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Big Tech has stolen our children Fear of the smartphone isn't a moral panic

Do you want a no-Instagram daughter? Adam Berry/Redferns

Do you want a no-Instagram daughter? Adam Berry/Redferns


March 2, 2024   12 mins

“Internet addiction” has lived a strange life since the Nineties. In 1995, a New York psychiatrist introduced the term, not to describe a real affliction of internet users, but to parody certain diagnostic tendencies in his field. Then other people, not realising the term’s origins, took it seriously, and, from the late Nineties onwards, the idea began to spread that people really were getting addicted to the internet.

Then other people, often sophisticated progressives and libertarians convinced that the internet is a force for progress and liberation, performed triumphant Gotchas!” by reminding the world that “internet addiction” was invented as parody: the joke was on the fretful rubes. This wised-up view was dominant in mainstream (ie centre-left) commentary through much of the 2010s. Then, in 2016, Donald Trump won that big election, allegedly with the help of Russians making Facebook posts, and the elite consensus that the internet is a force for liberation sort of fell apart. Progressives grew more bullish about technology, which freed them to look at the apps on their phones and join everyone else in admitting that, yeah, this internet crap is pretty addictive.

This history says several depressing things about our intellectual class, but at least it has left us at a point where parents in the UK can start a movement against kids having smartphones without being accused of losing their minds to a “moral panic”. This campaign was spurred by a simple Instagram post from Daisy Greenwell, who said she was “terrified” of the idea of her two children getting smartphones before they’re even teenagers. “It feels like we all know this is a bad decision for our kids,” she wrote, but “we still all stumble into it because everyone else is, and it’s too hard not to follow suit.” After only 10 days, her movement was 5,000 strong: “We’re encouraging them to start setting up Smartphone Free Childhood groups in their schools,” she wrote, “which are popping up across the country.”

Her movement has been able to gain such strong momentum, without having its credibility immediately attacked by high-status commentators, because the evidence behind its driving worries has grown stronger in recent years. In the past, people have resisted claims about smartphones and mental health for sound reasons. After all, studies supporting the anti-smartphone case were largely correlational. In her 2017 book iGen, for example, Jean Twenge drew strong conclusions about the dire effects of smartphones largely from the matching of timelines — yearly increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide with yearly increases in teenage smartphone ownership and social media use. Critics noted that other factors could explain those changes in well-being. Some claimed that a closer look at the data showed much smaller, even negligible effects where Twenge had made strong causal claims.

In the seven years since iGen emerged, however, the correlations between phone use and unwellness have stayed strong, while the holes that other scholars punctured in Twenge’s causal claims turned out to be smaller than they first appeared. At the same time, evidence for the slightly different claims about the distracting and compulsive effects of phone use have grown even harder to refute. These things, combined with the epochal vibe-shift caused by Trump’s election, have altered the balance of rhetorical forces in the tech debate. The rote response from pro-tech side, that people like Twenge were fuelling “moral panic” and anti-tech hysteria, started to sound pretty hysterical itself.

But focusing the debate about tech on mental health, though useful and urgent in obvious respects, is also a distraction from the more fundamental, more philosophical question of freedom, of human agency in the face of inhuman power. It was depressing to watch as influential writers and thinkers — progressives both of the traditional Left and (less surprisingly) of the libertarian Right, along with the professional cheerleaders of tech media — ignored this question in eager defence of this new, indifferent force that now ruled our lives.

Valorising technology, on the empty assumption that the work of corrosion and subversion and redefinition it is doing is emancipatory and progressive, became very hard to distinguish from worshipping power for the sake of how powerful it is. Enthusiasts were keen to read healthy tidings in the rise of the internet, and benefits both spiritual and political from the psychic and social changes it wrought, even though the clearest, the most potent, the only obvious claim that it could make for itself was one of brute ontology. It was an emergent phenomenon of singular scope and reach and gravity. But its spokespeople continued to read its effects as progressive, to insist it was doing humanity’s work. They continued to mock those who publicly worried about its dangers, even as its growing power to remake everything, by its own inner logic, and on behalf of the most profitable companies in the history of capitalism, was growing ever more flagrant.

As I watched this dynamic play out over the second decade of this third millennium, I found myself thinking: wait, aren’t writers and intellectuals and academics supposed to be vigilant and skeptical about power, especially power working on behalf of capital? So why, every time someone goes public with a reasonable worry about the singular and rapidly growing power of digital technology, is that person mocked by sophisticated professionals of the intellectual class for fueling another “moral panic”. This term was so popular it grew, over the history of commentary on the internet, into a sort of authoritative clichĂ©, a peremptory move by with-it pundits that conveyed a regime enforcer’s mix of swagger and dullness.

My favourite version of this comes from a Guardian review of Tim Wu’s 2016 book The Attention Merchants, which waves off Wu’s claims that internet degrades our attention and concentration. “This is an ancient complaint,” the reviewer assures us, “and a rather silly one. Every media innovation since the invention of writing has triggered a moral panic about whether the human experience would be hopelessly corrupted as a result. Socrates agonised about wax tablets; the monks of the late middle ages railed against the printing press.” Anyone who knows anything about what happened after the invention of the printing press might find the blithe tone of this passage somewhat befuddling. And to invoke 15th-century monks bearish about the printing press as your special avatars of irrational fear is, one might say, a counterintuitive use of history. The printing press was a vector of world-breaking power, especially from the monk’s perspective. To the extent that they really were in a moral panic about it, we should treat those monks as models of foresight.

As someone who likes books and wasn’t killed in the Wars of Religion, I have a positive attitude about the printing press myself, but I have to admit it that it did unleash cataclysmic forces that still shape us six centuries after it (understandably) bummed out those monks. The internet hasn’t yet given us its Thirty Years War. For now, it conducts its more salient and systematic upheavals on smaller human scales – society, community, family, individual self, and various subconscious workings and proclivities of that self. Indeed, this power seems to move relentlessly towards smallness, as if some law of subdivision or dissolution secretly guides it. This applies both to the objects it conveys to our awareness and the aspects of our awareness it conveys them to. Using ever smaller packages of experience it teases ever simpler human instincts, reflexes ever further removed the whole selves we present to one another in embodied life. With every advance it reaches deeper into evolutionary time, discovering and exploiting reflexes we share with ever-simpler creatures, our stone-age ancestors, their primate forebears, and then monkeys, and then rats.

“With every advance it reaches deeper into evolutionary time, discovering and exploiting reflexes we share with ever-simpler creatures”

A recent post by the American blogger Ted Gioia captures how this logic applies to the objects of culture. Under the influence of Silicon Valley, he argues, culture is getting “faster”, by which he means cultural products are growing shorter and the human capacities they appeal to more reflexive, less human, more pathological. Under the heading “How Silicon Valley Views Culture” he presents the technological history of culture in the style of a food-chain illustration in a child’s science textbook: a fish-shape named “Art” being consumed by the fish-shape “Entertainment”, which is consumed by the fish-shape “Distraction”, which, finally (for now), is consumed by the fish-shape “Addiction”. In another graphic, titled “The Rise of Dopamine Culture”, Gioia captures various cultural enterprises on their downward trajectory towards elemental smallness and crudeness. Here are a few:

Journalism: Newspapers->Multimedia->Clickbait

Music: Albums->Tracks->TikToks

Athletics: Play a Sport->Watch a Sport->Bet on a Sport.

