In January 2018 Patently Apple posted a report titled “Big Apple Shareholders Sent Apple a Letter Saturday urging them to take Steps to Address Growing iPhone Addiction.” In Early June Patently Apple posted a secondary report on this issue titled “Study finds Teens abandoning Facebook & that Addiction to Devices has almost doubled in the last 3 years.” Weeks later during Apple’s WWDC they addressed the issue by introducing a new app called ‘Screen Time.’

 

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This week ex-Apple veteran inventor Imran Chaudhri who was instrumental in the iPhone’s interface and started a company called Hu.ma.ne sat down with Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing, as guests of Fast Company’s first annual Impact Council to debate ethics in design.

 

The report noted that both “described their own experiences with the ethics of design, with Chaudhri talking about his time at Apple and expressing his own regret that ‘we were very late to some of the things that have impacted people in the attention economy,’ such as concerns about users, especially children, spending too much screen time on their iPhones and iPads.

 

In the early days of designing the phone, ‘we talked about the idea that you can limit the amount of screen time, and we had an awareness that this was going to be an issue for a long time. The motivations behind not doing it were propelled by the App Store economy,’ he said.

 

He explained that the company’s profit motive—getting more users to download more apps—outweighed concerns about the potential impact of all that engagement.

 

Switching to Galloway, Fast Company noted that “Galloway cut to the heart of the matter with tough words. ‘I think that the majority of design jobs and the genius in design right now is to bio-mechanically addict us,’ he said, then gave a sobering account of his own addiction to social media, comparing it to his father’s cigarette habit: ‘Twitter is my smoking.’

 

The audience laughed but got serious when he asked whether his 8-year-old and 11-year-old sons would be able to modulate their social media use as well as he does. ‘So, what is the greatest kind of design achievement from a purely human behavior standpoint? That we have kids literally addicted to their screens.’

 

He went on to note the dramatic increase in teen suicide admittances to emergency rooms. ‘That’s probably the most influence of design thinking that I’ve seen happening right now, he said.

 

Galloway was being deliberately provocative to make his point, but both he and Chaudhri agreed that profit has played an enormous role in blinding tech companies to the consequences of their creations. And they both targeted Facebook, the poster child for everything wrong with tech in the past two years, for its particular egregious obliviousness.

 

Galloway added that we should hold Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, as well as the executives at Google and Apple, accountable, ‘in the same way that we’ve held petroleum companies and tobacco companies accountable.”

 

For more on this, read the full Fast Company report here.

 

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