasting time or making bad choices. You could argue that they are more highly engineered to keep people making such choices in the name of profit, though. Admittedly people have leveled the same critique at novels, and they're not entirely wrong.

Now I agree that most people actually get more real use of out their smartphones than just playing games, but I do also agree with the top post that we encourage people to spend their money powerful pocket computers and then frequently those devices end up as conduits for advertising to buy more stuff.

It's not that people are bad for playing Candy Crush, but that we're glorifying the people who make Candy Crush because of their ability to cash in, while many other worthy smartphone projects go underdeveloped/underused because they don't have a billion-dollar story attached.

I get your gist, but if someone spends 99% of their time playing Candy Crush and 1% using Wiki, it's not a net win for them vs spending 50% of their time doing nothing and the other 50% reading a book instead.

But before phones, did those folks read books and do nothing? Or is it more likely that they watched football and soap operas on TV?

Football and Soap Operas are simply not comparable to the kind of addiction the smartphone people are able to build into their products.

Facebook has an army of phds whose only goal is to make sure Facebook’s users spend another few percent of their time on Facebook. And Facebook with its social interaction, and in depth knowledge of each user, can actively drive its users to spend more time on it in ways no other medium has been able to so far.

And it’s not just Facebook. It’s oretty much every tech company, barring maybe Apple.

I think you're really underestimating the shocking amount of television people used to watch. Many baby boomers have spent most of their adult life spending almost every free moment in front of a TV.

The number is inherently less because you can't watch TV in the car, you can't watch TV on the bus, you can't watch TV at work, etc...

Now that happens everywhere. Use levels of TV vs smartphones aren't close. The comparison is simply absurd because of the nature of the technology.

My point wasn't so much about addiction, it's that if someone is determined to kill time, they'll find a way to do it.

You say that as if it were a fact. Can you please provide sources for this!

It's been awhile, but as I recall, people weren't watching football and soap operas everywhere, they couldn't. The modern equivalent is having those to go.

That's not even taking into account addictions and misinformation.

No. People went to Bars (or horse racing tracks) and didn't go home for that.

Thats a good point, kids today have reduced binge drinking and smoking, the stuff you could do on the go in the old days.

Banning smartphones because of distracting apps is equivalent to banning guitars because of heavy metal music.

It's the content, not the tool.

Schools should be teaching kids how to use these tools to create content; not just passively consume.

It is the tool too.

Former teacher here: I taught open project classes, one class with old school desktop computers and one with iPads. The difference between the two techs was immense.

Desktops are made for productivity. You have a mouse, a keyboard. It's easy to type weird characters, copy/paste, save, use office suite, etc. Yeah, you know that. You're HN.

Ipads are made for consumerism. They lack a good typing device (I admit this specific point is more opinion), menus for more complex tasks are not so easy to use. With an iPads (or a smartphone) you typically scroll, scroll, scroll. Simply saving text students wrote on ipads was such a tedious task for them. I feel most smartphones fall in this category, and as such, I think they have no place in the classroom.

Internet in the classroom? Please more. Internet usable only through touchscreen? Never ever.

I agree that a traditional desktop or laptop computer is a more productive text processing machine than an iPad, partially due to the physical keyboard and partially due to limitations in iOS.

For other productive tasks like music creation or digital drawing, where text is far less important than it is in programming, writing documents, using a spreadsheet, etc, the iPad is arguably superior to the traditional desktop setup.

Meh to a certain extent but I'd rather use a giant Wacom on my desktop with all its processing power when using something like Zbrush then to do it over an iPad. Same with music, it's a lot easier to present dense amounts of information when you actually have the real estate to display it.

I'm strongly on the side of less tech in (most) classrooms, especially for younger kids, but iPads are pretty awesome if what you're creating involves video, recording audio anywhere other than at a desk, remote-controlling anything, drawing with a pencil/pen-like interface, or any number of other tasks that your average desktop or laptop can't support well without extra hardware, if at all.

> banning guitars because of heavy metal music

My dad did that with one of my brothers. He ended up building his own electric guitar in shop class. He learned how to play it on the sly when dad wasn't around. Now he has a room full of guitars and teaches kids the evils of Simon and Garfunkel.

This to me smacks of fear and really some perverse form of protectionism. The whole idea of "schooling" is built upon the premise that there is some fundamental set of knowledge that it's important for students to master before they can function in the world. However, with the advent of computers, the internet, and their miniaturization in the form of smart phones, any piece of human knowledge is instantly retrievable and usable.

What's the point of a semester long instruction in algebra or geometry still filled (mostly) with rote memorization of methods and formulas when those methods and formulas are available ubiquitously at the touch of a button. Schools see smartphones as an existential threat and rather than try to adapt their model of instruction to the tools that we all now have, they're attempting to ban them outright. I only see this leading to resentment and anger from students who are accustomed to instant, easy access to information.

It's context. The purpose of memorization, etc. is so that when you look at more complex ideas and concepts, you're not wasting cognitive load on foundational concepts like basic arithmetic.

Very well said.

To directly answer GP's question:

I took a differential equations class last semester, where the easy part of quite a few problems was to solve a quadratic equation. And it was easy, because my algebra classes had correctly required me to practice that skill (and memorize the quadratic formula).

So, you say, I'm never going to take differential equations. And you very well might not. I have two responses to that:

1) That's true, you might not, but the guy sitting next to you will, and he doesn't even know it yet. If you were allowed to opt out of that subject, you both would, and he wouldn't even have a chance to make up for it later.

2) There are plenty of other subjects where the easy part is an algebra concept, and it's only easy because you practiced it years before.

> when those methods and formulas are available ubiquitously at the touch of a button

Many "formulas" are easy to read but hard to apply effectively.

By that logic math homework must be super easy, since the content is easy to google (and already in the textbook)..

I wouldn't allow a guitar in the classroom either, except when they are specifically required, like for music classes.

It's easy to forget that thousands of scientists, researchers and experts are working hard on manipulating every aspect of your psyche so you keep using using their sites, apps and services.

I also find it interesting (or sad) that all this human intelligence and capital is being used for such ridiculous purposes instead of solving society's real problems and making the world a better place. But then again, its not like this is something new in human history...

Fixing society's ills is not profitable. There is no VC money in it, there is no going public. The fixes required are long, unpaid slogs with little reward at the end other than you made someone's life better.

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

What if we banned advertisements?

How long would google, facebook or amazon last after that?

All this tech is great. But we are kidding ourselves if we say we liked advertising or if it benefits anybody except the people putting them up.

advertising is a literal cancer on society. If it was gone even in the simplest of forms so you aren't able to legally see advertising until you turn 21 years old. Or have our kids be able to grow up until they turn 18 without seeing a single advertisement.

Especially big pharma ads!

I remember one of my professors who'd been behind the iron curtain back when there was an iron curtain saying the one thing the commies definitely got right was banning most advertising. Said when they crossed back to West Germany it was like every surface in every city was yelling at him.

I experience this in London. If I spend too long only travelling by bicycle on the paths in the parks and riversides in South West London I do not see adverts inside trains/buses or 'free' newspapers or billboards. I don't do TV and I run adblockers so it comes as a shock being advertised to for many hours when I do take a trip up town.

We are wired for accomplishments and refining our skills. Games definitely hack that process like a virus.

This isn't completely new though, it's why chess is regarded so skeptically in the Hadith.

Maybe we are in a newly rapid iteration cycle in humanity's quest for better distraction... But we've always had distraction nipping at the heels of meaningful accomplishment.

I'm just not sure how to measure the delta... How much better is distraction today than fifty years ago? How much steeper is that curve than the one measuring our ability to tackle meaningful societal problems? (Does the second curve even have a positive slope, and do they draw from the same pool of human effort?)

This is the reason I don't see any hope of us making money on the App Store - we refuse to give into the "portable casino" economy of gaming apps, feeding people's micro-idling addictions, just to fill our pockets. We made a simple app (Bubble Maker[1]) which we intentionally made very different from other apps: it's just a bubble simulator and nothing else. No points, no micro-transactions, no social media aspect, just play with bubbles. And it's doing pretty badly in the App Store because none of the major app reviewers will review it on account of how it "looks too simple", not realizing that's the whole point. I guess this is what voting with our downloads has come to.

[1] https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/bubble-maker-relaxing-way-to...

Is the infrastructure in place to support this? I feel like the removal of payphones in public places makes me hesitant to support a smartphone ban of any sort. Yes, they shouldn't be in the classroom, but if students have them in their locker... I remember in junior high, my sister and I had a rather busy extracurricular schedule, and my mother couldn't always be counted upon to remember when events let out. Payphones were a good way to arrange transportation from various events. All those payphones are gone now.

"Children will be allowed to bring their phones to school, but not allowed to get them out at any time until they leave, even during breaks."


Banning smartphones doesn't preclude having dumb cell phones. My smartphone died last week and I thought long and hard about getting another one. Ultimately I don't have the willpower to totally resist, but these last few days without one have been enlightening.

> What is a pen and a piece of paper in your pocket, with the potential to express creativity and share it with others, communicate, good for, for most people?

> Playing fucking tic-tac-toe.

I doubt the bulk of pen and paper is used for playing tic-tac-toe. I find the OP's concern to be valid more or less.

At least tic-tac-toe isn't designed to suck all your attention

> there will always be people who choose trivial entertainment, and there will always be folks who chase knowledge and self improvement

That's why the entire thing seems like a non-issue to me. If some people don't want to do anything useful with their lives, then who are we to prohibit them from continuing to do-nothing and thereby starving themselves?

(Of course, we already, rightfully, prohibit people from harming&stealing-from each other; that's beside my point.)

I think this is just way too simplistic of a view of it. People won't just follow two exact patterns of behavior regardless of their environment. We all have, to varying extents, a proclivity to instant dopamine-based gratification.

The difference now is that the technology that now exists makes this sort of gratification both constantly available, and better than ever at scratching that dopamine itch.

The evidence the article presents also points towards something happening after the advent of smartphones, and not before.

> I think this is just way too simplistic of a view of it. People won't just follow two exact patterns of behavior regardless of their environment. We all have, to varying extents, a proclivity to instant dopamine-based gratification.

Perhaps in the same way as an LED dimmed via pulse-width modulation has, to a varying extent, a proclivity to not produce light? Then just as the human perception of such an LED is on a continuum between "off" and "full brightness", so people's net-worths-at-retirement will stand on a continuum between starvation and Bill Gates.

I wouldn't have an issue except those who choose to waste their lives still get to take from those around them and society in general.

If people who make no meaningful contribution to society have no entitlement to any benefit of society then i wouldn't care.

Indeed, the scenario you describe would be optimal.

Meanwhile, however, trying to make the current society function better under the ubiquitous-welfare thesis is a step in the wrong direction. Better to, instead, make the act of discarding ubiquitous-welfare a more and more serious+obvious+viable solution to more and more of society's problems.

How about applying some (survivorship?) bias here?

Smartphones and the internet make access to knowledge easier for everyone, but that is a small amount of what is otherwise cluttered with mostly useless(and sometimes damaging content), which naturally, appeal to the larger part of the population.

However, if having access to a smartphone can help some kids learn a little bit more, or maybe change someone's life by just making it easier to browse useful content, isn't it worth it? Those who won't find a good use for a phone would just have some other silly pastime if phones didn't exist.

I say just let people play candy crush, maybe while they are waiting for a life reload they might learn something on the tiny screen.

curious, but what do you mean by 'damaging content'; Or would it hurt me if you told me?

Well, we have useless content, which might be entertaining but otherwise provide no real benefits to the user, by damaging I mean content that influences people in a negative way(fake news, hate speech, etc). Maybe the right word here is "harmful", but English is not my first language to be 100% sure.

i see, thanks for explaining that. I suppose 'disinformation' would be the most apt word for what you are meaning.

I don't know what age your kids are, but it'll be a difficult struggle when the time does come.

I've got 4 step kids, who are 11, 13, 16 and 18. All aside from the eldest have smartphones, (they have each had them when they have gone to secondary school), and it's a constant problem - probably the thing where I have the biggest disagreements with them (I have an excellent relationship with all four of them, and they're all good, intelligent kids).

It's like a disease, and it's insidious. They are completely unaware that they are being manipulated by the software that they use every day, and are addicted to their phones, being connected and the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO). I have spent many an hour trying to tell them that nearly everything they use isn't agnostic about its behaviour, but that it tries to manipulate them into spending as much time as possible in the app/site and so on.

I've really cut down on the amount I use my phone over the last year or so, and it has paid huge dividends. About 18 months ago I stopped using Facebook, and any other social media. I feel massively better for doing so, but it took me a long time to break the habits; and I'm a 46 year old with a brain that developed without such patterns as the norm, and I'm told I have 'immense self control'. So how on earth is a kid who doesn't know any different supposed to be able to do anything different?