You might take up an easygoing attitude about tech and say “What’s the big deal? Longer entertainments are not inherently better than shorter ones.” But that belief — wrong as it is — gets harder to hold once you reach the one about sports and betting. This example should be a chilling sign of the perverse moral power of technological affordances over our ability to set norms and rules for ourselves and live by them — seeing how quickly the emergence of phone-based betting apps has dissolved longstanding, clearly reasonable, and fundamentally humane scruples about sports gambling.

Betting on sports has gone from an ethically dubious and legally ambiguous diversion accompanied by massive downside risks that everyone recognises, to a ubiquitous feature of sports advertising that celebrities feel no apparent shame in promoting, and which sports teams and leagues feel no evident misgivings in exploiting for profit. Gambling was already dogged by the risk of ruinous compulsion even before it was technologically fused with phone apps whose mere mechanical use is meant to be compulsive. A sports-fan turned compulsive gambler through compulsive scrolling on his addictive-by-design gambling apps — I think the business term for this is synergy. The philosophical term for technology’s ability to effect this sort of moral revolution is: power.

One admirable thing about the movement of UK mums is that they take up this matter of power with admirable stoutness and directness. Sure, they indulge in a little safetyism in their online manifesto — but less than I would have expected. Perhaps because they’re parents and want to resist what phones will do to the inner workings of their families, their articulation of “The Problem” is surprisingly political — concerned as much with unfashionable matters of will, freedom, and personhood as it is with the familiar issues of anxiety and depression.

The manifesto begins with not a predictable warning about mental health (that’s the second heading) but with the obvious (and yet still quibbled-about with brain-dead reference to “moral panic”) point that “Smartphones are Highly Addictive”. It points out that “[t]ech companies spend millions on making apps and devices intentionally addictive”. For anyone who has spent time researching the cognitive-science end of the technology business (companies such as “Dopamine Labs” and other the Stanford-trained practitioners of “behavioural design”), or for anyone who’s read Natasha Dow Schull’s Addiction By Design, it’s clear that the tech industry has a dark vein of misanthropy running through it. The fact that this force of hating people informs the design of products that children use for hours a day should justify a constant, contrary state of disgust and alarm among parents, whatever the latest studies tell us about depression. Other headings in the mum’s manifesto include “Smartphones Reduce Attention Spans” and “Smartphones Rob Children of Their Childhood”. These points express a basic parental concern about what kind of life their children should live, and what kind of person their children should be.

My wife Juliet and I had these thoughts in mind when we held off on getting our daughters phones until the end of their American middle school years. At this point they were both 14, the only kids their age they knew who didn’t have phones. During those last phone-free years, their avid reading was beginning to grow in sophistication. They had lived in their Harry Potter worlds in earlier grades, but as middle-schoolers, along with the gripping kid-with-cancer romances that make up today’s YA canon, they were diving into longer, more difficult fiction, serious, award-winning novels written for adults. Then, after we gave them the phones they’d long been clamouring for, their recreational reading of books basically ended.

“After we gave them the phones they’d long been clamouring for, their recreational reading of books basically ended.”

We are considered techno-puritans in our world. I’ve been theoretically suspicious and personally cranky about technology for many years, and Juliet, who has always been indifferent to tech gadgets and averse to the consumer worship of them, is a strong, steadfast anti-tech influence on our daughters. She has far more emotional stamina and far deeper tolerance for parent-daughter conflict than I do (but, as a school counselor, she’s an expert at making her points about technology without hectoring). When we gather our daughters’ phones at 10pm every weeknight, we assume we’re just practicing what everyone already knows about kids and phones and sleep. But when we let on to other parents that we do this, they are often astounded. Literally no one else does this.

And yet our anti-tech vigilance isn’t nearly enough. There’s always a reason for them to be tethered to phone and laptop until the very last minute. This points to tech’s power in the home, the no-win dilemmas it introduces into the job of raising kids. Household regimes of tech-rationing that keep devices turned off for designated hours are hit with constant exceptions and requests for exceptions. These make for a stream of irritating negotiations in the short run that, in the long run, undermine those regimes altogether. But a more ad hoc approach — “Okay, everyone, there’s too much dumb scrolling going on! Hand over your phones for the next two hours!” — is simply an invitation for open confict. You want a calm respite from compulsive behaviour, but you end up with two hours of argument and resentment.

In other words, when kids’ social worlds are completely mediated by smartphones, and when their phone behaviour has grown as compulsive as its designers mean it to be, imposing tech limits within individual households is a volatile, unpleasant, generally futile business. The blunt, no-defiance, “authoritarian” parenting style I was raised by would be much better suited to our domestic tech challenge than the “authoritative” parenting we’re obliged to use. We calm, reasoning parents are no match for the barrage of facile but exhausting complaints and counterarguments generated by the tech-teenager nexus.

This household dilemma has an analogue in the study of children’s tech use. On his blog, the Yale psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, has a helpful discussion of the difficulties scientists face in measuring the effects of tech use on the mental health of children and teenagers. In many cases, scientists have simply surveyed kids on how much time they spend online and then sought connections between time spent online and mental health outcomes, or compared kids who are offline, for whatever reason, with the much larger number who are online. Even when such studies show some negative effects, Haidt argues, these effects are probably understated. This is because offline and low-use kids are still living in a world where everyone they know is constantly, cognitively hooked up to a smartphone. So these offline kids are experiencing the cohort effects of whatever is passing among their online friends and acquaintances, plus the isolation effects of losing this one crucial and nearly universal means of socialising, plus, if their tech use is habitual, some substantial short-term hit to their well-being from having this habitual behaviour interrupted. It’s not surprising that studying the harms of tech use in this way would show weak effects at the individual level.

This analytical problem points us back towards a practical problem, what, in a discussion of the specific risks of social media for girls, Haidt calls “a trap — a collective action problem”. “Each girl might be worse off quitting Instagram even though all girls would be better off if everyone quit.” Both studying the problem and doing something about it are thus hobbled by the powerful network effects that digital technology generates, how it turns itself into an entire ecosystem seemingly all at once, entangling us in practical and social imperatives we didn’t choose and can’t opt out of without substantial cost. (I just took my son to a professional basketball game, for which our “tickets” were active bar codes I needed my iPhone to display. As the ticket service informed me, “Your phone is your ticket.” When I fantasise about ditching my iPhone, I have to consider things like that.)

Daisy Greenwell’s understanding of her problem as a parent seems trenchant in this light. It was in her initial Instagram post that she made the bleak observation, ”[W]e all know this is a bad decision for our kids.” But we make this decision anyway. Why? Because the network effects of digital technology throw us into a collective-action problem. Do you want a no-phone son who misses all the online texting and planning and gaming his friends are doing, as my 13-year-old son is presently missing those things? Do you want a no-Instagram and -TikTok daughter who misses out on the meme-culture that all her friends consume and inhabit, as my daughters did for several years? If not, you better make the bad decision, get your kid that phone that, once it takes up residence in your home, you know you’re going to hate.

And, in this light, her practical response to her dilemma as an individual parent is also wise: start localised movements, where parents can tackle the collective-action problem together, on workable scales. As Jonathan Haidt suggests, achieving phone-freedom on these scales is likely to be both healthy and clarifying, to yield better-adjusted kids and a better understanding of the cohort-level changes in happiness and habit we owe to smartphones. These will be natural tests of something that, so far, has been both hard to escape and hard to study. My only criticism is that, so far, Greenwell and her fellow mums seem shy about extending this experiment to older kids, teenagers who might really benefit from a cohort-level break from smartphones.

