Technology > Screen time, Internet / smartphone addiction
21 October 2009
How to Break Up
With Your Phone
By CATHERINE PRICE
NYT FEB. 13, 2018
The Phones We Love
By LESLEY ALDERMAN MAY 2, 2017
be addicted to
Internet addiction USA
screen addiction USA
digital addiction USA
smartphones / phones > addiction
feel compelled to check (...) email
all the time USA
The American Academy of Pediatrics > Internet
guidelines for children and adolescents
digital culture UK
British internet users
days a year surfing web UK
debate > impact of gadgets on our brains
digital habit USA
be hooked on gadgets
internet addict UK
internet addiction UK
switch off from the internet UK
Resist the Internet
MARCH 11, 2017
The New York Times
So far, in my ongoing series of columns making the case for
implausible ideas, I’ve fixed race relations and solved the problem of a
workless working class. So now it’s time to turn to the real threat to the human
future: the one in your pocket or on your desk, the one you might be reading
this column on right now.
Search your feelings, you know it to be true: You are enslaved to the internet.
Definitely if you’re young, increasingly if you’re old, your day-to-day,
minute-to-minute existence is dominated by a compulsion to check email and
Twitter and Facebook and Instagram with a frequency that bears no relationship
to any communicative need.
Compulsions are rarely harmless. The internet is not the opioid crisis; it is
not likely to kill you (unless you’re hit by a distracted driver) or leave you
ravaged and destitute. But it requires you to focus intensely, furiously, and
constantly on the ephemera that fills a tiny little screen, and experience the
traditional graces of existence — your spouse and friends and children, the
natural world, good food and great art — in a state of perpetual distraction.
Used within reasonable limits, of course, these devices also offer us new
graces. But we are not using them within reasonable limits. They are the
masters; we are not. They are built to addict us, as the social psychologist
Adam Alter’s new book “Irresistible” points out — and to madden us, distract us,
arouse us and deceive us. We primp and perform for them as for a lover; we
surrender our privacy to their demands; we wait on tenterhooks for every “like.”
The smartphone is in the saddle, and it rides mankind.
Which is why we need a social and political movement — digital temperance, if
you will — to take back some control.
“Temperance?” you might object, with one eye on the latest outrage shared by
your co-partisans on social media. “You mean, like, Prohibition? For something
everyone relies on for their daily work and lives, that’s the basis for our
economic — hang on, I just need to ‘favorite’ this tweet …”
No, not like Prohibition. Temperance doesn’t have to mean teetotaling; it can
simply mean a culture of restraint that tries to keep a specific product in its
place. And the internet, like alcohol, may be an example of a technology that
should be sensibly restricted in custom and in law.
Of course it’s too soon to fully know (and indeed we can never fully know) what
online life is doing to us. It certainly delivers some social benefits, some
intellectual advantages, and contributes an important share to recent economic
But there are also excellent reasons to think that online life breeds
narcissism, alienation and depression, that it’s an opiate for the lower classes
and an insanity-inducing influence on the politically-engaged, and that it takes
more than it gives from creativity and deep thought. Meanwhile the age of the
internet has been, thus far, an era of bubbles, stagnation and democratic decay
— hardly a golden age whose customs must be left inviolate.
So a digital temperance movement would start by resisting the wiring of
everything, and seek to create more spaces in which internet use is illegal,
discouraged or taboo. Toughen laws against cellphone use in cars, keep computers
out of college lecture halls, put special “phone boxes” in restaurants where
patrons would be expected to deposit their devices, confiscate smartphones being
used in museums and libraries and cathedrals, create corporate norms that
strongly discourage checking email in a meeting.
Then there are the starker steps. Get computers — all of them — out of
elementary schools, where there is no good evidence that they improve learning.
Let kids learn from books for years before they’re asked to go online for
research; let them play in the real before they’re enveloped by the virtual.
Then keep going. The age of consent should be 16, not 13, for Facebook accounts.
Kids under 16 shouldn’t be allowed on gaming networks. High school students
shouldn’t bring smartphones to school. Kids under 13 shouldn’t have them at all.
If you want to buy your child a cellphone, by all means: In the new
dispensation, Verizon and Sprint will have some great “voice-only” plans
available for minors.
I suspect that versions of these ideas will be embraced within my lifetime by a
segment of the upper class and a certain kind of religious family. But the
masses will still be addicted, and the technology itself will have evolved to
hook and immerse — and alienate and sedate — more completely and efficiently.