I'm sure I'll get shot down by some (or downvoted), but I think there's a huge difference between technology itself and the way that it's being used to manipulate. There are always the arguements that 'you don't understand the modern way' - that being connected and always on is the norm... or that I'm a hypocrite as I use computers at work.... or that it's OK, and it means throwing away the ability to look at Wikipedia... but the truth of the matter is that most of the time spent isn't enriching yourself, it's flicking through instagram posts like a cat pawing at a washing machine.

I'm particularly concerned about the 13 year old, as she appears to be going backwards in terms of reading age and ability, and her attention span is dismal. She used to like reading, and now she complains that any book we suggest is 'too difficult' and the stories are 'too long and complicated'. And we're not talking 'A Deepness in the Sky' here. Particularly tragic as she was extremely creative (far more so than the other three), but seems to be getting less so as time goes on. Don't get me wrong, she's not stupid, but she seems to be diverging from the path she could be on as time goes on, but spends hours looking at junk on her phone.

Meal times are always device free, which works well. There's (now) one place in the house to charge your phone, and if it's on charge, you stop using it until it is charged.

For about the last 6 months we have had Sunday nights as completely 'device free' - from 5pm, every computer, ipad, phone, etc., gets turned in, and no-one goes on anything (yes, me included) - no TV or anything. And it works brilliantly well; there is nearly always some resistance at first (and the first month or so was difficult), and some moaning, but everyone acknowledges that we've had some of the best times as a family when we've been completely without any distractions; sometimes we will play games, sometimes we will have discussions, sometimes we will read, or do something individually or in small groups, but it's a complete change from the usual time where most of the people in the household are disconnected in some way, or distracted.

The eldest is at University, and is obviously an adult, but when she's home she plays by the same rules, and has also (in the last discussion had on the subject) admitted that when she got a phone (6 years ago), it was a completely different landscape; it wasn't weaponised against the user as it seems to be now. She said in no uncertain terms that it's not suitable for her youngest brother in the way it used to be, which was interesting, but she still doesn't agree that being device free an evening a week is a good idea.

Anyway, one of my biggest worries as a (step-)parent is that I will not have done enough to protect my kids' minds against the tobacco of our age, particularly when I've been reading about how bad the problem potentially could be. I sincerely hope I'm exaggerating the risks, but I doubt it.

> "I'm particularly concerned about the 13 year old, as she appears to be going backwards in terms of reading age and ability, and her attention span is dismal."

Definitely not limited to 13 year olds. I've notice this myself the last couple of years, and it seems to have coincided with an increase in my usage of Reddit and HN apps (ie. feed-based news apps with comments).

I'm finding that sitting down to read a good book no longer seems appealing to me, and I almost have to trick myself into doing it. I also am a lot pickier in terms of whether a book is good enough to hold my attention. Ditto for long-form magazine articles.

Interestingly enough this also seems to bleed over into other media. Movies seem too long to focus on without using my phone while watching during slow scenes, and same with TV shows. In fact, across Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime Instant, I am struggling to find any shows that seem interesting enough to warrant spending the time to even watch the first episode. Yet I find I enjoy trailers for movies and shows way more than I used to. I'll bet some of that is due to the short couple minute format and quick cuts which keep my brain occupied.

I'm making an effort to cut back, but even being aware of the problems doesn't make that easy. I almost wish I'd lose my phone for a day so I wouldn't have an option.

Oh, I felt much the same about a year ago - hence quitting Facebook and any other social media, and drastically cutting down the amount of time I spend using my phone. I think it's probably worse for children who've not had a life without it, but it's definitely a real thing, and takes a while to get anywhere near back where you were before.

I had to make a really conscious effort to not use my phone at times of low attention, and now actually revel in the time I get when I used to get my phone out and just browse stuff (stood in queues, while waiting for anything for any length of time, etc), and enjoy actually daydreaming or thinking about things. I find it a bit sad that this is a novelty!

Is that mainly what you have found fills that time? Or have you found other uses for it?

Not all of my time is wasted on Reddit/HN. I actually have quite a few high-quality subs I subscribe to, and in general I learn quite a bit each day on both places from the comments. Sure there is room to cut back, but there is definitely some strong "signal in the noise."

I have felt a lack of creative energy these past few years, so I wonder if that would start to come back, but I genuinely can't picture what I'd do without those things in my life. It is very sad when I think about it, but I wonder if there is a happy middle-ground vs. going all out with a dumb phone.

I've found that I'm actually -thinking- about things when I'm in those short times (queues, between courses of meals at friends' houses when everyone else is doing the food or wherever) when I'm stood alone and would have previously reflexively ended up on my phone looking for stimulation.

I wouldn't say all of my time was wasted (and HN is the only remaining regular thing I look at, but I tend to read an article or two and comments and then be done, rather than repeatedly looking through it for something), but the vast majority was. Maybe better filtering was needed for me, and I've achieved that in other areas by subscribing to a couple of worthwhile email lists (of relevant interest areas) where I get maybe 1 email a week that takes maybe half an hour to filter and that's that.

Most of the spare time I've reclaimed is being used usefully - I'm learning Python at the moment, so I'm finding I'm doing bits an pieces here and there with that, and also I've actually made time to go back to practicing and enjoying playing the guitar, which I've done for a long time. I'm starting to feel more musically creative as well, which is definitely a change from the past few years - I had thought that it was all gone, so perhaps we're experiencing something similar?

>I have spent many an hour trying to tell them that nearly everything they use isn't agnostic about its behaviour, but that it tries to manipulate them into spending as much time as possible in the app/site and so on.

Very well said. Apps and social media and clickbait-sites are digital Skinner boxes, its creators (dopamine) dealers. As a general rule, if you can't put something away for a week (or even better, an unspecified amount of time), you're addicted; and addictions are never a good thing.

I have a 4 and 6 year old so they are not interested in phones yet, but I'm concerned about giving them a device in future with unrestricted access to the internet before they are ready to deal with everything they might see there. (I'm not ready for most of that, but I'm old enough to know I don't want to see it. )

The internet has been filtered in the house for years (their Mum is an IT tech in a primary school) - both via the broadband supplier's filtering and also using OpenDNS. It's not a perfect solution (and obviously can be bypassed as soon as they have smartphones with Internet access), but it's another element to think about... plus, of course, educating them in the right way so that they see it as a good thing to be kept safe, rather than a bad thing that they're being kept away from something they covet.

iOS has excellent controls so we locked down an old iPhone for our kids, 5 and 8, to use to listen to audio books (connected to my wife's library card), take pictures, add notes and sketches, and add contacts with all their friends' names (no voice or text). One picture got posted to Facebook before we figured out the OS was still logged in to Facebook despite deleting the app.

They do ask when they can have phones. In their wildest dreams they would text and call their friends all day long, so thankfully the brain warping stuff has not entered the picture yet. They know it's a long ways off, but they are curious and want to get a sense of the time frame. For now we stall and talk about the risks and responsibilities with them while we gather data such as referenced in the OP.

Unfortunately Android's controls are pathetic, at least in v4 which we had. One of the kids got into the play store and downloaded a bunch of princess and pet type games one day. No harm done but the whole situation raised great lessons for everyone.

This sounds pretty normal though.

Raising kids is hard work...and they don’t turn out as you like...they go their own way...good for them!

What you wrote could have been also written by a parent 20, 50 or 100 years ago.

I'm not sure all of it -is- pretty normal. Yes, of course the teenage 'striking out on my own, the previous generation knows nothing' etc... we've all been there and experienced that. I don't expect them to follow any of the paths that I have, or become how I think they 'should' be. But I really think this is different, because they are not in control of their own minds in a way that every other generation was much more so.

Yes, of course, no-one's life is without influence and advertisers have always sought to claim your attention for their own needs. But now you have the process being personalised for each user, and weaponised because accurate stats on effects can be captured quickly and iterated on straight away. Everyone's personal weak spot can be identified, analysed and taken advantage of - and in a very short timescale. That was most definitely NOT the case in the past; behaviour of advertising and attention capture was at best aggregated across a large fraction of the population at a time, sometimes the entire population at once.

Many thanks for taking the time to write such a lovely text.

> isn't enriching yourself, it's flicking through instagram posts like a cat pawing at a washing machine

How is looking at cats not enriching yourself though?

A mom I know collects her kids’ smartphones at 6pm. I know because I once heard them in her bag.

What I heard was incessant buzz which sounded very urgent to me. She said it was Snapchat notifications. The rate was over 20 notifications per minute.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to try and keep up with something like this.

Dumb suggestion, but can't you control the number of notifications you get? I do this for instagram, facebook, etc...

I'm guessing the kids want the notifications and the mom doesn't want to go in and modify the setting in all the apps across all the phones (I sure wouldn't). I think an easier approach would be to simply put them into do not disturb mode.

Correct. She’s not into micromanagement and it’s not only about the notifications.

I don’t think she wants to log into the phones. She just puts them on vibrate and into her bag ;)

My prediction: not owning a smartphone will one day be seen as a status symbol (like the opposite of the 80s/90s where owning one was a status symbol)

Forget about Smartphones, Binge watching in kids is what I am afraid of. There is more than enough content on Netflix to not get out of the house for years.

I used to watch 3-4 hours of Saturday morning cartoons without on-demand. At least now there's no commercials.

Without supercomputers in the pocket, what were most people doing with their lives? The problem isn't supercomputers, it's closed loop addiction hacking. You can give smartphones to people, just take them away periodically and break the feedback loop.

> So what can we do about it? I have no idea

Since you admit to this why are you applauding broad application of draconian law to address the problem? This reminds me of the last episode of this past season of Black Mirror -- the UN mandates that 'containers' for artificial consciousness contain at least five emotes (woefully inadequate) and simultaneously that artificial consciousness cannot be terminated; effectively trapping people in hell. Reacting to every manufactured media panic, running to the bedroom of your parents (government) and asking them to protect you from the monsters under your bed is the true problem here.

Add to that, all the data collected on people unable to give proper consent. Every app a child would use(except maybe children's only apps) is collective metrics on everything and using that for aggregation and further sales(for them or for others). Then the "trivial entertainment" is designed to never get boring and keep attention at the expense of other activities. Even the brain games are only good at training to play that one specific game and nothing else. So the utility isn't there without the context of how to use a computer/phone as a tool

> What is a supercomputer in your pocket, with access to a significant portion of the sum total of human knowledge, good for, for most people? Playing fucking candy crush.

"People" have always been driven to play, gamble, game and such. What matters is that the human-knowledge-computer is there and accessible, not that 7 billion people immediately proceed to become Hawking/Feynman/Schopenhauer/etc-whoever clones on a daily fulltime basis. We're playful creatures, as are all well-fed carnivores =)

So, there is no rule that you have to give your kids a smartphone. It won't screw them up no matter what those already addicted to their phones will tell you.

Our rule is the kids can have a smart phone when they can buy it and a data plan on their own. So far our first didn't do that until she was 18. The second was a little earlier at 17, but she was heading off to college and really felt that she needed it. Our 16 year old so far shows no interest in trying to save up for one.

a buddy of mine has a good setup. His teens have phones, ipads, and the like but he has every charger. Inevitably they have to hand the device over for power and then he decides on when to hand it back.

I just checked Amazon and even for an apple device the charger and cable will be less than $10 (knock-off brand). Or, they could just use their friends' chargers. That is so easy to get around that I assume your friend's kids turn in their devices on occasion just so he doesn't wise up and put more onerous restrictions in place.

I think this question is quite complicated, much more than it appears. Many questions come to mind.

Is trivial entertainment completely unjustified? What exactly entails trivial entertainment? What makes acquiring a mechanical skill in a game more or less trivial than reading a novel?

And what exactly does self-improvement constitute? Is it about knowing more facts? Having more skills than our predecessors? Having more developed particular skills? What about ethics and morality, are they amenable for self-improvement or mostly a product of one's experiences? How should ethics and morals be weighted against other areas of self-improvement?

What is the ultimate goal of self-improvement, or is it a goal in itself? If living a long happy life is a goal, should we give into some simple pleasures that make us happy?

Obs: I don't mean to imply that Candy Crush is the pinnacle of human condition, I've never even played it myself to judge. More to emphasize the hazards in analyzing this sort of question.

Higher thought and functioning is a scarce resource. The trivialities may seem dumb or unnecessary, but it’s inhumane to expect none of them.

The real problem is getting people to balance fun/play and “work”.

Open question as to how to get people to balance those. Maybe the freemium/Facebook stuff need to be discussed like cigarettes/sex Ed.

Even as an adult I find it hard to get out of the quick feedback loop trivial entertainment (silly games, reddit, HN, etc.) give me.

As a parent with two children who are gamers we try to limit their time but it is a struggle for them to sign off the games.

I'm going to try and model better behavior.

France's new rule (no smartphones in schools - no exceptions) is genius, and I applaud them for that.

I agree that some people will use the awesome power of pocket super computers for frivolous things, and some won't, but I don't think banning smartphones in schools is the answer.

The folks empowered by smartphones will suddenly have less power, diminishing themselves and their contribution to society.

The folks who can't stay off Candy Crush when they have a smartphone are still going to struggle with distraction, it'll just be comics/dating/some other distraction.