As it happens, Juliet was witness to a natural experiment like this recently, when she chaperoned a 10-day high school science trip on which the students were forbidden from bringing their phones (and from which one student was sent home for sneaking his phone in his bag). These kids, aged 15 to 18, slept in small cabins without TVs and so were forced to entertain themselves and each other with conversation, board games, and book-reading. As the trip began they were clearly uneasy without their phones, but they stopped itching for them after a few days, and, by the end of the trip, they were all expressing, unbidden, how much happier and calmer they were without their phones. They saw how life without phones differed from their lives as they lived them at home, naggingly networked into the collective action problem they know as teenage living. When, during their return trip, a massive storm stranded them in Los Angeles for two days, and all 11 of them had to cram into the house of one boy’s grandparents, they experienced this stressful detour as a collective adventure, with more board games, conversation, and, now, back in civilisation, horror movies they watched together. Many of these kids began this trip as strangers and ended it as friends. It takes almost nothing — for a parent of phone-age kids, especially — to imagine how different it would have been if they were holding phones in their hands the whole time.

Before I picked Juliet up from San Francisco International, she’d told me we’d be giving a ride to one student, the 16-year-old son of one of her colleagues. On the way back to Oakland this boy mentioned several times how happy everyone seemed on the trip, how easy it was to get to know each other under those conditions. At one point Juliet asked him if he was relieved to be going home to his own bedroom – after 10 days of doing fieldwork and sleeping in a cabin and being stranded in L.A.

“I’m actually kind of dreading it,” he said.

“Why?” Juliet asked.

He said – I swear to God he actually said — “Because that’s where my phone is.”


Matt Feeney is an writer based in California and the author of Little Platoons: A defense of family in a competitive age


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William Brand
William Brand
2 months ago

Several factors differ on a smartphone from a phone or a PC. On a land line the phone rings and continues to ring until one answer the call. With a smartphone one only has 45 seconds to get off the toilet and run to the phone before the call is shunted to voicemail. Once awakened from sleep the phone demands that the call receiver unlock the phone. Usually, the call has been shunted to voicemail by the time the caller gets to the answer button. One then must wait until the voicemail or recent screen fills up to try to contact the caller. If the call is one that needs to be returned one arrives at a stupid AI receptionist who has no idea of which of a company’s employees called, you. Getting to a human is impossible. For a 75-year-old, Usually the call is SPAM from a prepaid funeral delete or an incessant attempt to get one to change ones Medicare option. Other callers are trying to sell electricity services. The next problem with smartphones is the microscopic typing screen. The keyboard is QWERTY and is impossible to use for a touch typist. One has to enter each letter with a large finger that easily misses the key and inserts the wrong letter. There is an option for voice typing but it’s stupidity in understanding a southern accent is legendary. It can turn a wise man into an idiot with its word selections. Why can’t they use a smarter server to translate speech to text. A pc voice to speech is right 95% of the time. A so-called smartphone is only correct 50% of the time. One then has to go to the small keyboard to correct it.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

This is just a rant because you can’t use your phone properly, it has nothing to do with any of the points raised in the article and the addictive nature of technology today

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

The first thing i do after buying a new smartphone is disable voicemail. People who know me (my Contacts list) know i do this, so just call me, letting the phone ring a few times and wait till i call back (“give me a missed call”), or just text. Anyone phoning me who doesn’t know me has to take their chances whether i bother or not. We don’t have to let the smartphone tech rule our lives.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

haha Steve – you do not have the self awareness after writing your post to see the phone owns you – it has taught you to do a couple tricks so you think you are the owner of it, but it is your master. Go back and read your post again….

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

It’s a mistake to ascribe lack of self-awareness to someone you don’t know, and more likely a demonstration of something lacking in oneself

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

*overshare; removed

Andrew D
Andrew D
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

What’s wrong with voicemail? (genuine question)

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Tedious to go through the motions to hear someone say ‘phone me’.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Exactly, it’s a blessing.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

You answer your phone? If it isn’t your spouse or your kids in the middle of the night, let the thing buzz. It’s usually just a scammer from a call center in Pakistan.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
2 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

You don’t need to jump off the toilet to get that phone call. That idea is a relic of the landline days. Now you just grab the phone you already have with you.
Furthermore, text and email are eliminating the need for a lot of the phone calls you used to have to jump up and get. These modes do not interrupt what you’re doing.
Back in the nineteen hundreds, a phone represented a place. The more important a person was, the more phone numbers he had. Today a phone represents a person.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

Since the phone is mobile, you can take it with you to the toilet, like people did and maybe still do with newspapers. Alternatively, you don’t have to answer, especially if it’s an unrecognizable number. Come on, man.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Huh? I don’t take my phone to the toilet.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  William Brand

You mean you don’t take your smartphone to the toilet with you?! That would be the solution. I can’t stand the smartphone, rarely use it, and stick to my landline.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
2 months ago

A powerful, acutely observed and well-written* piece for the weekend; it should generate a vital debate in Comments that i’m looking forward to reading.
There’s many facets that could generate entire debates in their own right. I’ll mention just one that i found particularly fascinating: the reference to how phone technology is tapping into ever-deeper aspects of our selves that’ve taken aeons of evolutionary time to evolve, and within the blink of an eye, changing and forcing adaptations within populations.
That this is being engineered by tech companies rather than just happening by chance is something we should all be mindful of. It does however, lead to the use of one particular expression that i have reservations about. Referring back to the asterisk* in my first sentence, i really dislike the way the term “hating” is used so commonly, as in this instance:

for anyone who’s read Natasha Dow Schull’s Addiction By Design, it’s clear that the tech industry has a dark vein of misanthropy running through it. The fact that this force of hating people informs the design of products that children use for hours a day

Hatred is a visceral emotion, and it loses it’s power when used to describe something that isn’t visceral or emotive: in this instance, the machinations of tech companies to encourage additive behaviour. Misanthropic, yes (as correctly used earlier in the sentence) but that’s something rather different.
In total though, this essay points towards what might increasingly be seen as an evolutionary change in our consciousness; in our very sense of self, and selves. The self, as the embodiment of an awareness of the world through the senses and our selves as the “collective action problem” the author refers to. I found this to be a very useful way of considering the dual aspects of phone usage which will help inform the debates that need to be had; by parents, by societies, by tech companies and of course, by ourselves.

T Bone
T Bone
2 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I almost found this piece more interesting on a personal psychological level than a group level. He sounds to me like a progressive that didn’t divest from the empirical model and is rationalizing himself back to sanity.  He talks about everything as in the collective but I think its pretty clear that you don’t change the collective whole unless you have individuals willing to take a stand.  Change or “progress” might come from “collective action” but that collective action is only as strong as it’s base of ideas. Those base of ideas come at the individual level. Our problems in a society come from Herd-like thinking that detaches personal responsibility from the needs of the community.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Valid generalizations. Contrary to outward appearances, Americans suffer from a lack of individualism–in the sense of independence of thought. We’re not exceptional in this regard, just pretty good at it. As a culture that is, collectively speaking.
As you know, there’s an essential difference between imposed collectivist mandates and voluntarily banding together in common cause. The mirror image of the problem you conclude with is also too common: responsibility to self–or selfish indulgence– with little thought for the wellbeing of others.
*But of course our ideas, even the strongest and most well-tested, are never, or only very rarely, altogether self-generated. They are founded largely upon precedents and contributions from others, ones we often don’t even consciously perceive. That is why, for example both Newton and Leibnitz independently “invented” calculus, and Charles Darwin an Alfred Wallace theories of evolution, in both cases at nearly the same time (too close to separate) with no (discernible) knowledge of one another’s work. You may or may not credit Jung’s notion of a Collective Unconscious (I do, with a few qualifications), but I think the idea of collective intellectual currents, or zeitgeist, is hard to deny.
We should vet ideas for ourselves–and test their synthetic rubber on the pavement–but not pretend they then become entirely our own.
That’s me done for now.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

How ironic that a nation based on individual liberty has abandoned the individual.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Too true. You could call many present-day Americans off-the-rack individualists, with boilerplate autonomy. But I think that’s been pretty true since 1776. And the nation was also founded on safeguards for general wellbeing, like no burning portions of the Constitution according to the wishes of single generation, party, or faction.
However, maybe amendments should pass with ratification from two-thirds instead of three-quarters of the states. The original standard is basically a non-starter now.

