Alarmed by the negative effects social networks and smartphones have had on society and mental health, a group of Silicon Valley technologists is coming together to challenge the companies they had a hand in creating.
The group called the Center for Humane Technology, alongside nonprofit media group Common Sense Media, are joining forces to plan an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and ad campaign targeted at 55,000 United States public schools.
The Truth About Tech campaign is aimed at educating students, parents, and teachers about the dangers and side effects of excessive technology use, specifically the link between heavy social media use and depression. The campaign has partnered with Comcast and DirecTV who have donated media and airtime. Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, joined the Center for humane Technology after the alarming realisation of what he helped create. "Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger," he told the New York Times. "And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment."
The group's website explains that while companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have benefitted society in some ways, they are caught in a race for our attention to survive and make money. "Constantly forced to outperform their competitors, they must use increasingly persuasive techniques to keep us glued," the website reads.
The group of Silicon Valley insiders expects more to join them over time. They believe that their intimate understanding of the design techniques, business incentives, and culture behind how technology garners an inordinate amount of our attention will be the key to helping solve the problem. In an attempt to reform the technology industry, they plan to introduce a Ledger of Harms. The goal of the website will be to guide engineers who are concerned about the technology they are being asked to build. It will provide data on the health effects of different technologies as well as suggestions for how to make products healthier.
The new group also has plans for legislation to regulate the power of large tech companies. The Center for Humane Technology is focusing on two at the moment: a bill that would commission research on technology's impact on children's health, and another that would prohibit the use of unidentified digital bots.
"Reversing the digital attention crisis and realigning technology with humanity’s best interests," is the end goal for the Center for Humane Technology.