The second group may learn a bit more, but it seems like a net loss for society as a whole - which completely opposes the stated mission of a mandatory education.

I'd love to know the current percentage of school kids doing productive things with smartphones during school hours!

> Playing fucking candy crush.

Well, that and replying to HN posts about digital distractions...

I have a sneaking suspicion that HN users are far, far from being the majority of folks using smartphones.

Well, that seems pretty obvious, since there are hundreds of millions of smartphone users, and probably only tens of thousands of HN users.

France's new rule has yet to actually be applied though. You call it genius, I, as a frenchamn who works in a high school, question the viability of it. It's easy to make a law, but there is no framework for it.

> Playing fucking candy crush.

This is not balanced at all. We also use it to connect, relay information, learn, translate in realtime, coordinate events and meetups...

This is exactly why I believe Basic Income would be a Big Joke.

Socrates felt the same way about books actually a lot of big thinkers in that era felt that writing and reading would lead to the degradation of the human memory. However the argument that kids shouldn't have books in school seems laughable. I would say they aren't wrong. Humans really can't remember entire books any more, but then they also don't need to.

Precisely. It's another form of off-loading some of our cognitive processes.

While books reduced the frequency at which we practiced memorization, and thus diminished the average effectiveness of that process in man, they also paved the way for new developments and enabled us to devote further cognitive resources to other kinds of processes (e.g. pattern recognition, experimentation, etc.).

Smart phones, I'd wager, have a similar effect, in a perhaps more extreme fashion.

In spite of this, memory remains incredibly important...somehow taking the effort to memorize something, perhaps because it requires approaching the material repeatedly, also often leads to a richer understanding of the material--at least that's what I find.

I'm constantly shocked and embarrassed at the frequent fragility of my own memory, and my own susceptibility to distraction--and I spend no time on the common distraction centers of our epoch (facebook, twitter, etc.)--still, constant, reliable, and immediate access to the internet is enough to hold your attention hostage.

Another unfortunate side effect, I think, is a general decline in the practice of self-reflection. The most impressive people I know make a point to spend some amount of time in their day doing nothing more than thinking or reflecting--i.e. engaging with their thoughts alone--an endeavor that's ever more difficult to undertake when we're constantly bombarded with alerts and entertainment. There's some merit to those old disciplines of prayer and meditation--even if some of their attendant metaphysics seem antiquated.

It's true that there's a double-edge to it. The new advantage being that books became an extension of ourselves. Having access to printed knowledge meant we didn't have to memorize every line (and after all, we've come to learn that understanding certainly does not equate with wrote memorization). We can have a working memory of what we need to know on a regular basis, while retaining "pointers", or knowledge of where knowledge is, for the rest of it. I'd wager (without doing any proper research on the subject) that we're largely more effective, and cooperative this way.

The difference between books and smart phones is such that there are a theoretically limited number of ways you could use the book. You can partake of its knowledge, memorize it as an exercise, rip it up, burn it, draw all over it, etc etc. But for the most part its main purpose is its primary purpose.

Phones as they are called, aren't so much phones anymore. They're a complete mobile computing system. All of publicly accessible human knowledge is at the fingertips of whoever has one with a live connection to the internet. You can do just about anything with them, abilities dependent.

I remind my girlfriend of this all the time as she's lying curled up on the couch playing candy crush :P

I think there's a lot of value in having self-aware conscious behavior, it's important that you're doing what you want with your life. You only have one. People have definitely wasted their lives away, from their own opinion deep in a book. The vehicle by which people waste their lives is a lot less important than the awareness of what you're doing with your life, and that it's something that you actually wanted to do.

Very true. Also astute re: reading. I'm sure by now we all've heard the twilight zone trope of the isolate fellow who only wants to spend his time deep in his books, being of little value to anything or anyone else.

Also just going to say, if you had taken away my smartphone/internet in highschool I would have just dropped out, moved out, and probably would have been better for it. Most of the profitable skills I know are self-taught, from the internet. It's very bizarre to me that we're having this discussion on hnews.

You gotta know that not all people are like you, hell, I would say most people aren't. Like yourself, I'm also mostly self-taught. All the useful and profitable skills I have I mostly have learned on my own thanks to the internet. I did go to school and have a CS degree, but I did that because I pushed myself to get better, and managed to pull my self away from all the distractions. But, like I said, most people don't take advantage of the real benefits that the internet have, and fall into the trap of the rest of the more trivial and "useless" stuff. So, I do think that completely banning smartphones is too radical, but at the same time think that we must do something to solve the problems that this article describes.

I think there's definitely room for talking to your child about self-awareness, and self-directed behavior. If you just stop your child from using some distraction then they'll just be an adult who is consumed by distraction. You're creating a crutch from actually learning the skill of managing their time.

> Also just going to say, if you had taken away my smartphone/internet in highschool

"Smartphone" and "internet" are two separate categories, and the former is strongly associated variously low-value, deliberately-addicting behaviors. The internet still has valuable corners, but the action is now where the monitization's at.

High school (and younger!) kids (generally) using their smartphones for stuff like getting streaks on Snapchat, not turning themselves into autodidacts.

Do you have evidence for that claim? You know your parents said the same about you with your computer games. In reality, yes you played games, you also learned more. The truth is you used more of your time than they did and some of it was productive, and some of it wasn't. VSauce has a good episode about how every generation thinks this about the next, and there has never been any evidence for it being true about any of them.

> Do you have evidence for that claim? You know your parents said the same about you with your computer games.

You're asking me to provide you evidence of a widely written about social phenomena while simultaneously claiming to know about my youth and what my parents thought about my activities?

>>> Most of the profitable skills I know are self-taught, from the internet.

If you want to know more about how the current smartphone and internet ecosystem is deliberately designed to be addictive, I suggest you go teach yourself from the internet. A lot's been written the last few months.

While you're at it, read up on loot boxes, since you seem to be interested in computer games.

It's rhetoric, I presume nothing about your youth or your parents. Literally every generation has had that said about them so it's a pretty safe guess.

You don't need a smartphone to engage in gambling or other addictive behaviors. If children are seeking out skinner boxes it might be worth exploring why they aren't getting fulfillment out of their life.

> If children are seeking out skinner boxes it might be worth exploring why they aren't getting fulfillment out of their life.

Possibility: they got hooked on skinner boxes before finding out about the other wonders life offers.

I'm not quite sure how to frame your argument-I think appealing to tradition?

> You know your parents said the same about you with your computer games. In reality, yes you played games, you also learned more.

This is quite the claim. I know many smart people who played video games. And I know plenty dumb people who play video games.

This isn't just generation to generation. Many on here are looking at their own generation. Kids are not the only ones playing candy crush.

There is a qualitative difference between cellphone use during school hours and sitting behind a laptop on your own time. Most HN visits are probably more of the latter.

Exactly this. Even the title is misleading as "damaging" the brain, certainly there are changes, but jumping to the conclusion they are damaging and not beneficial to the human race in the long run is near sighted.

> Socrates felt the same way about books actually a lot of big thinkers in that era felt that writing and reading would lead to the degradation of the human memory.

They probably did lead to degradation of human memory--not in the underlying capabilities, of course, but in how well most people are able to use them.

There is some interesting discussion of this in Joshua Foer's book "Moonwalking with Einstein" [1]. Before books were widespread learning ways to use memory quickly and efficiently was important to scholars and others who worked with large amounts of information. Afterwards, it was good enough to just go with your raw, untrained memory, and the old memory techniques were almost forgotten.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Moonwalking-Einstein-Science-Remember...

> a lot of big thinkers in that era felt that writing and reading would lead to the degradation of the human memory.

And I'd hazard that they were right. However the degradation wasn't catastrophic because searching books is hard, so people still had to develop their memories.

A smartphone is more like comic books among regular books. More appeal.

Damaging? No. More limiting? Possibly.

This is a false analogy, as presumably the schools will have computers for the kids to use. And at some schools, the kids themselves may even bring laptops! ;)

Danihan 41 days ago [flagged]

I'm not sure why all students should be punished just because because some cannot use a new tool well.

Socialism at its worst, in my opinion. The irresponsible drag down those with more potential.

This sort of generic ideological flamewar is exactly what we don't want on HN, even in an abysmally politicized thread like the current one.

Since you've repeatedly abused HN this way and ignored our requests to stop, we've banned this account. (No, that's not because we're $ideology ourselves, it's because the spirit of this site is intellectual curiosity, it needs protecting, and ideological flamewars destroy it.)


If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll use HN as intended in the future.

I'm curious to why you think not having a smartphone constitutes a punishment.

When I was in school, all I wanted to do was read the Sitepoint forums and learn more about HTML / CSS / PHP.

I had one teacher that took me up on my offer to let me use the one class computer when my work was done and that's exactly what I did with it. Then other kids opted into my sweet deal and ended up ruining it by causing too much disturbance around it.

Back then, I always resented the fact that it was more acceptable for me to sleep during class than to read material on the computer. So I ended up sneaking on my home computer after my parents slept and getting 4 hours of sleep each night so that I would then sleep during school.

I would've KILLED to have a smartphone in my pocket.

Now, I'm not sure what the best policy is going to be, here. But I can certainly relate to the injustice of feeling punished for something that doesn't apply to me.

I can certainly understand that a smartphone in the hands of a student will only make distraction more likely. But to take it away completely seems to overestimate the value of being attentive 100% of the time in school.

For example, imagine if you can take out your smartphone when you're done with your work AND you are averaging above a 85% in the class. Maybe something like that would offer best of both worlds.

I think the problem isn't so much the technology, maybe it is just our general teaching methodology. I feel like in US schools we don't allow much room for self-learning inside the school itself, every class has a teacher and lesson plans, and not a lot of self-guidance. Personally I learned a lot on my own through high school that never would have been taught (z80 assembly to build games for the Ti-83.) I did most of that on my own, at home, rather than during class time for other essentially "irrelevant" courses. I think the main issue is what may seem unimportant to a child when they are a child, might end up being an important part of their life in the future. But they just don't know what they like or what they want to do when they are young, which is why we have general education courses.

Maybe if there were more opportunities for that it would be useful. But given the infinite amount of distractions a personal smartphone can provide I don't see how you can have 30 kids just doing whatever simultaneously and have a positive outcome for the majority.

> For example, imagine if you can take out your smartphone when you're done with your work AND you are averaging above a 85% in the class.

Imagine taking out a book on a different subject when you're done and are keeping up, and no teacher complaining about that, ever. Then imagine being the teacher not having to deal with the other kids protesting because a single one of them is allowed to use his phone in class including all the teenage drama that you're definitely not getting paid enough for.

Not OP here, but there are literally thousands of ways that not having a smartphone could be a punishment. The first thing to realize is that times change. People didn't used to have clean shirts either, but they do now. Making someone wear a dirty shirt might not have been a punishment in the past (what else did they know of?) but it could certainly be seen that way now.

Give a child access to a smartphone for years. It will change their brain, it will become a part of them (as far as they are concerned) as it will be predictable, reactive, entertaining, etc. Then take it away. That is clearly a punishment: you have adjusted the mind of a child to become accustomed to something and then ripped it away. It would be literally insane to not see how this could be a punishing experience for a child (or even, an adult).

Again, I'm not OP and not going to argue the point of phones in schools. But I will say, do not assume that young people today are the same as young people in history.

Our society has given smartphones to children at large. We should not be surprised if taking them away has unknown and potentially negative repercussions. Perhaps access to this kind of technology should be done in moderation (but how to do that? I don't know) so as not to shock anyone's system (or our society's system).

>Give a child access to a smartphone for years. It will change their brain, it will become a part of them (as far as they are concerned) as it will be predictable, reactive, entertaining, etc.

You are describing a drug.

Besides, we're not talking about taking them away for good. Just while they are in school.

When I was a kid, people were into Gameboys. Yet no one took it as a punishment when schools did not allow them.

> You are describing a drug.

Yeah, so is the article.

> Chris Marcellino, who helped develop the iPhone's push notifications at Apple, told The Guardian last fall that smartphones hook people using the same neural pathways as gambling and drugs.

> Besides, we're not talking about taking them away for good. Just while they are in school.

I didn't say for good. Even during that length of time, it could be seen as a punishment. I'm not arguing that it's good to take them away or good to keep them - I'm not sure. I'm just saying it's important to recognize that taking away something like a smartphone could be a punishing experience for a person.

> When I was a kid, people were into Gameboys. Yet no one took it as a punishment when schools did not allow them.

Gameboys have only one purpose: games. Games and games alone are clearly not useful in the school environment. Smartphones have a billion purposes and have limitless potential for learning - not to mention, various other things that are important, like peace of mind in communication, etc. Again, I'm not saying these kids shouldn't be able to do without. I'm just saying it is a thing: people are attached to their smartphones in a new way, as described in the article, and taking it away can cause harm just as keeping it could.

>I'm just saying it's important to recognize that taking away something like a smartphone could be a punishing experience for a person.

So, if my kid is addicted to drugs and I restrict him from having them for a few hours to wean him off, I am punishing him?