T Bone
T Bone
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m not all that familiar with Jung. He always seemed pretty mystical to me but I know he had some good insights. Jordan Peterson often cites Jungian theories.

You can see something like the manifestation of collective consciousness in football or basketball. The momentum of a game will shift when the crowd energizes the home team and rattles the away team. The more rattled the away team gets the more energized the crowd gets and the feeling is palpable. Now granted there is some fan communication and coordination but for the most part everybody reflexively responds to the others.

Something similar happens in war, politics and markets. The Collective Conscious seems like its basically just The Theory of Reflexivity. People herding together out of a shared emotion.

We all do it and often its voluntary but some people don’t even know when they’re engaging in herd or mob behavior. The usefulness of collective force probably depends on the emotion being responded to. Reflexive fear is what often triggers disproportionate reactions because it turns on the fight or flight response where rationalization of action becomes a hindrance.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

I agree with your remarks except to point out that the Jungian Collective Unconcious is not identical to collective consciousness, nor hive mind. The non-provable, but real and sometimes powerful transfer of “energies” between people without touch or detectable communication is indirectly related though. For Jung, something non-tangible can be transferred across generations too, and forms a kind of cumulative human “thought-inheritance” that transcends individual cultures or points in time. It’s hard to do justice to the way he articulates this. One needn’t buy into every aspect of it to find some validity and value and there; I don’t, and do.
It’s better to read Jung in his own (ok, translated) words than in boiled-down concept form. I think he’s every bit the intellectual powerhouse as the mentor from whom he became estranged, Freud, but more subtle and multi-dimensional than Old Sigmund. Jung certainly goes in mystical directions some of the time, not always in a way I relate to, but for me the more resonant part of his work has to do with intuition, and a level of eternal unknowing. We are creatures who sense and feel, not sons and daughters of reason alone–nor should be strive to be.
Here’s a notable quote:
“It seems to be very hard for people to live with riddles or to let them live, although one would think that life is so full of riddles as it is that a few more things we cannot answer would make no difference. But perhaps it is just this that is so unendurable, that there are irrational things in our own psyche which upset the conscious mind in its illusory certainties by confronting it with the riddle of its existence”.

T Bone
T Bone
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Ha that last quote is good stuff.  Its an enigma but very thought provoking.

I noticed you corrected me on the conscious/unconscious.  I actually changed the word when I was writing it because I don’t know if there’s a difference between the two.  Is the collective unconscious unaware and the collective consciousness aware?  It seems like “collective conscious” or “collective unconscious” is basically interchangeable because the entire concept of collective consciousness is unfalsifiable. 

I don’t know lol.  Your thoughts?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

I agree that it is unfalsifiable. So is any mental concept, or the existence of consciousness itself. To paraphrase a famous line from Hamlet: There is more in the Earth and Cosmos than is dreamt of in our science or philosophy. Especially of the rigidly empirical sort. Just don’t ask me to prove that.
I do reject what you seem to imply: Everything unfalsifiable, or for which there is no dispositive proof, is worthless–or of equally slight and doubtful value.
Again it occurs to me that I don’t have much to say about Jung that would do his work justice, or concerning his key concepts that couldn’t be Googled for a more precise description. In his own best work, the whole is vastly greater than the sum of the gathered parts.
For those with time and inclination to see for themselves, I recommend Jung’s late essay “Man and His Symbols”*, published in his final year of life (1961).
His 1933 book Modern Man in Search of a Soul is also brilliant–though I can’t prove that either. The “Psychology and Literature” chapter is my personal favorite. Parting quote:
The truth is that poets are human beings, and that what a poet has to say about his work is often far from being the most illuminating word on the subject. What is required of us, then, is nothing less than to defend the importance of the visionary experience against the poet himself. [
] [W]e must admit that the vision represents a deeper and more impressive experience than human passion. In works of art of this nature—and we must never confuse them with the artist as a person—we cannot doubt that the vision is a genuine, primordial experience, regardless of what reason-mongers may say. The vision is not something derived or secondary, and it is not a symptom of something else. It is true symbolic expression—that is, the expression of something existent in its own right, but imperfectly known.
*Correction: Jung’s essay, “Approaching the Unconscious”, is the first in a collection of essays with the above title (Man and His Symbols).

T Bone
T Bone
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I certainly didn’t mean to imply that. All religion is based on an invisible spiritual consciousness. I understand what Jung is inferring, I’m just asking a clarifying question about the difference between the conscious collective and the unconscious collective. Jung is attempting to make a probabilistic claim about the effects of unfalsifiable spirit force. I think there is validity to the inference, I just don’t comprehend the distinction between a conscious and unconscious collective.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

We might need a basic definition of the Unconcious to start from:
“The unconscious mind (or the unconscious) consists of processes in the mind that occur automatically and are not available to introspection.[1] Although these processes exist beneath the surface of conscious awareness, they are thought to exert an effect on conscious thought processes and behavior.[2] Empirical evidence suggests that unconscious phenomena include repressed feelings and desires, memories, automatic skills, subliminal perceptions, and automatic reactions” (thanks Wikipedia!).
For Jung, these unconscious forces also serve as a repository for something beyond any individual, especially what an individual knows he or she knows (so to speak). As Jordan Peterson aptly points out: “we are far from transparent to ourselves”. Much remains hidden, or barely glimpsed.
I don’t think I agree that Jung attempts to make a “probabilistic claim” (how so?) but rather an assertion fortified by deep learning and reflection. There is and could never be any positive proof for his venturesome concepts. I don’t think they hold literal or infallible truth either. For some, that amounts to conclusive evidence of their lack of worth.
To clarify: Collective Unconscious has about zero to do with collectivism in a sociopolitical sense.
Sorry if some of this was obvious but for me there is some conflation of concepts and terms happening in this exchange.

T Bone
T Bone
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

By “probabilistic” I only mean to say that Jung appears to be articulating a pattern of recognition and though it may not be visible, it can be somewhat empirically tested through behavioral analysis. Its charting how groups of people behaviorally respond to a set of stimula or concepts instead of how they claim they feel.

So in that sense, the collective unconscious is the idea that patterns of collective behavior can be more reflective of how people actually feel than how they consciously report they feel in a survey or etc.

I’m thinking out loud here so don’t assume that I’m claiming to have grasped this. I may have just articulated pure nonsense.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

Not nonsense. I understand you better now. I’m actually gonna read some more from Jung himself before trying to analyse or explain his work.
Thanks for another civil, good-faith exchange.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  T Bone

I don’t think there is a conscious collective is there? We’d be better off if there was.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

From my perspective we’d be worse off if there weren’t
But the C.C. is not some entirely benign or safe thing either. It involves the bright and shadow side of human nature*
*[end half-informed holding forth–for this comment board]

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

I’m interested as to when ‘collective unconscious’ morphed into ‘collective conscious.’
I have early New Thought inspired teachings from occult orders like the AMORC, which use the term so I am assuming it was a distinct notion by the 1920s or 30s.

