LCA Looks Up … Continuing the Conversation

“When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply, and to love generously.” ~Pope Francis, Laudato Si

I recently viewed the Netflix movie, The Social Dilemma, as a follow up to research into addictive technology that I had undertaken three years ago. One of the results of my research and that of others at LCA was LCA Looks Up: Student Engagement in a Wired World. In an environment where big educational technology companies pushed for more and more use of online platforms, we committed ourselves to preserving childhood, prioritizing collaborative, hands-on projects, and honoring face to face relationships.

It is time to continue that conversation.

While I thought The Social Dilemma film used some unnecessary hyperbolic dramatization, I was mesmerized by the candor of former tech executives. Their recollection of good intentions and their disappointment, even shame, at what has become of big tech, particularly social media platforms, is heart stopping. It is a massive mea culpa for unintended consequences.

“It’s easy today to lose sight of the fact that these tools have created some wonderful things in the world.  They’ve reunited lost family members.  They’ve found organ donors.  I mean there were meaningful systemic changes happening around the world because of these platforms that were positive!  I think we were naive about the flipside of that coin.” ~Tim Kendall, Former president of Pinterest and former Director of Monetization at Facebook

In Mrs. Metsch’s IB Language and Literature course, seventh graders learn about the classic forms of persuasive marketing – bandwagon technique; appeal to fear, pity, vanity; loaded language; and testimonial. These are marketing devices we all learned in our youth. They are as old as persuasion itself.  What changed around the turn of the century is that rather than brilliant marketers using these techniques to lure us to buy products, powerful artificially intelligent machines were being trained to use these techniques in a repetitive, accelerated, and targeted manner. Graduates of Stanford University’s Behavior Design Lab became designers and executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter and the like. And here we are.

“We are more profitable to a corporation if we’re spending time staring at a screen, staring at an ad, than if we’re spending that time living our lives in a rich way.” ~Justin Rosenstein, Inventor of the Facebook like button

What now?

We must recognize that most of us carry an addictive device with us all day. Yes – we parents are addicted as well. We are humans and thus persuadable and prone to habitual behavior. So often the use of tech is presented within and outside of our homes as a battle between parent and child. That is a false battle. The fight is not with each other. It is against an industry of billionaires designing platforms for addiction. We all deserve to be able to use technology and social media in a way that is empowering. We must develop collective will to make our case to regulate an unregulated industry. In the meantime, we must increase self awareness around our own use of technology.  

I am optimistic. While my visit to the 7th grade class was only the beginning of a conversation, these kids were clearly ready for it. They instinctively know and feel how distracting technology can be. Many had already deleted at least one app, and most were willing to take concrete steps to guard their precious attention. One 7th grader had already chosen this issue as her design problem solving topic. She presented an idea for an app called, “Breathable Minds,” that would mitigate against the harmful effects of too much tech in the daily lives of youth. Two 8th graders are working to advocate for thoughtful changes in young people’s approach to technology. They are developing their IB Community Project around this very issue. We are powerful when we are aware.

Suggestions for families:
Delete unnecessary apps
Turn off all notifications
Avoid click bait
Subscribe to and read newspapers
Take tech holidays

This Christmas, I challenge us all to embrace an “Instead of” mindset. What is the rich replacement of my time on technology? What will I do “instead of” scrolling? Walk? Read? Chat? Think? Pray? Live.

God has a plan for each one of us. While I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, I’m going to go out on a limb here and proclaim that God’s plan is not for us to endlessly scroll to the next newsfeed or entertaining video. We are given one finite, earthly life.  We are granted gifts, free will, and companions for the journey. We are called to be nothing less than Saints. Let us move forward with purpose and awareness in pursuit of a life well lived and for the greater glory of God.

~Eileen McGuire, Dean of the IB Program