I don't know what a "punishing experience" means. If it is a punishment, the actor (parent, school, etc) has to have the intent of punishing. Just because the recipient believes something is punishment does not make it so.

I wouldn't consider it to be a punishment, but I do think they are missing a big opportunity here. A blanket ban suggests that maybe the kids can't be taught appropriate use of the technology in a school setting even though other schools do just that.

Because you could have the answer to nearly any question at your fingertips, and yet it's arbitrarily taken away?

How is it not a punishment?

By analogy: I used to have incredible direction sense. On one of my cross-country drives, a couple decades ago, I made it to my friend's place, having only vaguely consulted at an atlas a couple of times. I lived in New York; she lived in San Diego. (Edit: And I'm specifically including having navigated the local highways and surface streets in that anecdote, not just which Interstates I used.)

Now, I get lost in my own city without using my phone's mapping app.

When we outsource our cognitive capabilities to the exocortex, we lose those capabilities. When we give our children a tool that obviates their need ever to develop those capabilities, we rob them of something essential.

Do you think kids should have access to anything they desire while in school if they're capable of bringing it into the school?

Do you think instead of teaching English we should be banning books, because some students read trashy novellas in class and distract themselves?

Irrational analogy.

The problem is not the answers but the having of thema t fingertips. There is value in the slow process of looking things up in dictionaries or stepping through exercises. The downside of instant fulfillment of curiosity is arguably a shallow approach to knowledge; as soon as something become difficult or obscure, there's the urge to summon the answer from the internet, and if it's not immediately forthcoming either lose interest or expend energy rationalizing the default answer.


It's not a punishment, because...

1) having answers at your fingertips is not that great, and

2) said answers are surrounded in many cases by a sea of useless opportunistic crap deployed by people whose aims are literally hostile to you.

"Punishment" is being dramatic anyway, and sounds a tad narcissistic. No problem in the world is quite so outrageous and unjust as the minor inconvenience that happens to a narcissist. I mean how am I gonna read about all the genocides without my smartphone? IT'S SO UNFAIR!!

I spent four decades being punished by having no smartphone. Do I lament all the answers at my fingertips that I never got? Hardly. I brag about it just like I'm doing right now, because it made me into something better, someone who doesn't need a spell-checker, someone who knows a gerund from a participle, an integral from a derivative, a list from an array, AND my ass from my elbow. Someone who spent his childhood playing outside or studying and not worrying about what some distant asshole thought of me.

And instead of having cheap, instant, abundant answers, I was instead able to wonder first and guess and theorize about those answers. Practicing the act of inquiry. Maybe I'd look them up in a book later, or maybe just forget the hell out of them like the trivial and unnecessary mind-clutter that they were. Which is the beauty of idle questions sometimes. Regardless, it's the same outcome as a smartphone user after having looked it up. If asked again in 6 months they'll have to look it up again. Those answers are like the SUV you've never taken off-road that you only use to go to big-box stores in the suburbs. (To buy stuff that's only slightly less unneeded than the SUV.)

The more cheaply and easily things are available to you, the less special and valuable (or in the case of knowledge, memorable) they are.

> Because you could have the answer to nearly any question at your fingertips, and yet it's arbitrarily taken away?

There's a person there, usually in the front. They have the answers in their head. It is their job to put those answers in your head. To transfer those answers you can ask them a question. It's what they're there for.

The key here is "any question." When did classrooms give you that kind of flexibility? In my experience it was hit or miss between how many on-topic questions an instructor would allow, let alone questions that deviated from the lesson plan.

Modern public schools institutionally are not designed to cultivate the intellect and knowledge of individual students. They're designed to transfer a specific set of ideas to a large group of people at once.

And yet, filling my head up with over a decade of information from a public school education was essentially useless to me.

Studying programming on my own (not offered in my schools) was vastly more important.

This has nothing at all to do with socialism.

These are government schools, are they not? Paid for by tax dollars?

So schools cant set rules? Because of socialism? My nephew can't bring his cat to math class, or play nintendo switch during english. Does that mean he's being oppressed by socialist policies? Because I call it common sense.

Public Schooling is a socialist policy, taking smartphones isn't. Giving every student a smartphone would be socialism in this context. However nobody is talking about that.

And the curriculum is determined by the government, correct?

And the intent of banning smartphones is to force all students to pay more attention to that curriculum, correct?

Government is not socialism. Indoctrination is also not socialism. You seem to be conflating the authoritarian/libertarian axis with socialism/capitalism axis. It is authoritarian, it isn't socialist because there's nothing about it inherent to socialism even though yes it is happening within a socialist structure. I think the more accurate sentence is "This is an obnoxious kind of authoritarianism". For example you can have a very socialist, very libertarian governmental structure. Some individuals view libertarian and socialist as opposites but actually they can completely coexist. It just takes viewing both corporations and governments as structures limiting your individual liberty. This kind of authoritarian policy can happen in either a capitalist or socialist environment.

But would these supposed kids with "more potential" realize that potential given access to a smartphone during the time when they are being educated? I fail to see the use of a communications/entertainment device in a classroom unless it is part of the instruction.

EDIT: Genuinely curious of your opinion, I grew up right before smartphones exploded when I was in college, so for me I see them more as a distraction from what is going on around you. Yes, they can be a tool, but I feel like they typically are not that in a group learning setting.


Thanks for your generalization, but I'm actually here for constructive discussion and not personal attacks.

My question is how many kids are actually going to do that? And what justifies them to be the judge of whether what the teacher is discussing is relevant to them or not, given they are 10 years old.

Welp, you asked for my opinion. My opinion is that if you literally can't think of a valid use for the entire internet in a classroom setting, then you aren't trying very hard. It's tantamount to having a library at your fingertips.

* How about using an app to record the lecture, so a student can verify their notes later?

* How about taking a picture of the notes on the board, when they can't copy things down quickly enough?

* How about checking up on a sick relative using SMS, so they aren't feeling anxious about it all class?

I'm not even trying really -- there are dozens of valid use-cases that respect the preset curriculum. Let alone all of the uses that fall outside of respecting it, if and when the curriculum is too facile for the student.

Couldn't I have been learning programming during the time my high school English class was tackling "A Catcher in the Rye" one chapter per week, after I read the entire book within the first few hours we had it? Apparently not, because cell phones aren't allowed, and they can only used for Candy Crush.

>My question is how many kids are actually going to do that?

Not very many, and that's why most people will justify smartphones being taken away from all students. Which will primarily hurt the ones who were using them for more interesting purposes. Typical crab bucket mentality.

>And what justifies them to be the judge of whether what the teacher is discussing is relevant to them or not, given they are 10 years old.

I never said anything about whether the lessons were relevant, nor were ages brought up.

Those are all decent use cases, but they could all be solved without the use of a personal smartphone (Which if we want to dive deeper would mean that we are now basing education on a class divide given most poor children likely wouldn't have a decent one.) A simple webcam on the teachers laptop could record the entire lecture and marker board and they could distribute it to students in numerous ways for free. A majority of teachers probably already have their lecture notes digitized, so those could also be posted online. Those solutions would be much cleaner, more distraction free and accessible to everyone.

The most likely case is that a huge majority of kids are going to text their bff, play a game or cheat on a test and not use it for "continued education" inside of the classroom they are already in.

I don't know, maybe it is just me getting an education in a pre-smartphone era that makes me think of them as more of a distraction when evaluated in the context of a functional classroom.

> Which will primarily hurt the ones who were using them for more interesting purposes.

I guess they can record the lecture with a voice recorder (very cheap on Amazon) and get the lecture slides afterwards, like everyone else.

It's pretty simple: thing A is widely misused and is causing problems to 99% of people. Banning it has a huge net-positive effect, despite having perhaps a negative effect on 1% of people.

Worth it.

You could use the same logic to ban all sorts of things for adults. And many governments do, to everyone's detriment. Alcohol prohibition says hello.

It's exactly this type of generalized authoritarian philosophy that keeps the War on Drugs going strong.

Alcohol doesn't cause problems for 99% of people though does it.

You can apply that argument to anything banned. Why ban anything at all, why not let kids drink in class? Because it causes a lot more harm than good, especially in a learning environment.

So, we restrict things. You might not agree where the line is drawn, but there is a line and its position is obviously subjective. I guess we can measure the effectiveness of this on learning and with feedback from the teachers though.

If the ban is limited to a specific space/community (school or classroom), then it's completely different from alcohol prohibition and more akin to the ban of smoking in restaurants, which is accepted by most people even the smokers themselves.

> no smartphones

Half-measure until they take computers out of the classrooms.

One of the best things you can do is teach your kids how to read and write at an early age. Then give the kids gaming consoles (wii, 3ds, switch), an ipad for watching youtube, and a laptop or desktop for minecraft or steam. Prepare to be blown away at how quickly they can learn something from watching a video once. If a game isn't interesting enough that there are not multiple youtube channels dedicated to that game then it is likely not a sufficiently engaging activity. Educators are completely failing the current generation and are stressed out about 'digital distractions' because they know they can't compete. People can absorb information much faster now and will lose interest if you can't match the pace. Shorter attention is not the problem, poor communication is the problem. By way of analogy, if I produce a car that accelerates to 60 mph in 2 seconds instead of the usual 8 seconds, does my car have an acceleration deficit disorder?

>Educators are completely failing the current generation and are stressed out about 'digital distractions' because they know they can't compete.

This is practically a conspiracy theory. There are definitely old teachers that frown on the value of technology, but this is because they're old, not because they're teachers and somehow have a financial incentive to believe otherwise.

An article about a "growing body of evidence" that fails to link to a single study. Great.

"Smartphone use takes about the same cognitive toll as losing a full night's sleep"

Would love to see this study, since it sounds completely implausible (but really important if true). Without looking at the research, the only reasonable course of action is to assume it's false.

"Smartphone use takes about the same cognitive toll as losing a full night's sleep"

What does this even mean? Does it mean your cognitive performance after using a smartphone daily is reduced to the level it would be at if you hadn't slept at all the previous night? Does it mean cumulative smartphone use is as harmful as cumulatively skipping a full night's sleep? (Which is clearly false, but to me sounds like the most natural interpretation of the author's statement.) Is it about your cognitive performance right after getting off your phone, or does it still apply if you last used your phone several hours ago?

But given the lack of citation, I will follow you in assuming that it's false.

That quote frustrated me too. "Smartphone use" is such a vague term here.

They seem to reference this again later in the article, but it doesn't seem to clear things up much.

"All that distraction adds up to a loss of raw brain power. Workers at a British company who multitasked on electronic media – a decent proxy for frequent smartphone use – were found in a 2014 study to lose about the same quantity of IQ as people who had smoked cannabis or lost a night's sleep."

That's some serious spin. What the fuck is "multitasked on electronic media"? Where they employed at a firm where they switched from data entry to looking up stuff? I worked at a firm where people did that and yea it would look like their brain power reduced, because it was a terrible shit job (debt collection). They'd have to go from data entry, to calls to skip tracking lookups.

Depending on the type of work, that's not at all "a decent proxy." That's the kind of bullshit you read in meta-analysis papers. (Tip: if the introduction says its a meta-analysis, chuck that paper in the bin .. and set the bin on fire. Most meta-analysis papers are just lazy. You cannot control in vastly different experiments).

I agree a lot of this is FUD. Media has always been used to manipulate people. Emotional manipulation grew massively during the Edward Bernays era (the father of smoking advertisements and creating political and/or emotional draw to products). It may have changed form from Print to Radio to TV to phones, but it's still just more of the same manipulation.

Even worse, I'm old enough to remember how the Time cover story on "cyber porn" [1] indirectly led to the introduction of bad legislation [2].

Reporting like this can have serious consequences.

[1] https://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19950703,00.htm...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communications_Decency_Act

The site linked to is one of the worst places on the internet for actual news/facts. I won't take this seriously until someone provides links to a reputable site.

David Rock cites a very very similar fact in "Your Brain at Work."

I only have the audiobook currently or else I'd quote directly, but the gist is that distractions from overcommunication temporarily drop IQs an average of 10 points: 5 for women, 15 for men, supposedly. The study originally revolved around email, and presumably text/sms/chat in the 13 years since the study).

Interestingly, following up on the quote he gave led me to this blog with an exchange [1] between the blog author and the original study author.

[1] http://itre.cis.upenn.edu/~myl/languagelog/archives/002493.h...

I'm pretty sure it's referred to later in the article:

>All that distraction adds up to a loss of raw brain power. Workers at a British company who multitasked on electronic media – a decent proxy for frequent smartphone use – were found in a 2014 study to lose about the same quantity of IQ as people who had smoked cannabis or lost a night's sleep.

Still not a reference, but you could probably find the study given that information if you wanted to. Or I'm sure the author would respond if you tweeted and asked him or something. If you really want to find out I'm sure it's possible.

What matters is that it ressonates with a common oppinion that smart phones are bad, so as long as it supports that somewhat popular position it doesn't need to be checked.

We all have biases, and in fact I don't use a smart phone because of some of the issues I have noticed using one previously, but if truth matters to you, you cannot just accept stuff just because you agree with it.