In the occult case, I think it was a substitute term for God. But the bloke who wrote the stuff wasn’t particularly discerning.
People do seem enraged at having to live with riddles. When they’re in a clicky, segment-ising mindset.

Take them out of that tho, and it’s different.

One of the things ‘slow film’ seems to do, is to popularise the unresolved and the ambiguous. And I see more and more, that folk love this stuff.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Dumetrius

In a letter to to his brother, Keats celebrated Shakespeare for what he called his Negative Capability: “being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”
I think the “conciousness raising” that became a fad in the 60s and 70s was more of a countercultural phenomenon, largely borrowed from Eastern traditions in watered-down form. Of course Jung was interested in pre-Modern, even prehistoric ideas (not in isolation, but a part of a synthesis). At times I agree with those who find him a bit too “out there”, but some of his work is quite powerful, and down-to-Earth enough for me.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

Contrary to outward appearances, Americans suffer from a lack of individualism

Seen from the outside Americans look like economic individualists, but social conformists. They are all madly pursuing their individual dreams – helped along by Xanax and therapy – but those dreams all look remarkable the same, and often scarcely worthy of the name.

Always makes me think of Pessoa: “the most contemptible thing about dreams is that everyone has them”.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

As an “insider” with a habit of pointing out that I was born in Canada–to one Canadian and one American-born parent–I do not disagree with your take.

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
2 months ago

I think this is one of the most important pieces I’ve read on unherd.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Nathan Sapio

I can not read stuff written in this wordsalad format of droning on and on and not pausing but qualifying and adding analogizing and then saying more and nothing and more words and then adding stuff again till it has all just become a huge mess no one can bother to fish thought to see wt f it all is on about as he just goes on and on – Sesquipedalianisms madness and I have to just give up and not read it – Hire writers who can say what they mean without the waffle; I cannot read this sort of essay…

Get rid of half the words, add more punctuation, and it will have twice as much meaning.

But I do hate cellphones, they have almost no upside. I see them pretty much as the old cartoon device of a little devil sitting on one’s shoulder telling you to think and act badly or at least without goodness. They suck the humanity out of whomever becomes addicted, and they are as addictive as opium.

I did heroin in the 1970s, just to say I had – to mess with it, but naturally I know how terrible a thing it was – how it destroys a man from inside – so just did it those couple times and not again.

I have never used a smart phone or carried a cell phone because I know even a couple times using one is way more dangerous than Heroin. I mean really… not many Heroin addicts – but all you phone clutching sheep – you are all more addicted than junkies.

Heroin killed your humanity and soul – but it killed your body too, so people know how bad it is. The phone kills your humanity and soul but not your body, so you think it fine…. phone clutching sheep…..

baaaa

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

Seeing as you post regularly on every article, if you’re not doing it from a phone then you must instead be spending hours in front of your computer to do so. Is that really any better?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago

I also found this overly ‘wordy’. I felt I was reading a university essay.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago

Aren’t we supposed to be able to read essays?! It seemed pretty well written to me.

It sounds like some on this forum are possibly rather good exemplars of the modern tech influenced intolerance to long form communication!

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

A self-important diatribe, by you Simon. You couldn’t grit your mental teeth and complete the article before commenting away. Your frequent, consistently negative, angry-sounding posts suggest a personal humanity that is threatened without help from a smartphone. And–as Billy Bob aptly points out–you’re spending plenty of time glued to a screen.
Your rants would be improved by some hint of nuance or balance. I made an effort to make this blunt and plain so you might be able to take it in.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

It’s a somewhat as hominem attack!. Simon makes clear he doesn’t like the effect smart phones are having. Stop making assumptions about you disagree with – this is a common problem on this forum.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

“Somewhat” at most. He called every owner of a smartphone a member of a flock of “phone clutching sheep…baaa”/
So he started it! But in all seriousness: Was Simon in any way trying to engage in discussion, or rather deliver a sermon and drop the mic? In truth the answer is surely in the middle of that false dichotomy, But which is closer to the truth, in your own opinion?

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
2 months ago

Agree with you on the word salad. Could have been said just as effectively with half the verbiage.
But that’s academics for you. Since they produce nothing of real economic value, they feel they have to compensate by drowning their audience in an ocean of over-verbose prose. It’s almost as if they get paid by the number of words they produce.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Yup. The number they can get published.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

I suspect they do get paid by how long it is.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
2 months ago

I want my socks hand-knitted by artisans, not mass-produced on those damnable steam powered looms. In the 1812 election, I’m voting Green.

Bruce Luffman
Bruce Luffman
2 months ago
Reply to  Nathan Sapio

My god-daughter’s 3 boys – 12, 10 and 6 years of age – are under strict control over use of phones. Only the 12 year has one and is strictly limited in its use. All the boys excel at rugby, swimming, judo and endurance competitions and are happy to be without phones. They were recently up with us in NE Scotland while on holiday from Kent and spent 4 hours while the ‘grown-ups’ were talking; making an igloo out of huge blocks of snow which they had to compact in a mould from a large strong box which they hauled up a slope for the construction of the igloo.
Cold fingers, warm bodies and huge smiles – reminded of my childhood in the late 1940s and early 50s – wonderful! So it just requires a degree of parental control and a deep interest in what the boys are doing with their time.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago

Why do you need a movement to parent your own children? Here’s some advice to the writer, don’t wait for a plurality to take care of your children.

Simon Boudewijn
Simon Boudewijn
2 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

If society cared about children all this rainbow stuff, children drag – hour, Stonewall telling them to cut their nuts off, porn in schools, depravity disguised as ‘health education, gender depravity, tic-toc stuff, would carry jail time for the ones who push it on youngsters.

Lack of enforcing laws, teaching disrespect for ones Nation, History and culture – Promoting single parent households – all the Teaching Unions and School Administration are out to destroy the children instead of instruct them. Universities main purpose is to cause mental health issues and make the young unemployable and indebted so they can not afford to have families….

If society was not out to destroy children – then ‘Movements’ to save them would not be needed. But society is out to destroy them – so grass-root Movements are their only hope. Go Woke, Go Mentally Ill.

Even Today’s Telegraph is saying Britain is a Failed State. This did not happen by chance. The Nation is being destroyed from the inside. Your children are under attack because if they are wrecked, then the war is lost, the nation is dead, and that is what our invisible enemies want, us destroyed. – we are in 5th Generation War, and we are losing. The Parliamentary Uniparty – the ones who own them – – the Media, the Entertainment, the tech, the finance, they are the enemy.

In ‘Kinetic War’ (guns and bombs) you destroy the soldiers and industry. In 5th Generational War you destroy the young. It is Cicero’s warning of the ‘Enemy within the gates’ who is most to be feared.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago

If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. Sometimes you need to progress through a one eyed phase to get to three.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
2 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

The writer’s already answered that question with admireable clarity. In short – smartphones & social media have created a collective action problem. While hurting the happiness & mental health of a whole generation of children , they’ve also made themselves central to that generation’s social life. So on an indivual level, counter action can do more harm than good. Totally confisicating a single child’s fone & SM accounts may protect them from certain stressors, but it also isolates them from their peers, hence the cure can be worst than the disease.
Hence the probelm much better addressed by a movement, as in part demonstrated by how happy a whole group of kids were after the fone free field trip.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Those not willing to pay the price of health are usually unhealthy. In a previous job, long long ago, I used to install computer operations in peoples home offices. The rich ones would buy computers for their kids too. The question would always be where to put the kids computer. Some asked me, and I would say in a family area where everyone can see the screen. They still put them in their rooms behind closed doors. Which made me believe that people shouldn’t be richer than they are wise. For their kids sake.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

I understand people like to fit in. I’m all in favour of group action for better results.

