‘The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies… we’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children’
Former Facebook and Google employees are speaking out against what they say are societal dangers posed by social media and smartphones.
The group, which recently banded together to form the Center for Humane Technology, has teamed up with media watchdog Common Sense Media to highlight the ill effects associated with the very social networks they helped create.
As part of their first campaign, titled The Truth About Tech, the group will target 55,000 U.S. public schools in an effort to warn students, teachers and parents about, among other things, tech addiction.
Tristan Harris, a former ethicist at Google and head of the new group, told the New York Times that both Google and Facebook are essentially aiming their computing power at vulnerable children.
“We were on the inside. We know what the companies measure. We know how they talk, and we know how the engineering works,” Harris said. “The largest supercomputers in the world are inside of two companies — Google and Facebook — and where are we pointing them? We’re pointing them at people’s brains, at children.”
Apart from its initial campaign, the new Center for Humane Technology also hopes to develop a Ledger of Harms – a site to inform tech engineers who may be worried about what they are building – and begin lobbying for laws that would rein in tech giants.
Roger McNamee, an early Facebook investor, says he joined the group in an attempt to undo any harm he may have caused.
“Facebook appeals to your lizard brain — primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you for every waking moment,” McNamee said. “This is an opportunity for me to correct a wrong.”
News of the Center for Humane Technology’s intentions comes only days after child health experts asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to delete a new messenger app intended for children as young as six.
“Younger children are simply not ready to have social media accounts. They are not old enough to navigate the complexities of online relationships, which often lead to misunderstandings and conflicts even among more mature users,” a letter to Zuckerberg said. “They also do not have a fully developed understanding of privacy, including what’s appropriate to share with others and who has access to their conversations, pictures, and videos.”
Numerous studies have linked excessive technology use among children to depression and developmental issues.
Even as the public appears to be increasingly consumed by technology, major tech figures seem to be moving in the opposite direction.
Apple co-founder Steve Jobs said prior to his passing that he strictly limited his children’s screen time when asked what his children thought of the first iPad.
“They haven’t used it,” Jobs said at the time. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”
Chris Anderson, co-founder of drone manufacturer 3D Robotics and a former editor of Wired Magazine, has also made similar statements in regards to his children.
“That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand,” Anderson said. “I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”
Although currently without children, Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated his desire to safeguard any future kids of his own from the dangers of social media.
“I don’t have a kid, but I have a nephew that I put some boundaries on,” Cook recently said. “There are some things that I won’t allow; I don’t want them on a social network.”
Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, argued last year that his former company’s products preyed on the mentally vulnerable.
“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said.
Around the same time, former Facebook employee Chamath Palihapitiya also accused the social media giant of “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”