It means that if you are using your phone while driving, you are at just as much increased risk of incurring an accident as if you had not slept the previous night. Right, folks?

I'm sure that there is truth to our minds having problems dealing with the constant barrage of digital pings, but I also hate when the Microsoft/Canada study gets cited.

There are serious methodological problems with that study that lead to the convenient conclusion that humans on average have a shorter attention span than a goldfish. It's a sexy conclusion, but if you think about it for a moment there are so many implied assumptions in that claim. Chief among them is the issue that attention span tends to be heavily task dependent, so what does the average actually mean?

Here's a link to a BBC article that specifically discusses the attention span statistic: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38896790

This sort of thing worries me for a bunch of reasons, but the biggest one is that it seems like most kinds of successful endeavors require three things:

1. Persistence

2. The means to set aside time for that persistence.

3. Luck

Number 2 is what most people tend to lack. Especially in our current climate, most people are mentally, physically, and financially exhausted by the ostensibly simple act of getting through a day and making sure that their existence is stable for the next month or so.

But let's say that we get to a point where your average person can have 1-3 hours every day to comfortably spend on their dreams. How much of that time would be spent right now on social media or idly flipping through some other form of cheap but nicely-diced and easy-to-digest content?

Probably most of it. But isn't that exactly what people already said about television and video games and stuff? Isn't it possible that that 'wasted' downtime is actually important to peoples' mental health? Maybe, but personally I think that social media has the comparative drawback that instead of relaxing you like other forms of entertainment, it probably makes you more stressed out. The article sure thinks that 'it's different this time.' And that makes for a vicious cycle of uselessness.

But at the same time, I also think that smart devices can be extremely useful - speaking of attention, how great is it to not have to remember things like 'what is the density of steel' or 'what sort of communication protocol does this chip use' while still being able to access that information in under a few seconds? That should be something that anyone can access cheaply and without artificial barriers.

So I guess attention is probably just going to be another commodity with staggering inequality of access. When you think about it, that's really fucked up; a person's mind and body should be the alpha and omega of their unalienable possessions, don't we hold anything sacred? How long until we're paying to turn off Harrison-Bergeron-style rigs?

I think the reason that the current status quo of content consumption is worse than previous generations is that in the past, even if you watched TV for six hours a day, there was a much higher chance that when you were waiting in line, when you were going to the bathroom, when you were sitting in a car or on a subway, when you were walking to work, there was a greater chance that you were bored and just...letting your thoughts wander and thinking. Today we have instant on demand entertainment in our pockets at all times. Bathroom? Let's read an article. Subway? Let's listen to a podcast. Waiting room at the doctor? I have my favorite e-book saved to my iPad. Standing in line to get a taco? Play a game.

Boredom leads to creative and introspective thought and rumination. Boredom is necessary.

Constant work or play with no time for _just thinking_ is a cancer on society.

That's the biggest danger here. People aren't thinking anymore.

I have cell phone and internet addiction and my thought has been that when my current smartphone dies I will replace it with something that can only run Google Maps, a music player, and SMS.

I think those apps are non-optional and non-addictive. Everything else I want to get rid of so that at the very least, the space when I'm in the bathroom, when I'm eating at Chipotle, when I'm on the subway, when I'm walking to work - will be a time my brain actually just thinks.

>Boredom leads to creative and introspective thought and rumination. Boredom is necessary.

That is a great point and takeaway - maybe even a great summary of the point that these articles and books are trying to make. Your favorite TV show or book or video game wouldn't exist without someone who couldn't come up with anything better to do with their time.

It's like we're going out of our way to fill all the bright and sparkly corners of our minds with gruel.

I always took books with me to the bathroom/out on chores; bank line - oh good, I can finish the chapter. Is reading substantively more beneficial than internet? Hard to say. I wasn't only reading calculus books or histories of ancient times, I had a lot of pulpy genre fiction as well. I'll read the ingredients on cereal boxes if that's all. While I can spend some time on social networks that seems pretty useless, reading about the low-level details of Spectre has felt fairly educational. Taking Facebook off of my phones has been useful, but I'd be so sad without Wiki access. I think it's an unknown experiment, but we shouldn't idolize the boring past too much.

This is interesting. The situations you describe as boring, I find interesting and curious.

For example, while walking to work, I usually pass one of our homeless guys down the road and give him a nod. It's worrying if he isn't there. Then there is the like 200 years old guy in his plant shop, who usually has some interesting stuff going on. Then there is a cooking school with courses in tasty stuff. Then there is the school with a dangerous crossing there, kinda want to watch out for the kids there.

Subway. If you look around, there's so many interesting people there. People are telling so much about their day by just being in the subway the way they are, and with their stuff. And be careful - some people even speak with attentive dudes.

I constructed my argument poorly - I should have said not that those situations are boring - but that the addictiveness of devices and instant infinite content is so great that those of us who are addicted do literally nothing else but consume digital content in situations where we'd normally be observing the world around us or thinking.

So I wouldn't say that the world is boring, but for many of us it's more boring than the shiny thing on our phones.

Well I made my point poorly, too. It takes some effort, some cognitive effort and some curiosity to look at the world this way. I would say, on an everyday personal level, every choice makes sense if you listen. And listening to those choices can enrich your own live.

However, looking, thinking and listening takes effort. Not much, but it does. And I guess thats where social media wins. Social media takes no effort. It's pre-made, pre-processed choices and satisfaction right there.

Saying it like that, it's like cooking. Ordering acceptable food is easy. Making your very own, really good burger takes like 2 or 3 tries. But afterwards, it's just amazing.

I think the difference between computer-based distractions (video games, smartphones) and those previous (television, newspapers, etc) is that the former is interactive, which leads one to feel as if they are doing something. Getting to the next level in a game or posting a comment or status that gets lots of likes and replies feels like work and reward, whereas one-way consumption doesn’t offer the same subconscious justification.

If I spend all day watching Netflix I feel like I’ve done nothing but vegetate, but if I play video games I’ve made progress. If I’m constantly scrolling through Facebook I’m keeping up with my friends. If I zigzag half a dozen news sites (I would never pay for or read enough to justify half a dozen newspaper subscriptions) I am being informed about the world.

In each of these cases I know that 90+% of what I experience is mostly garbage with no meaningful long term benefits to my life, but they’re so much more engaging than previous forms of distraction and so they are much harder to put down.

Engagement is a trap, it fools us into thinking we're doing something. Instead of evaluating what I'm doing in terms of vegetating vs. engagement, I find it helps to classify my activity into consuming vs. producing. Am I actually making or creating something, or am I passively consuming?

- Netflix: Consumption - Video Game: Consumption - Facebook: Consumption - Web Browsing: Consumption

(I give up, how do you make a list in HN-text?)

There are holes in this classification. I'd say posting to Facebook/HN/blogs is probably garbage activity too, but it's not entirely consumption. But thinking this way is better than making ourselves think we're accomplishing something by beating the next boss in the game.

(You can make a list with an extra new line between each bullet)

> If I spend all day watching Netflix I feel like I’ve done nothing but vegetate, but if I play video games I’ve made progress. If I’m constantly scrolling through Facebook I’m keeping up with my friends. If I zigzag half a dozen news sites (I would never pay for or read enough to justify half a dozen newspaper subscriptions) I am being informed about the world.

Even Netflix gives you progress—progress through a season, or through a series. It's guaranteed to come up in conversation when a new season comes out—oh, how far are you, how far did you get last night, when do you expect to finish it. It's not entirely new, but with once-a-week airings you couldn't binge anything, and even with home video releases of series there was a lot more friction, so you couldn't just start watching any ol' thing. You had to really want it.

That's an interesting way of putting things; y'know, sometimes it seems like a false sense of accomplishment lies at the core of lots of types of addictions. But I guess that's sort of the definition of an addiction, right? Behavior which hijacks the brain's feedback loops to sustain itself over anything else. Mental cancers.

It sort of makes you wonder at what point people started to unironically view their jobs as engineering addictions. Was it around the Myspace era? Earlier? Or was Facebook what really set the mold for that stated goal?

Honestly, i'd have to guess that reading a long form book/essay demands more of me mentally than just scrolling thru a bunch of stuff.

> But at the same time, I also think that smart devices can be extremely useful - speaking of attention, how great is it to not have to remember things like 'what is the density of steel'

I guess I'm growing old, but that's what I use my smart phone for and nothing more. It's a phone, it's a camera, it's a map, it got the three communication channels with my friends if we need to find each other in the city. And well it has a browser but I hate using the fucking keyboard on that thing. Oh and it has an app to look up which bus I should take.

From there, its extremely useful. Just a week ago I saved like an hour of commute because the bus app allowed me to circumvent a big traffic accident stopping a line. And maps with directions are great.

But on the other hand, my smartphone is 90% in my pocket easily, and that's different from a bunch of people I know. I use it when I need it or when someone with notification rights pages me. It's just an expensive thing otherwise.

To provide a slightly different perspective: I recently came across a great blogpost/newsletter: http://mailchi.mp/ribbonfarm/how-to-ride-your-brain-bicycle

It argues that the main reason we don't achieve our goals is not external factors, or the lack of an effective productivity system; it's a commitment failure. We have subconscious second thoughts whether our goals are actually important to us, we lack a sense of purpose.

"There is no point being focused, with a finely tuned productivity system, and maniacal discipline against distractions, if you're not sure what you're doing is worth doing"

So sure, our attention span is decreasing and we're becoming more easily distracted, but is that all there is to blame for the alleged productivity loss?

Exactly. And once the fear of consequences of missing a deadline kicks in, we gain a purpose - avoidance of the negative consequences. So we procrastinate until it’s almost too late.

The article even takes that a notch further: for things that really matter to you, once you find your true calling, you wouldn't even procrastinate in the first place. You get immersed in omnivorous curiosity around it, you get lost. There's no social media/tv/external factors that would distract you from it.

Recommender Systems, trained to maximize revenue, are punishing kids for being curious.

I'm specially refering to YouTube here. Take for example the "cell biology" subject. In a few videos ahead you'll start getting non-scientific videos, as "recommendations".

Suffices to say that those videos speak about widely discredited life theories but with nicer stories.

These recommendations exploit the human brain in ways that even the creators can not comprehend.

We could, for example, use these technologies to teach children to solve equations. Use ML to find the optimal, user specific, series of teaching material that takes a child from zero to "can solve any equation involving +,-,* or /". But no, "we don't have the resources". Ah! want to go from cell biology to cute animations of pidgeons? Yes, we have de optimal path to get you there for free on YouTube.

Yes, this is a big problem.

Was watching a (non-related) YouTube video the other day when a recommended video on Sumerian tablets popped up. Being a bit of an ancient history buff I clicked on it. Took like 5 minutes plus to determine it was a crackpot UFO aliens created Sumerian culture video. Because it looked convincing at first.

This reminds me of the recent story of automated content generation for kids on youtube, some of which is borderline abuse, and a lot of which is nonsensical in its entirety(lots of money being made, regardless).

The problem is that because of this flood of automatically generated content, anyone who actually is creating content has to do similar things or else be left behind by the recommendation algorithm.

This is what stuck out to me in the article:

> Lactation consultants in Canada and the United States have begun noticing the prevalence of women texting and scrolling through their phones while they breastfeed, breaking valuable eye contact with their baby.

Normally I'm in the skeptic camp on this issue. That screens are just the new generation's version of comic books or rock and roll rotting the minds of our youth, and headlines like these are making a mountain out of a molehill.

But that bit about mothers making less eye contact with their babies while breast feeding kind of made me do a double take. I could see real psychological damage coming from stuff like that and the broader idea that parents using devices and neglecting their kids more is the real problem (as opposed to those other boogey-men, where it was the kids' usage that was the problem).

A caring parent still interacts with their kid. I'm sure there were plenty of women years ago who would have a stack of magazines or books to read while breastfeeding.

I see friends with kids now and they are so interactive with them. They color with them, play games with them, and are totally drawn by all the simple little things their kids do. Parents also use their phones to make an insane amount of kids photos/videos .. which is what we did in the 90s, but it was just one parent who was obsessed with that overpriced camcorder. Now everyone can do it.

I call BS on this. Even if mother's aren't looking at their kids while breastfeeding, it doesn't mean they are not totally taken in by their children in their lives. You're going to have bad mothers of course that watch TV all day and don't do anything or even worse mothers who smoke crack all day and yell at their kids, but I think good parents, at least the ones I've seen around me, are still pretty selfless in giving tremendous amounts of time and attention to their children.

Sometimes that even means looking through apps recommendations and finding the best educational apps and tools for them. It's not different than any other era. The medium has just changed.

We didn't breastfeed, so we're already outsiders.

But eye contact? That seems like a very new problem. At that age, all of my children just end up falling asleep while eating most of the time.

I feel like all those dirty looks from nurse and Lactation Consultants being refused could have at least been appended by "you know, you really should at least look at your kid all the time while they're eating".