Brendan Ross
Brendan Ross
2 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

You don’t. But the point is that due to the built-in network effect involved here, your kids suffer either way, no matter what you do — you’re just picking a different form of poison. The only way that’s avoided is through more parents doing the same thing.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Brendan Ross

You mean, don’t jump over the cliff with the herd?

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Bret Larson

Bret. Read better. Reply better.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
2 months ago

Extremely well expressed essay. Unfortunately, the true nature of the hazard is being recognized far too late to save the first generation born into cell phone culture. Society is too far behind in addressing the negatives of this transformation to effect amelioration of technology’s downside, especially with the addition of AI to the equation.

Just as those pre-Gutenberg monks would struggle to share a common sense of reality with a person of the mid-20th century, whose world included not only books but radio, movies, and TV, so would we today find ourselves in a completely alien reality were we to step into the world of the future. It will bring a massive round of natural selection. Those suited for the coming world will thrive; those unsuited will not. The young people who are being crushed today by social media are the vanguard of this destruction. Individual families may via neo-monasticism (home schooling, no smart phones) mitigate the downside for their children for a time but at a high cost and with no assurance that their children will have a world they ever feel at home in.

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

If you think of this as a Darwinian selection process, there are some troubling conclusions:
1. Monopolistic corporations run by people are running the selection process. It is not just raw technological capability but the way that technology is shaped by a handful of private individuals that will determine what human traits thrive. This isn’t *natural* selection, this is more akin to feudal procreation control.
2. The techno selection process is limited in non-Western nations that already have far higher birthrates. Only one part of the human population – mine as it happens – is bearing the brunt of this hypothetical digital selection process. Natural selection success is measured in the re-generation rate. The techno-societies are de-selecting themselves. The societal systems that are winning this Darwinian struggle in the UK and globally assert strong control over their children and do not just accept technical modernity.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

All new technologies since before Neanderthals have worked to the advantage of those best suited to avail themselves of their advantages and worked to the disadvantage of those who were not. It is not a question of conspiracy or even intent. The “monopolistic corporations” are not running the selection process, they are the result of it. The portion of the “techno-societies” that are being deselected are not those who create and skillfully employ technology but those unsuited to do anything but interact with technology primitively via the limbic part of their brain. Frittering away one’s time on social media is not an indicator of technological prowess; it is more often the opposite: an addiction to dopamine hits centered in the lower brain and requiring little intellectual capacity. The software engineers who write the programs creating social media may also use it but do so intrinsically empowered and at a selective advantage over the former. But most precarious are those who neither generate the technology nor are users of it. For example: technology zen masters will have even more work with the implementation of AI, the mere dolt users will at least be qualified for digital scut work, but techno illiterates are at risk of completely losing their jobs due to AI.

In natural selection procreation rate is not the ultimate measure of success. The single largest number of Nobel laureates by ethnic category is Ashkenazic Jews, a micro-minuscule portion of the human population and one of its most enduring. Likewise, the concentration of wealth and true power that already resides in techno-elites is not under threat from regeneration rates and will only continue to be further consolidated. Non-technology oriented humans will not win out by procreation. Their numbers are an abberancy resulting from the suspension of natural selection due to the runoff from technological innovation. They multiply so impressively as a result of technologies they did not create: agriculture, infrastructure, vaccines, transportation, etc, etc. Africa’s burgeoning population depends upon Ukraine for wheat paid for by largesse from foreign aid and low-tech natural resource mining. Is that Darwinian success or a Darwinian time bomb? The massive rates of immigration to the West is not an indication that techno-illiteracy is a superior survival strategy but an omen that it is a massive failure.
Anyone who believes they can succeed by simply rejecting technological modernity is tilting at windmills. I say that with a profound sense of regret. I personally believe that humanity is on the cusp of losing a great cultural legacy accumulated over two millennia. That makes me sad. However, for better or worse, a new age dawns and to thrive in it will require technological prowess. Is this feudal? Of course but, in a feudal system, the serfs who vastly outnumber the lords are not the winners by virtue of their superior procreation.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

If First World children have trouble with the new world order third world children don’t stand a chance. This is fairly obvious already, but one wonders what will become of them in a world that has no place for them.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

As illustrated in the movie, “Idiocracy”, the “smart” people will kill themselves off, and the morons will reproduce and adapt. There is no win for any of us.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

I’ve seen that film multiple times, a rare point of shared taste I think. It wasn’t a documentary though, even with its insights in farcical form.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
2 months ago

In what way do the tech masters of the universe–with IQ’s three standard deviations above the norm–appear to you to be killing themselves off? The victims are the dolts glued to their smartphones who struggle to assemble an Ikea shelf let alone design a smart phone. It seems to me the “smart” people are doing very nicely and are thrilled that the prolific morons buy their stuff. Since the dawn of time ordinary people have fantasized about the demise of the powerful and imagined a world without the stupid. It’s a dream.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

The fact that they won’t allow their own children to use their products.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
2 months ago

So how does that equate with “killing themselves off”? It seems to me the “smart” people are the sagacious ones clever enough to figure out how to mitigate the downside of technology for their children without isolating them from it. They teach their children that technology is a tool to achieve practical objectives not an alternative virtual world in which to hide from reality. They are doing the very thing proven through millennia to achieve the greatest chance of success: adapting.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Exactly.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

…….come true.

Caty Gonzales
Caty Gonzales
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Some public schools are trying pretty effectively to keep the phones out of the classroom. Our kids school cuts the wifi in the school building to all except teachers who have the password.
We do this at home with our kids devices. Husband has an app on his phone, ha, that can turn off the signal to most devices, Xbox, chrimebook etc

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
2 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

I would bet that getting all the schools to cut off wi-fi would be a good start. Condition the kids a bit at a time.
Your husband is a brave man. You should put a link to that app.

Ex Nihilo
Ex Nihilo
2 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Ironically, the school system that began limiting exposure of school children to digital technology over twenty years ago was Palto Alto, California. They did so at the insistence of parents employed by tech firms in Silicon Valley whose intimate experience with digital technology made them wary of it vis a vis young children.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Caty Gonzales

Brilliant

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

I was just at a talk by left wing Greek Economist, Yanis Varoufakis, entitled ‘Technofeudalism’. He’s an interesting and compelling speaker, and I couldn’t fault his analysis of where we find ourselves with technology.

However, some of his solutions are more scary than today’s reality. One such solution is that banks no longer move money. Citizens register their identity with government and are given permission to move money between individuals and businesses. Doesn’t this mean that governments are party to every transaction we make – and become the ones controlling our money?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Ex Nihilo

Well said.

Jules Anjim
Jules Anjim
2 months ago

Meh. Just get an app which lets you monitor and control how long kids spend on these things – there are plenty going around, they cost about $60 a year, and you can find your own happy medium of letting kids keep pace with the changes in technology and social interaction, and preventing them from getting into the mire.

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

Reminds me the cartoon showing a father and mother saying to their young child – “We’ve just bought this program that stops you getting onto sites that aren’t suitable for a child your age. Can you help me put it on your computer?”

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago
Reply to  Jules Anjim

How long is long enough to eg see the bad stuff. They have seen stuff we haven’t.

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago

…”after we gave them the phones they’d long been clamouring for, their recreational reading of books basically ended”…
How ironic that as a child the local public library had adult and children’s sections housed in different parts of the same Town Hall building. The children’s library was itself split into junior and senior sections and ‘never the twain shall meet’. I think the age boundary was eleven years and this was policed by a severe elderly female librarian who examined every book to ensure you were old enough and, with a loud reprimand, sent back to replace the book if you were deemed too young to read it.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Liakoura

Libraries are closing in the UK because people are just not reading as much.