The collapse of the early high-minded era of tech is almost complete. The world envisioned by luminaries like Kay & Papert, where computers would be programmed by people as part of a process of developing individuals' potentials, has devolved to that of Facebook, Google and Twitter, where people are programmed by computers purely for the self-interested purposes of tiny financial elites.

It was perhaps predictable that a society with greed as its primary organising principle would end up deploying new tech like this. But the sheer speed and comprehensiveness of the takeover has been breathtaking.

Too bad if these luminaries indulged in most invigorating optimism without more questioning of their assessment of "human nature on the whole". Not to blame them, at least they had a bright-future-envisionment worked out among themselves to surely help keep adding to the excitement of their efforts --- probably beats aspirations of mansions and pina coladas in terms of output-produced =)

"Matt Mayberry, who works at a California startup called Dopamine Labs, says it's common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding "likes" from certain users. If the photo-sharing app decides you need to use the service more often, it'll show only a fraction of the likes you've received on a given post at first, hoping you'll be disappointed with your haul and check back again in a minute or two."

If that's true, that's pretty genius and downright scary!

Another example of services hiding things that comes to mind is how YouTube and Google Play filter comments so when you're logged in you see your comments, making you think they've been accepted and visible, however if you log out, your comments are no longer visible.

Is it true? Purposefully showing inaccurate information seems unethical to me.

It's ok to use your phone. It's not OK when your phone use disrupts your relationships or consumes more time than you'd really want.

What helped me, is backing away from services. Uninstall apps from your phone and use a web browser to visit them. You don't have to stop using them if you don't want to, just make them harder to get to and less noisy.

My phone is mostly for texts and phone calls now, and I don't do much else with it.

Bingo. Facebook is one of the easiest services to do this with because their mobile site is nearly identical to their native app. Similarly YouTube is also surprisingly good on mobile browsers.

Right, a phone is a tool like any other. It's all about how you use it.

But the mere availability of a radical new information technology tool might cause severe changes to social norms and political structures.

In a lot of ways thats why almost every new media gets attached to a bunch of fears that that later generations laugh about.

I like how so many comments here are looking down on candy crush (or fb or whatever) but are totally ok with 'self improvement' / 'learning' etc.

IMO - The latter is also mental clutter: There is a limit to # of information that will be useful - it is best to collect information relevant to your current pursuits now and leave the rest of the world for later (to an extent: you probably want to keep tabs on the overall sitch though). Bingeing on HN or other useful sites all day instead of focussing on your current goals is almost the same - a different dopamine hit, that's all.

I'm always a little skeptical of arguments that new technologies are actually damaging. I'm willing to accept that people are sometimes unhappy adjusting to new things (and that people are unhappy with how other people use their new technology), but people have been saying that [new technology here] is bad for thousands of years—Plato even complained about writing because it's "bad for memory"[1]. If you frame the questions such that the metrics you choose to measure it are going to come up poorly, then yes, new technology looks bad.

[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/259062-if-men-learn-this-it...

The Atlantic did an article a couple months ago on the harm that smartphones are doing to today's teenagers, and they provide plenty of graphs and studies to back it up.

I totally get your reticence to believe the FUD, but the Golden Age of Greece didn't have the scientific method and the means to conduct study after study demonstrating the negative effects of writing. We do for smartphones, and the evidence is overwhelming.

> The Atlantic did an article a couple months ago on the harm that smartphones are doing to today's teenagers, and they provide plenty of graphs and studies to back it up.

The Atlantic piece is not without significant criticism for abusing the available data to draw unwarranted conclusions. See, e.g., https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/once-more-feeling/20170...

Thanks for this

If you read the article, it did mention Socrates warned about writing. Maybe Plato did say it as well.

Anyways, your point was brought up in the article.

Did you read the article?

> If you read the article, it did mention Socrates warned about writing. Maybe Plato did say it as well.

All the saying attributed to Socrates are by way of Plato's writing in which Socrates is used as a mouthpiece, and are more properly attributed to Plato. So, the references are probably to the same thing.

This is absolutely strictly correct but I think (in the Phaedrus) it's accepted that the injunction against writing thing is Socrates' idea (because Plato's work survives to this day in written form – Plato wrote stuff down) but that the injunction against art/theatre/drama (is it?) is all Plato's and is to be found in the Republic, the reason being that that which is representational is twice removed from the truth or something like that.

But you probably already know all this. So for the benefit of others.

Well, yeah, it's pretty hard to take seriously the idea that Plato adhered to an injunction against writing (given how we have access to his written works), but quite plausible that Socrates did (since we have access to him only through Plato's written works.)

This claim is, at best, highly contested: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/plato/#HisSocEarMidLatDia.

I read that part and saw how they stated it and then totally dismissed it. "This time is different" and lets keep going on with our talking points with studies that we spin/abuse and other things which aren't backed up at all.

> Did you read the article?

I did not. :( Turns out that not only Plato is too curmudgeonly to read things. Perhaps if I had a longer attention span from not using my cell phone too much, I could have read it.

Nope, I've got too much scrolling to do. These headlines aren't going to read themselves.

It's probably a vast problem to analyse, but I can sense tangible negative side effects. Even though I don't use it that often, it does tickle a part of my brain that distort the sense of time and creativity. You become a passive consumer of idea and social validation, both of which (at least in my case) are shallow incarnation of the real ones (creating and having meaningful social bonds)

it's surprising that something "liberating" ends up backfiring that way, not that surprising but still a bit considering how hyped up it was not long ago.

I haven't read the article (I'm part of the problem!) but headlines like these strike me as hyperbole. I recall some hubbub about excessive reading damaging kids minds. I heard some other stories about luddites lamenting the increased usage of pens for note-taking, claiming it hurt memory.

I also recall reading that we have changed because of reading and note taking. Yet here we are.

So while it may be fair to say "changing" it is harder for me to accept "damaging". Our species adapts to new circumstances and if the new circumstance is a distracting world then calling adaptation "damaging" seems unhelpful.

I was thinking about this the other day.

There is nothing "smartphone" about games. A board game, a video game, or even sports is a game that is fun and engaging that anyone can do together, as is any smartphone game.

There is nothing "smartphone" about the news or social media or email. These have all been here, and just moving them to our pockets alone can't be that damaging.

And there is nothing "smartphone" about ads or paid content or even facebook likes.

What's "smartphone" is the immediacy and the frequency of the connectivity. It's the bond that is stronger -- and hence the more of us more strongly bound to our phones.

But this alone can't be damaging. It's just amazing. What is damaging are the businesses, and people mind you, that abuse this bond. Ourselves included.

So what we really have is a new tool that just gives us more of what we want faster.

Of course this is game changing. Of course this is dangerous. But whether we let this damage us is still a choice. And at the end of the day, a lot of it is just people abusing and damaging people. It's clear we can't help ourselves. But we can also help ourselves, which is what most of these articles appear to be about.

The point being, demonizing smartphones is just shifting blame. Getting rid of them is getting rid of the problem, not finding a solution. With the overarching point being, they themselves are not that dangerous.

They can't be.

Or maybe I'm still missing something...

Despite being a techie, I never got a smartphone, never made a facebook account (or any other social media account). The downsides seemed just as abundant and clear to me all those years ago as they do today (despite the benefits). There is plenty of time to be "connected" while I sit in front of my computer - which is already the majority of my day. I relish having time to myself, with my thoughts, without being barraged by all sorts of (mostly useless) information. It just doesn't seem appealing at all to be constantly in contact with everyone, all the time. Read a book, write a letter, sit down with a newspaper.

I see kids (my own and others) using computers in two different ways. Some spend the majority of their time as "consumers". Some spend the majority as "producers". Ad-driven monetization favors consumption, and we see many more hit social apps that are great for consuming but terrible at producing. But there is a whole genre of producer apps out there. My daughter, when she was young, spent hour with Scratch. Scratch is amazing! In high school she spend hours with Sketchup. Even the sim games are good in that you must think ahead and problem solve. There are far too few programs like that. Smartphones are inherently week for content creation. Tablets are better. Desktops are still best. You need space to draw or paint or program.

My personal hope is that 5" screens are a passing fad. We've only had them for a few years, and I am hopeful that we'll only have them for a few more. Then we switch to AR. And again we'll have big screens, and developers will hopefully be inspired to create programs that support creation and exploration and discovery.

So don't blame "digital". Blame the narrow interface channel and the easy money of ad-driven social media. I am of the opinion that those types of apps will not hold the attention of users once we have high-fidelity interfaces. We will be able to blame developers (ourselves) if the programs we create and use aren't up to the potential. How about a virtual wood-working shop? How about space-filling virtual instruments? How about apps to crowd-solve some tough societal problems?

My smartphone is much more engaging than was the TV I grew up with (three channels and bad commercials). I think there will be great creator-geared apps in the future, and great user-created content. We do have to make sure that creators of virtual art and goods can profit from their work. Do that, and people will be eager to fill the vacuum of cyberspace.

I think this thesis is correct but it ignores the good things you can do.

I don’t think it is true for everyone .

I like texting people or using a messaging service . Yesterday I hanged out with my friend to code I wouldn’t have done that if I didn’t have a cell phone.

Today I used my phone to aid in my work activities .

Frequently I use my cell phone to write down notes about ideas during the day and learn new things (ML and program synthesis).

But, I know that I have bad habits that the author says in the text. I think you should take a balanced approach . Moderation is always a good idea .

I think the point is that for most people, they don't know how to moderate their phone usage, and those same people probably have issues with moderation in general.

But on the other hand, regardless of moderation, social networking has changed the way people interact in loads of different ways, and that change is seemingly isolating people and causing damage too.

We can't make people drink alcohol in moderation either ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Is it appropriate to link this? Also from today: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16093281

The first comment regarding the class divide of those who can be disciplined about distractions vs those who can't seems relevant to your comment.

I've been thinking a lot lately about this Herbert Simon Quote:

"In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."

Btw, this was from 1971. ;-)

I've been wondering about the new cellular Apple Watch. In particular, I wonder if I could get away with just having that, and use it to train myself out of idly reading the news during periods of micro-boredom.

The main thing keeping me from trying it as an experiment, is that I use my phone primarily for mobility (transit schedules, Car2go, ReachNow, lyft, bikeshare, etc.). And it appears that the majority of the services I use don't have watch apps.

I bought a Series 3 Apple Watch with LTE for this exact reason. I'm on day 5 of going phone-less and while it isn't a seamless transition, I expect to go without a phone for the foreseeable future.

What works without a phone: - SMS/iMessages - Phone calls via AirPods - Checking weather reports - Turn-by-turn navigation - Setting timers - Getting my focus back

What I wish worked without a phone: - Updating contacts


I've been having an issue with my Outlook calendar not updating on the watch, though I'm not sure what the root cause of that issue might be. I'm going to try connecting my iPhone directly to Exchange.

I have the Lyft app on my watch, and it is supposed to work without the phone nearby. I haven't had a chance to test it yet though.

When I find myself missing an app, I remember how liberating it was when I spent 3 months living in Rwanda without the need to carry a wallet, keys, or phone.

Can you do this without having a phone at all? Or does it have to have an iPhone "base station" to check in with at home?

AFAIK, you still need the iPhone, but it can remain plugged in at home.

Yeah. You need the iPhone. It's primarily used to configure the watch, I also suspect that the iPhone proxies some of the requests to the phone, though I'm not sure.

I just leave mine plugged in at home.

Can I message you in a month to see how your experiment is going? If you've ever had a desire to blog, I'd love to see a Medium post or similar.

I just got back from a trip to joshua tree for a week where none of us had phone service. Our only means of communication was when we met up or posted notes on physical community boards.

Pretty much every single one of us commented on how that made the trip so much better. I personally felt so relieved by the disconnect and wished I could stay that way. Just a small anecdote.

The problem isn't smartphones, it's culture. We've just not adapted to this new reality yet.

The same was true during every major human revolution. We no longer have the attention span of our ancestors, but that's because it doesn't make sense to have so much of it. Nature goes for the lowest energy state, so if you introduce something that takes over for you then your brain is going to put that previous work to some other use.

There is no better or worse when it comes to this stuff, it's all just conditions of our present situation.

Is reduced attention span bad? Only if the world loses all the progress it's made. Which is a possibility, but a reduced attention span is the least of our worries if society collapses.

This is just fear mongering as usual. Humans are defined by our incredible ability to adapt. We're going to just keep on doing that, like the previous 100,000 years.

> In the first five years of the smartphone era, the proportion of Americans who said internet use interfered with their family time nearly tripled, from 11 per cent to 28 per cent.

It is a pet peeve of mine when these kinds of casual exaggerations enter into a statistic. An increase by a factor of ~2.55 is quite far from a factor of 3.

I could argue the global population has nearly tripled since 1959 [1]. This is a rounding of similar proportions, which would lead you to believe there are 9 billion people on Earth rather than 7.6 billion.

That sleight of hand incurrs an error of 1.4 billion people.

[1] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/world-population-to-hit-mi...