Liakoura
Liakoura
2 months ago

Five years ago my local council that has 10 public libraries subscribed to BorrowBox – “Your library in one App”.
https://www.borrowbox.com/
Since then I have read and listened to almost 600 eBooks and eaudioBooks. As I spend a lot of time living and travelling in China, including three years of the Covid pandemic, it’s the most important piece of technological advance that’s kept me sane. 
Maybe the writer should investigate it availability for his daughters?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 months ago

Interesting to see people on this thread criticising others for criticising smartphones but not knowing about smartphones. I well remember many people recently criticising X, Facebook and Instagram without a cooking clue as to the experience therein.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

You haven’t the time and energy to enlighten us?

Micheal MacGabhann
Micheal MacGabhann
2 months ago

How many of the folk making comments read the piece and replied on their mobile phone? Ironies. They’re everywhere.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

He doesn’t say never use a smartphone for any reason. You’re going to need better quality straw.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
2 months ago

Utterly spot-on piece. The writer needs to prepare a shorter, simpler version, so that journalists in the legacy media can understand it and disseminate their own versions.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

I agree. The author has actually reined in his discursive, informal style a bit since his early contributions here. But Mr. Feeney still gonna be Feeney–and I’ve come to like that.

Dominic English
Dominic English
2 months ago

A great article. But we risk demonising the message carrier while applauding the message. Phones aren’t necessarily the problem. As ever the older generation is terrified as their children disappear into a world they are too old to understand, or be invited to. As parents we risk scapegoating ’phones’ instead of confronting our own failures. This makes some interesting points. https://open.substack.com/pub/lowstatus/p/phoney-war?r=evzeq&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago

I think you’ve got it exactly backwards. We, the adults, are the ones who understand the technology, how it was designed, why our kids are pathologically unable to walk across the street without responding to a notification, even if it puts their life at risk. We understand that the tech was crafted to exploit their weaknesses and to own them mentally. The kinds don’t really understand this. What parents don’t yet understand is how to take the tech’s power away without destroying a vulnerable high schooler’s social connection.

Caroline Minnear
Caroline Minnear
2 months ago

My stomach lurches as one beautiful clear spring morning I watch as 5 High school children walk to school, spaced out, single file, palm to face, head bowed, ear buds in. Not one of them looking up, not one of them observing the season, not one of them smiling, not one of them chatting and walking with the kids that live in their neighborhood, go to the same school. My heart aches.

I have 3 boys. My eldest is 14 and yet to get a phone.
We have a family “dumb phone” an old school press button mobile that serves its purpose and can be used by any 3 of the boys (to call home) if they are going to a friends, or off on a bike ride, skate park or bush walk.
My 14 year old desperately wants a smart phone and my heart sinks when I think of getting him one.
It’s so hard to go against the grain like this and I often wonder if I’m doing the right thing.
When his friends come to hang out here I make them put their phones in a basket in the kitchen. They always just go outside and play, explore, climb trees, make bike jumps. If I didn’t ask them to put their phones away they sit and watch other people do dumb shit.
I am yet to find a parent that is thrilled with the result of giving their child a phone. We all know it’s a bad decision but everyone else is doing it
I just can’t suck that up.
If I knew what I now know about phones, brains and capitalism I would never have got one.
I don’t have social media on my phone, but I’m still addicted.
My next phone will be a “Light Phone”
Look them up if you don’t already know about them.
Good luck to all parents out there going against the grain.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago

Thank you for this candid personal account. Good luck to you as well. I genuinely doubt that any hard feelings your son currently has about this will remain once he’s grown; or once he gets you to give in and finds out what constant, instant access–especially as an adolescent–really means.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 months ago

“Sophisticated progressives” – both a misnomer and a term of derision – are why our world is so f*cked up.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago

If Allison puts her mind to it then cognitive bias can rob her of the opportunity to learn under almost any circumstances. Makes me wonder how much time she spends on Instagram.

Peter F. Lee
Peter F. Lee
2 months ago

Moderation in all things, my friends. It is the excessive use that is the most disturbing. As adults I guess we think our kids could be engaged in more constructive activities. I am not sure that we view time on social media as time well spent or very valuable.

Alan Gore
Alan Gore
2 months ago

I see tablet and smartphone tech as being in the same place that television was circa 1955: it has been established that people like the medium, but most of the everyday content served on it is superficial junk. But so long as I have agency to choose the content I like, and I flatly don’t buy the argument that the mustache-twiring tech bros are enslaving me with their hardware, I enjoy finding that it is more convenient than ever before to find good books and interesting commentary, and do the reading I never found time to do when I had to squint at print. This very site is an example.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

Good points. The medium or device could never be dumbed down enough to make it safe for the dumbest or most susceptible user. Still, a child or adolescent needs and deserves some insulation from his or her worst impulses. In the “before times”, there were no pocket TVs that could be used in a classroom while other learning was meant to be taking place, or hidden under the covers at night.
You’re not enslaved, congrats. I don’t think I am either, though on some days I’m teetering on a form of toilsome servitude. But living here in San Jose, about 45 minutes from Feeney (Oakland), I think you may be underestimating the malignant greed, the attempt and willingness to enslave among Tech Bros Inc.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The malignant misanthrophy of many Tech Bros is demonstrated by the push for fake meat, crickets as food, crazy geo-engineering projects and the push to send people to Mars, a guaranteed death of screaming madness.

Dr E C
Dr E C
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

Do you have kids though? The article is about what smartphones are doing to _children_.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

You couldn’t carry 1955 tech into the car, into the classroom, into the grocery store, into the public toilet. You couldn’t spend every waking moment glued to it if you wanted to leaved the house.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago

Stop blaming the tool; the problem is the user, the addict, the person who can’t put down the device for ten minutes. Everyone wants an external villain to blame; no one wants to take responsibility for their actions.

The comments of “did you read this on a phone?” are ridiculous. The piece doesn’t say never use a device for any purpose. It mostly points to the obvious. I imagine most of us have anecdotal tales of people captive to their smartphones. Multiply those tales by millions of users, look at the raft of stories about shaky mental health and anxiety, and some dots form. Connecting them, however, might mean setting down the device for a minute, which isn’t happening.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Does this same autonomy and level of personal responsibility apply to a 12-year-old?
Perhaps that question seems made of straw, but that rhetorical nudge is meant to point back to the topic of the article itself.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
2 months ago
Reply to  AJ Mac

The 12 year old has parents. We don’t let kids overindulge in lots of things. What makes phones exempt from that?

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

I don’t disagree. But indifference or collective social pressures create tensions for individual households and people. One key obstacle is that trying to get your kid to forego a phone or only use it sensibly when you are totally sold-out to it is a doomed project. That might work in a very strict “do as I say, not as I do” household, but hypocrisy still has consequences.

Dr E C
Dr E C
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Do you have kids yourself? If not, please don’t use them to score rhetorical points

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The parents are too busy on their own phones!

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The problem is the tool. Did you read the essay? Don’t comment on something if you haven’t read it. That’s a habit that’s almost as ubiquitous as scrolling though Instagram while the light turns green.

Adrian Smith
Adrian Smith
2 months ago

Is the problem really the phones or is it the social media apps? I was resistant to getting a smart phone for ages, but now I find it really useful for lots of things. I don’t spend a huge amount of time on it though because I don’t do social media.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

Yes, it’s mainly apps, like Tik Tok, YouTube, and the social media…
Maybe some of the apps could be targeted specifically. Or phones could have parental controls or something. Difficult to get under control tho..
I just use my phone to read online content and send occasional messages.