Just a personal anecdote here: I live with my brother and most days, from the time he comes home from work to the time he goes to bed is mostly spent glued to his phone. Hard or impossible to talk to him while he's on it. He's mostly on Instagram and silly games - sometimes Bumble or whatever. Nice guy but gets flustered and/or puts me on hold (indefinitely) when I try to talk to him. He's a couple years older than me - in his late 20's.

I've tried talking to him about it, saying I can hardly talk to him (if ever) and he completely defends his position, saying he uses phone to keep in touch with friends, notifications admitedly feel good, etc.

Any suggestions?

I don't have enough attention span to read the whole article

I am not sure if it is attention span or just the quality of the information.

Does anyone have ideas as to how one could get involved in combatting these effects? I mean as a cause to fight for, where one could make an impact on others' (particularly the younger gen) lives.

I'm aware of the organization Time Well Spent led by Tristan Harris, and have signed up to volunteer (but have not heard back). In the meantime, what can I do as an individual? This is something I've grown to really care about, but am not sure what to do on an individual level besides my own damage-mitigation tactics (deleting FB, etc.)

You could check out secure-scuttlebutt (scuttlebutt.nz).

It's an open source and decentralized social media platform. I hope that the decentralization will remove the advertising profit incentive and then we can actually design apps to improve people's lives instead of maximizing screen time.

But who knows. Maybe this is human nature and we're fucked regardless of the underlying technology.

Either way, the best thing to do for the younger gen is to spend time with them and teach them about this stuff so that they can make informed decisions as they grow up. I don't think my generation had the luxury of making an informed decision because it was all so new and the people in SV did not have the moral compass required to weild this new power benevolently.

I think Lenore Skenazy [0] is forming a national group dedicated to facilitating unsupervised play for children, which if you want your kids to not have phones would certainly help them. I've heard anecdotally that one of the reasons phones are appealing is it's a way to break free of being constantly monitored by modern day helicopter parents.

Another program I've heard of but don't know much about is wait until 8th [1], which is people promising to not give their children a smartphone until at the earliest 8th grade.

[0] http://www.freerangekids.com/

[1] https://www.waituntil8th.org/

I've been wondering the same thing. At a high level, I've been thinking about making myself a "firewall for attention". Here's what I've done so far: Talk openly with friends and family about how much better my life is without Facebook. Aggressively remove all advertising from my life (run ad blockers everywhere, pay to remove ads on Kindle, replace Roku with Apple TV, etc). Only read news that I pay for (I view this as paying for curation, in addition to the writing itself). Stop carrying an iPhone and use an Apple Watch with LTE instead.

I find useful Tristan Harris‘s essays on how people get programmed to accept UI defaults that keep us engaged continually.

I try to use social media for just two things: 1) follow a few tech people who post interesting/useful links 2) promote my books or links to new blog articles I write

To engage friends and family I prefer phone calls or one to one email exchanges.

I have been using computers since the mid 1960s and the effect on society of small digital devices has been amazing to watch (and live through).

My framing for this: We are the sum total of our thoughts. Letting someone/something else direct them isn't how I wanted to live.

I recently purchased a light phone[1], which has been helpful in disconnecting. I have the option to leave my smartphone at home and I'm still reachable via a regular phone call.

[1] https://www.thelightphone.com/

note: I'm in no way affiliated w/Light Phone

I think that the touch interface of smart Phones causes a dopamine reward in the brain. So when you get a push message or likes the touching of the screen reinforces dopamine.

Observering smart phone zombies, people walking around addicted to their smart phones not aware of their local immediate surroundings.

Social media is cashing in on the most valuable assets you have friends and family selling gained information as advertising. Thus we are addicted to selling information about ourselves. We are addicted to the dopamine reward of getting likes on social media.

New Years resolution try and use cell phones less as they are addictive. So far going so so.

Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and other industry insiders probably known about the addiction. That is why their children are not given cell phones.

Cell phone interruptions probably are a cause of shorter attention spans. Short attention span are not good when solving mental problems. People are taking ADHD attention like Ritalin,Adderol deficit order medicines to cope with short attention caused by smart phones.

Instead of being with local friends and family we are on our cellphones. Instead of watching movies together we watch personal streams on Netflix.

Cell phones are addictive.

Funny happenstance that I had to see this thread just as I come back from my Dutch language class. Tonight I had to debate (of course in Dutch) for 15 minutes, as part of an interim exam, with my co-debater about "Are smartphones making us dumber?"

Where we quoted studies and statistics in turns—"Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One's Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity"; in 2017, people spent over 4 hours a day (86 hours a month) staring at their phones, and so on.

I ended it with my favourite tip (that I've been exercising for 2 years): Put every goddamned thing and everyone on mute (i.e. no notifications), except your partner / "person you like the most" / SO.

The restored peace has been clarifying.

Edit: I barely use any applications, besides tools like train schedule look-up, English-to-Dutch dictionary, Maps and occasionally camera. And no "social media", besides the reasonable exception of limited HN minutes. (My phone—a four-year-old Nexus 5, which just underwent a battery replacement surgery by yours truly, saving a handsome 45€, and good to go for three more years with LineageOS.)

While I understand the concerns (and fact that we need to protect to some degree minds of the youth) I do think it's a bit scare mongering.

Being unhumble, I think that us - rather intelligent crowd - can't really relate to people who are going to waste their time doing low-effort activities and find it way too terrifying that they do this. The only thing that shifts is what people spend their time on. Now it's smartphone, decade ago it was computers, another decade it was television and prior to that reading low-value romance/detective/horror fiction.

That's just how it is and it's always going to be low-value and maybe even damaging activities, but there is nothing we can do about it. The only thing we can do is measure it better, because smartphone is much better in gathering the data, than - for example - books are ;)

On the other hand I have 45 minutes of my phone screentime in last 24h so it might be, that I'm not seeing the issue, because I can't see the problem firsthand.

I would be interested to see research that compares TV in past eras with smart phones of today. I wonder if research showed the same types of trends with TV during the mid century when it became so ubiquitous.

I'm not saying smartphones are not damaging, but I think humans have always looked for ways to cut lose and that often means in ways that are unhealthy.

lol I read some of these comments and all I hear is "Protect the children!"

Introducing your kids to any technology is an excellent way to teach them responsibility and how technology can be used to increase their understanding of the world around them. But this would require you to spend time with your kids and guide them along their journey with enough freedom to make mistakes.

I have 2 kids 5 & 10 that started using phones at 2 years old. A couple of broken screen and a few dramatic crying fits, but I can trust both of them to use technology with respect. Of course the 5 year is still learning and that happens everyday. The 10 year old is amazing now at self control with usage of his phone while interacting with others.

I say start them early to learn good habits, but also demonstrate good habits in your household.

Human race always needs time to digest/adapt to new stuff, such as smartphones.

Unlike previous new gadgets(TV, even internet), smartphone is so powerful that nothing in human history can match, basically, it stretches our very brain with this little super computer in the pocket at all fronts: be it knowledge, games, constant-on social network, it is just too much for the young.

They're as addictive as drugs to kids' brains, especially when considering teens should be learning the world around them at their age, now they stare at the little screen as much as they could. it makes kids dumber, more lonely, while feel good, the way how drugs work.

The phone makers, the router makers, the cellular operators need work together to give us a few kids mode for their online life, as soon as possible.

Smartphones, like any other technology, is neither bad or good. It just is. It's a tool. You can use it to do good things or you can use it to do bad things. I would tax these corporations and use the money to raise awareness and that's about all we can do.

Is hacker news one of the digital distractions?

Probably not as you have to manually remember to check in on it, there are no notifications for comment replies, and no real reward system for participating.


Apple seriously needs to allow us to have proper parental tools.

I can get tools on Android that allow me to limit app use, website access, and other things. The best I can do on Apple is take the phone away when the child shouldn't use it. I literally have two Apple phones (because I'm locked into the iMessage/Find my Friends ecosystem) - one with nothing but basic apps and locked down with Restrictions, and one which has all the games and stuff which he can play for a limited amount of time per day. Not fun.

Apple gives parent's vastly insufficient tools to monitor and manage their kids use of these devices.

Agreed, time limits restricted to Guided Access is only a partial (and depending on the user - faulty) solution. User accounts with restrictions and general time limits/operating hours like Amazon Fire devices (but without the frustrating UX) would be awesome.

I recommend everyone to read the book Deep Work by Cal Newport

I stopped using a smartphone 2 months ago, switching to a flipphone with wi-fi calling. When I made the switch, the employees in the mobile store acted as if they had lost one of their own and outwardly displayed the 7 stages of grief for my old phone as I returned it for something without a touch screen...

1. Shock & Denial - ...I was asked if I was 'sure about this' more than 10 times during the transfer and repeatedly dissuaded from making the "down"grade.

2. Pain & Guilt- ...I was told that no one had done this before, that it was not recommended for any customer, and skeptically prodded as if in attempts to uncover that I lacked the qualities and smartphone use cases that make one human.

3. Anger & Bargaining- ...As one of the employees started setting up the phone for me, another came over, asked what model it was, and snickered loudly before saying how sh&@$#y the outdated messaging system was on the phone. I begrudgingly sat through spiels on several other models that didn't fit my requirement of 'just no apps'.

4. "Depression", Reflection, Loneliness- ...The 4 employees started talking amongst themselves in a ring about the old days, before any of them had a smartphone. There were noticeable pauses and head tilts throughout the conversation. I had been here an hour at this point.

5. The Upward Turn- ...They handed me the phone and one even said he envied me and wished me good luck.

6. Reconstruction & Working Through- ...I signed the contract and they showed me how to do wi-fi calling, cellular, and send messages, the only features I had wanted in the first place.

7. Acceptance & Hope- ...The employee who originally helped me said I "just had" to email him back to tell him what it was like on the "outside".

It was the most surreal experience, a basic exchange of products and services that from the perspective of everyone around me was akin to renouncing my citizenship.

I would really like to do that, but honestly, I don't think I could get by without google maps and either uber or lyft. Looking through my smart phone, those are seriously the only applications I need. The other 60+ apps I could do without.

Why don’t you prove it and delete the 60 unnecessary apps.

Goodness knows every single one is tracking you in some way or another or waiting to trick you with some dark pattern.

This isn’t meant to be sassy or to criticize you. I have similarly trimmed back all of the apps I don’t regularly use or rely on.

No. Throw the baby out with the bathwater; they said.

I've deleted and re-installed Facebook countless times. It doesn't make me any holier, but having the choice of it there and choosing to go without seems like a stronger fight.

I've told this to a lot of people around me... unfollow everyone on Facebook.

This does two things: 1. No more facebook feed 2. No more facebook ads

You still get to keep messenger as an extended contact book, people can still tag you in stupid things and pictures, you don't have to have that awkward conversation telling people you're no longer on facebook. I guarantee you'll never feel like you miss your feed. Nobody even has to know you've unfollowed them.

I've quit facebook twice and they didn't last. But I've had no feed for months now and I don't see myself going back.

I too have done this. It's great, you still have access to everything, I use the events quite a lot. But the easy mindless discovery is gone, I spend much less time (1/100th) on it as i used too, I also don't have the app on my phone (just messenger)

Why not just get a browser extension to hide your newsfeed? Seems like a much simpler solution than unfollowing your entire friend list.

Because that doesn't work on chrome for mobile, as far as I know.

Interesting idea. Funny that it removes ads, too.

> I guarantee you'll never feel like you miss your feed. Nobody even has to know you've unfollowed them.

I just have messenger on my phone, right now. It's a nice solution to most of these problems for me. But most of my facebook tags happen directly in Messenger vs. someone's post that I have to go look at.

I tried this once and I think the algorithm just readjusted weights or something because I still see friends on my news feed.

For desktop I have used the social fixer plugin though no longer do

Still haven't found the answer tbh

My most recent approach is to start blogging. If I like writing about interesting stuff I might as well do it properly.

The good news is after having no feed for well over a year I can now imagine just deleting Facebook and never coming back. Only reason I don’t is because it’s a decent way to reach people, but once that’s no longer the case, it’s gone.

That's true, the general recommendation for drug addicts is to keep their drug of choice in their home and within an arm's reach, so that they can exercise their willpower for the sake of the stronger fight. Someday you'll be strong enough to break free! Keep at it!

> the general recommendation for drug addicts is to keep their drug of choice in their home and within an arm's reach, so that they can exercise their willpower for the sake of the stronger fight

Is that really true? Where did you get that from?

It's exactly the opposite about I've learned about how to help drug addicts.

There is, however, the advice that for drugs which can't be quickly reduced to zero for medical reasons, those should be stowed by a close friend (depending on the situation), who then ensures the dosis is reduced over time in a proper way. The advantage is that the reduction of dosis is enforced by other person, and that if the addict temporarily needs a higher dosis for specific reasons, they might get it, but first have to discuss another person.

Yes, sorry, I thought I was being obviously facetious. That strategy obviously does not work for drug addicts, so how would it work for phone addicts?

If you're addicted to the phone, mine is obviously the wrong recommendation. If you're addicted to one specific service or industry of the phone, then perhaps it's a better solution.