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago
Reply to  Adrian Smith

My own experience is that until the advent of social media, the internet seemed full of potential for good. Of course it still is. I understand the points about manipulation by tech giants and the rest, but unfortunately many people seem to be more keen on posting pictures of themselves living their best (if somewhat hackneyed) lives than they do on reading, watching or listening to the best that has been thought and written.

Similarly, they prefer shopping to theatre, and endless pap on TV (I thought “strictly” was bad, but I’ve since seen “is it cake”) to interesting or challenging content. Small surprise if the denizens of Silicon Valley are laughing contemptuously all the way to the bank.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
2 months ago

Now we’re all addicted to writing comments on UnHerd

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago

That’s silly.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 months ago

I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here and defend all of smartphones, social media and tech companies. Yes this is a moral panic and no, there hasn’t been any sudden increase in credibility of these concerns – progressives blaming any random thing they can think of for their political failures has nothing to do with children and Instagram.
But firstly, all such articles attack smartphones but actually seem to be about social media. Would we say the lady who spends hours every night gassing with her friends and family on voice calls addicted to her smartphone? Probably not. Is someone who spends hours learning a foreign language with their phone an addict? Probably not. Would we even say someone who loses a lot of money on sports betting is a phone addict? Uh, no, they have a gambling problem, not a phone problem.
So let’s talk about social media. This article makes the incredible assertion that tech firms are populated by “misanthropes” that “hate people”, which is why they deliberately make social media addictive. This is a great example of inane leftist company-hate, disconnected from reality. Do TV companies “hate people” because they try to make popular TV shows? Do publishers have a “dark vein of misanthropy” because they saw how much kids liked Harry Potter and immediately paid for sequels? Are movie directors trying to make cinemas addictive when they do test screenings and reshoots?
No! Of course not. Everyone making a product tries to make it more useful and more popular with the consuming public. This is not in any way sinister unless you’re an anti-capitalist loon. They want social media to be useful and entertaining, and they do a good job of that, but it is not “addictive” unless you’re willing to use a definition so weak that it could also encompass reading, watching TV or listening to music.
The reasons people love using their smartphones are trivial and obvious: most people don’t enjoy entertaining themselves, reading or be alone. They never have. Phones solve all three problems completely. That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Especially for children: before smartphones came along, boredom was a huge part of most childhoods. Imaginative kids can entertain themselves for a while but still require lots of external input to fire their imagination, and most kids, even in the rose-tinted past, just weren’t like that at all. A board game is only possible when you have a bunch of other people who have nothing to do around you at that exact moment, and can kill a few hours at most. Most books are far too drawn out for their actual content (and when they aren’t they remain popular, as the enduring popularity of Potter shows). Web pages are far superior. So of course kids and adults prefer personalized visual entertainment and social interaction to board games, why wouldn’t they? It’s just obviously better.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Totally agree, but too much of a good thing can be a problem. Luckily children have parents who can provide good examples and take away the cell phone if becomes too much of a distraction. Once again, there’s no substitute for good parenting.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
2 months ago

,

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
2 months ago

In regards to betting, I am sure that for a substantial number of people, those who never bet on things before smartphones, will still never bet on things once they have one.

The moral decline (?) of celebrities into casually endorsing betting also seems to me something of a constant; was anyone was taking their moral cues from celebrities before ?

And if they were, should they have been ?

David Morley
David Morley
2 months ago

The only fault I would find with the article is that it is far too generational: concerned parents worried about kids who can’t control themselves being exploited by techie bad guys. In my experience the parents and their generation are just as bad, just as unable to leave their phones alone, and every bit as addicted to social media – indeed to social media which their children think of as last years drug.

Maybe parents setting a good example would be a start.

Marc Miller
Marc Miller
2 months ago

Kids don’t need to be getting into each other’s heads using their phones. Too much petty crap and too much drama stirred up for nothing. We never had kids, but seeing what I see nowadays, my kids would get a phone when they hit 18. I remember in the early 2000s, my niece and nephew were both hooked on AOL Messenger. When they would visit, they would spend all their waking time in front of my desktop computer. They were both worried about whether or not they were “popular.” Big question they asked their aunt, my wife: “Was my dad popular?”

Ron Kean
Ron Kean
2 months ago

I remember learning once that there was widespread objection to the invention of automobiles. Atomic bombs. I remember the early 80’s when I bought the Apple IIe and with it a flood of 5 and a quarter inch floppies. I believed then and still do that technology prepared my boys for the high tech professions they work in now.
But my step-son and I now have disagreements. His children enjoy games on my phone and their father wants to limit that to an extent that I believe is unnecessary. They’re learning like my kids did and that should prepare them to compete as they grow. Besides that, internet usage can also be a method of discipline. If the kids disobey I take the phone away.
But I’m talking about games. The social media sites are’t an issue here. They don’t own phones and don’t interact that way to my knowledge. From what I hear Tic Tock is Chinese propaganda and girls can be bullied and seduced. The internet is a huge entity and it should be up to the judgement of parents. Maybe as always it’s an issue of parental competency. If a parent cares and communicates good values, children benefit and sadly the opposite is true.

Alon Moore
Alon Moore
2 months ago

A well put article for the most part. As a voracious reader in my youth, I have also noticed a steep decline in my ability to read as much since getting a smartphone. I at least had the advantage of being a teenager when the technology became available to know better. For the most part, I recognized a correlation between my news junky habits picked up during my stint in the media and my ability to retain patience for a longer book. The instantaneous reward of finishing a 5 minute read article probably reprogrammed my approach to reading and still remains a problem today. My solution has been to limit myself to print papers and quality digital magazines (preferably read out ones) and avoid the free press that tends to click baity.

I think the point about the internet not starting a 30 year war is rather naive, however. One only need recall the role of Facebook in encouraging the Rohingya massacres and more recently the use of social media by Hamas on October 7th. It may be difficult to pick apart where these conflicts start and the technology contributes to them. But much as the printing press played a role in spreading ideas, I have no doubt current technology has vastly accelerated these processes.

Nell L
Nell L
2 months ago

As a 60ish college history instructor, I get the end product of this. My students are addicted to their cell phones, and will use them in class despite my warnings and penalties. They use X as their news source and think it’s “really reliable” because they like and follow the celebrities telling them what to think about the world. Instead of buying the required textbooks, they try to Google everything. They don’t know how to take hand-written notes (I had to ban laptops in class because students were using them to shop or watch porn) and they expect that everything I say in class will be posted on Blackboard or recorded, or that I’m going to allow them to use their cell phones to take pictures of what I write on the board. And now AI will allow them to write essays by just submitting the prompt question to ChatGPT and they will never have to read the sources I assign or even learn how to construct and present a coherent argument in well-written English. As I and my colleagues can verify, online cheating is rampant and students seem to think it’s okay because “everyone did it during Covid”. Learning and teaching as I used to experience it myself is dead in this new age of Big Tech and social media.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell L

Sad to hear. Conveniently you can just fail the lot and have them take the class over. (The convenience is the job security)

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
2 months ago
Reply to  Nell L

Yikes, it all sounds really grim.

Sisyphus Jones
Sisyphus Jones
2 months ago

I feel like this is one of the most important pieces I’ve read in a long time. Like everyone needs to wake up and read this. Share this. We have been conditioned to act as if what is happening isn’t happening. It’s time maybe we should acknowledge what is happening to our brains and the developing brains of our children as the result of the compulsive use of smartphones and social media apps.