I bought a burner phone for my startup. Barely use it and it runs me $3/mo. When I do use it, it's phone calls only (and text but I don't use that). I use wifi when I'm at home or at work. (old SGS V)

It's really lead me to wonder why I have my two normal phones that run me ~$80/mo just to have access without wifi. (SGS VII and iPhone 8)

What device did you switch to? I tried making the same switch a couple years ago but couldn't stick to it, mainly due to missing GPS/maps (and secondly due to dumbphones making lousy mp3 players, and not being able to serve as wifi hotspots for mobile data on the rare occasions that I do want to do internet stuff on the go).

The Kyocera DuraXV (https://www.kyoceramobile.com/duraxv/) has navigation and I believe can act as a wifi hotspot, but goddamn, they want $260 for it which feels like a hell of a lot for a basic phone. Also I'm on AT&T and I think the DuraXV is Verizon only.

What phone did you get? I've been considering exactly that switch myself, but finding a flip-phone which can do wifi/4G calls (some older designs are at risk of having their compatible cell towers shut off soon) and navigation (that's one convenience that's mighty hard to give up) has been a challenge. I've only found one or two suitable phones and they've all been over $300 which seems ludicrous for something that simple.

lg Exalt

I did the same thing, but instead over the phone. The customer support rep didn't hesitate to switch over my service.

So how has your experience been so far?

They were actually grieving their company's (marginal) lost profits from your decision not to use a smartphone, so it was not as irrational as you think.

Retail employees don’t care about marginal lost profits of the corporate on individual interactions.

They do if they're paid spiffs on them.

I wish we can use the same technology to turn all distractions into opt-ins instead of opt-outs.

i.e. once a month, you get a Gmail or iPhone admin notice that says: "This month, these 4 new apps you installed and there 3 new domains started trying to send you app notifications and mailing list emails. Here are the categories of notifications and a few samples. Do you allow them to continue communicating with you?"

Excuse me while I enjoy a nice hit of dopamine for writing this witty response. mMMMM dopamine. What was that about damaging my mind now?

I was ready to go back to a flip phone because I was aware of how many times a day I checked my phone because of FOMO or whatever. Then I found out I could get my phone subsidized by my employer and that was enough to keep me using a smart phone.

Now I feel only slightly better that I'm not paying for my bad habit and still guilty about the addiiction and associated "damage to my mind".

Two Major Apple Shareholders Push for Study of iPhone Addiction in Children: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-08/jana-calp...

I am convinced there would be a decent market for a dumb phone with an iPhone quality camera, and the only 'smart' functionality it should have is getting pictures off the camera easily.

I know several families who have transitioned to all dumbphones, and the only thing they report missing after a while is a having a decent camera on hand.

Another alternative is a camera with some sort of networking / offloading capability.

In the pre-smartphone era I picked up a pocketable digital camera, and it remains the device on which I've shot my best images. Having a camera with you, and a small tripod (I've several that fit into a jacket pocket or bag) makes for excellent results. Losing the distractions of the phone is a plus.

It's a fascinating subject and I'm not sure of others but I certainly have found that my brain has changed with the advent of Smartphone usage. I truly wonder if a child's brain could be reversed from effect that will be set in by a constant on, constant feedback and lack of need for knowledge retention.

A mode which progressively throttles performance until it becomes unusable with controls to vary the throttle rate and the expiry time would be useful.

Parents could give their kids the device which (deepening on settings or detection of compulsive use) would actively restrict their screen time.

I wish we’d stopped discussing the effects and started discussing potential mitigation measures

As a community, I'm sure we eventually will. If you want to have a discussion, start one.

Hmm. When I was a kid we were all boiling our brains by watching too much tv. Meanwhile I learned a great deal about the world and got my lust for scientific knowledge by watching tv. Mind you, channels with commercials were strictly banned in our house.

isn't a cell phone just the most recent folk devil? [1]

It used to be rock and roll.

Before that it was dungeons and dragons.

Trace it back far enough, and you get to the moral panic when people started reading books.

the fear of new technologies is a cyclical phenomenon. maybe one day the fear will be well-placed, but the historical record suggests that contemporary individuals can't tell the difference.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Folk_devil

Or in the words of the ancient philosopher plato upon learning about the written textbook

"""If men learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls; they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks."""

And just as Plato had a point but missed a greater one something similar might be said about the campaign against the a decentralized authority free media landscape that seams to be replacing it.

Were kind of seeing a kind of trend where every new media invention goes though a cycle of hype and fear towards a new normal and usually a new political and cultural structure. And i suspect that a lot of the "fear" is at least partially a part of that process.

Not to be said that smartphones are different from for instance newspapers in having serious and dangerous problems* but it's equally dangerous to respond to new by trying to preserve an equally broken old model for information/entertainment distribution.

*Remember the Maine?

> Were kind of seeing a kind of trend where every new media invention goes though a cycle of hype and fear towards a new normal and usually a new political and cultural structure. And i suspect that a lot of the "fear" is at least partially a part of that process.

That doesn't make this fear unjustified. The radio made Nazism more powerful. Trump doesn't become president without the current 24-hours news culture. ISIS doesn't gain nearly as much influence without social media.

Also, where exactly are you getting "decentralized authority free media landscape" from?

Exactly. Technology makes the highs higher and the lows lower. It's just an amplifier for human nature.

I plan on abandoning my smartphone next month. Not certain enough to say that I’m abandoning smartphones for good, but I sort of feel that way. I’m over it.

Who here has more information about this "Instagram strategically withholding likes to exploit craving"? This seems like a serious issue.

I think I read about it in Hooked by Nir Eyal.

Why are we pretending this is unique or new to smartphones.

Television has worked this way for a long time, all media and advertising has worked on the same principals.

Instead of pretending this is "new and scary", we should be focusing on understanding the impacts and limits, and how much is too much, rather than this grey and white false narrative that smartphones are somehow solely responsible for the increasingly intrusive advertisements and attention grabbing reality we've been constructing for decades longer than smartphones have been around.

They addressed this argument in the article, and why smartphones are inherently different than TV (or any number of other distractions that people have worried about in the past).

They addressed it by waving their hands and insisting its different, that doesn't equate to a valid argument. That also doesn't change that the methods and impacts are all the same, the only difference is scale, which is my point.

If you want to get into details, the article addresses it by saying "Unlike TVs and desktop computers, which are typically relegated to a den or home office".

That is disingenuous and naive at best, outright misleading and wrong at worse.

Laptops have been around a long time, TV's are making their way into more rooms in the house, waiting rooms, restaurants, even many businesses are putting tv's in lobbies and other places. Walk through any major city's shopping district and tell me there isn't a deluge of televisions in every direction/in every window, if you do you're either blind or being dishonest.

And every single technique used by smartphones to capture your attention applies to laptops, desktops, tablets, television, to pretend otherwise is to ignore the past.

> They addressed it by waving their hands and insisting its different, that doesn't equate to a valid argument.

While they may not have formulated a valid argument, I think there is a valid argument to be made, so I will try.

Television was a broadcast medium, the only way you could interact with it was to switch channels.

Apps on a smartphone are more interactive (they can take user input) and include a mechanism for personalized push notifications which makes them into a much more potent tool for capturing and retaining attention, how?

They are like a skinner box with a button that gives out rewards (the rewards are likes, or text messages, or push notifications) when you interact with the app.

What makes apps even worse than TV is that the makers of the apps have, either through blind experimentation (a/b testing) or by applying lessons learned from behavioural psychology, fine tuned them to make them as addictive as possible.

Basically, a the facebook app on your phone is like a skinner box, where you are the pigeon, and the app gives on rewards on a variable ratio, partial reinforcement schedule (the type of reinforcement schedule that has been found the best at eliciting a strong rate of response the subject.)

Also what makes phones addictive is what isn't on the phone. Phones typically don't have productivity apps, like word or a programming environment like you might have on a laptop. They have limited uses beyond communication, which narrows our choices when using them to those very apps that were designed to be addictive.

[1] https://www.verywell.com/what-is-a-variable-ratio-schedule-2...

>While they may not have formulated a valid argument, I think there is a valid argument to be made, so I will try.


Television was a broadcast medium, its increasingly becoming an on-demand medium with streaming services. You make valid points about it being less interactive, but by the same token, the interruption driven forced marketing/forced viewing of content X (advertisements) in order to consume content Y is a staple of the entire advertising industry. Targeting advertisements based on demographics, location and other admittedly wider and less specific metrics happens in television, even in print media. The difference with smartphones is the metrics are more specific, as is the ability to target individuals rather than groups.

But that difference doesn't hold up to laptops. The entire argument about mobility, reward based gaming (see DLC and online gaming, as well as the huge number of people that play basic games on facebook not using mobile), feedback loops, highly specific metrics and targeted advertising exists there, as well as on tablets, yet were sitting here trying to blame smartphones as the issue.

Personally, I have office on my phone, as well as google docs, regularly edit/collaborate on documentation, and have even used a keyboard and mouse with my smartphone to connect to work through vpn's and do sysadmin and scripting work. Admittedly I'm the minority there, but a large number of laptops and desktops are dedicated gaming/fun machines, not everyone is an office/word/programming monkey every time they sit in front of a computer.

My argument is smart phones are NOT the issue, the internet, with its highly specific individual metrics and targeting abilities, applying the same marketing tactics used in print and television media as well as used in interactive tasks, is the issue. Exposure to that through desktops, laptops, tablets, smartphones etc... is the problem (scale). To focus on just smartphones ignores that a significant portion of people interact with these same highly targeted, manipulative and distracting applications through multiple devices, I don't know anyone who uses facebook solely on their smartphone, but I know a number of people who only use it on laptops/desktops and refuse to use it on smartphones due to security/privacy/battery life and other reasons.

Variable ratio scheduling and all other methods in question apply to every device you use to access the product using those methods. Smartphones amplify this to a degree by portability/access, but we shouldn't pretend that smartphones themselves are the issue, or the sole source of the issue.

The only thing I see is that smartphones fixed boredom. Waiting 15 minutes or even 45 minutes in line is no longer a painful experience.

Moment for iOS and rescue time for Mac and Windows. Fantastically helpful!!

Rampant caffeine consumption in high levels is not helping our focus either.

what about internet? There is a ton of stuff out there on the internet that is bad for kids, so shouldn't that be controlled too ?

But choice is good, right?

Smartphones are much harder to lock down than a laptop. I don't know about the iPhone but Android makes it a pain in the ass -- don't suggest stuff I've looked very hard already, some things you could do are simply impractical.

ubik 41 days ago [flagged]

Kaczynski was right

Would you mind posting civilly and substantively instead of “edgy” one-liners?


What growing body of evidence? The article references no studies. This article does not meet HN's discussion guidelines and should be removed.

> "What does "deeply interesting" mean? It means stuff that teaches you about the world."

This article teaches us nothing.

I find several references as I read the article:

"In Persuasive Technology, one of the most quietly influential books to come out of Silicon Valley in the past two decades, the Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg predicted that computers could and would take massive advantage of our susceptibility to prodding. "People get tired of saying no; everyone has a moment of weakness when it's easier to comply than to resist," he wrote. Published in 2002, Prof. Fogg's book now seems eerily prescient."

"A recent study of Chinese middle schoolers found something similar. Among more than 7,000 students, mobile phone ownership was found to be "significantly associated" with levels of inattention seen in people with attention-deficit disorder."

"Workers at a British company who multitasked on electronic media – a decent proxy for frequent smartphone use – were found in a 2014 study to lose about the same quantity of IQ as people who had smoked cannabis or lost a night's sleep."

This item cites expertise rather than a specific study, but:

"These companies have persuaded us to give over so much of our lives by exploiting a handful of human frailties. One of them is called novelty bias. It means our brains are suckers for the new. As the McGill neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains, we're wired this way to survive."

"The devices exert such a magnetic pull on our minds that just the effort of resisting the temptation to look at them seems to take a toll on our mental performance. That's what Adrian Ward and his colleagues at the University of Texas business school found in an experiment last year. They had three groups of people take a test that required their full concentration. One group had their phones face down on the table, one had them in their bags or pockets and the last group left them in another room. None of the test-takers were allowed to check their devices during the test. But even so, the closer at hand the phones were, the worse the groups performed."

"Researchers at Cambridge University showed recently that eye contact synchronizes the brainwaves of infant and parent, which helps with communication and learning. Meeting each other's gaze, Ms. Sandink says, amounts to "a silent language between the baby and the mom." That doesn't mean breastfeeding mothers need to lock eyes with their children 24 hours a day. But while Ms. Sandink emphasizes that she isn't trying to shame women, she worries that texting moms may be missing out on vital bonding time with their babies."

"Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and research associate in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, interviewed 1,000 kids between the ages of 4 and 18 for her 2013 book The Big Disconnect. Many of them said they no longer run to the door to greet their parents because the adults are so often on their phones when they get home."

"The Center for the Digital Future, an American think tank, found that between 2006 and 2011, the average number of hours American families spent together per month dropped by nearly a third, from 26 to about 18."

So, no, actually, I find your characterisation entirely inaccurate.

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