But what if we decided that what’s good for the Silicon Valley overlords who
send their kids to a low-tech Waldorf school is also good for everyone else? Our
devices we shall always have with us, but we can choose the terms. We just have
to choose together, to embrace temperance and paternalism both. Only a movement
can save you from the tyrant in your pocket.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter (@DouthatNYT).
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion),
and sign up for the Opinion Today newsletter.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on March 12, 2017,
on Page SR9 of the New York edition with the headline:
Resist the Internet.
Resist the Internet,
March 11, 2017,
For Impatient Web Users,
an Eye Blink Is Just Too Long
February 29, 2012
The New York Times
By STEVE LOHR
Wait a second.
No, that’s too long.
Remember when you were willing to wait a few seconds for a computer to respond
to a click on a Web site or a tap on a keyboard? These days, even 400
milliseconds — literally the blink of an eye — is too long, as Google engineers
have discovered. That barely perceptible delay causes people to search less.
“Subconsciously, you don’t like to wait,” said Arvind Jain, a Google engineer
who is the company’s resident speed maestro. “Every millisecond matters.”
Google and other tech companies are on a new quest for speed, challenging the
likes of Mr. Jain to make fast go faster. The reason is that data-hungry
smartphones and tablets are creating frustrating digital traffic jams, as people
download maps, video clips of sports highlights, news updates or recommendations
for nearby restaurants. The competition to be the quickest is fierce.
People will visit a Web site less often if it is slower than a close competitor
by more than 250 milliseconds (a millisecond is a thousandth of a second).
“Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic
number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” said Harry Shum, a computer
scientist and speed specialist at Microsoft.
The performance of Web sites varies, and so do user expectations. A person will
be more patient waiting for a video clip to load than for a search result. And
Web sites constantly face trade-offs between visual richness and snappy response
times. As entertainment and news sites, like The New York Times Web site, offer
more video clips and interactive graphics, that can slow things down.
But speed matters in every context, research shows. Four out of five online
users will click away if a video stalls while loading.
On a mobile phone, a Web page takes a leisurely nine seconds to load, according
to Google, which tracks a huge range of sites from the homes of large companies
to the legions of one-person bloggers. Download times on personal computers
average about six seconds worldwide, and about 3.5 seconds on average in the
United States. The major search engines, Google and Microsoft’s Bing, are the
speed demons of the Web, analysts say, typically delivering results in less than
The hunger for speed on smartphones is a new business opportunity for companies
like Akamai Technologies, which specializes in helping Web sites deliver
services quicker. Later this month, Akamai plans to introduce mobile accelerator
software to help speed up the loading of a Web site or app.
The government too recognizes the importance of speed in mobile computing. In
February, Congress opened the door to an increase in network capacity for mobile
devices, proposing legislation that permits the auction of public airwaves now
used for television broadcasts to wireless Internet suppliers.
Overcoming speed bumps is part of the history of the Internet. In the 1990s, as
the World Wide Web became popular, and crowded, it was called the World Wide
Wait. Invention and investment answered the call.
Laying a lot of fiber optic cable for high-speed transmission was the first
solution. But beyond bandwidth, the Web got faster because of innovations in
software algorithms for routing traffic, and in distributing computer servers
around the world, nearer to users, as a way to increase speed.
Akamai, which grew out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laboratory
for Computer Science, built its sizable business doing just that. Most major Web
sites use Akamai’s technology today.
The company sees the mobile Internet as the next big challenge. “Users’
expectations are getting shorter and shorter, and the mobile infrastructure is
not built for that kind of speed,” said Tom Leighton, co-founder and chief
scientist at Akamai, who is also an M.I.T. professor. “And that’s an opportunity
The need for speed itself seems to be accelerating. In the early 1960s, the two
professors at Dartmouth College who invented the BASIC programming language,
John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, set up a network in which many students could tap
into a single, large computer from keyboard terminals.
“We found,” they observed, “that any response time that averages more than 10
seconds destroys the illusion of having one’s own computer.”
In 2009, a study by Forrester Research found that online shoppers expected pages
to load in two seconds or fewer — and at three seconds, a large share abandon
the site. Only three years earlier a similar Forrester study found the average
expectations for page load times were four seconds or fewer.
The two-second rule is still often cited as a standard for Web commerce sites.
Yet experts in human-computer interaction say that rule is outdated. “The old
two-second guideline has long been surpassed on the racetrack of Web
expectations,” said Eric Horvitz, a scientist at Microsoft’s research labs.
Google, which harvests more Internet ad revenue than any other company, stands
to benefit more than most if the Internet speeds up. Mr. Jain, who worked at
Microsoft and Akamai before joining Google in 2003, is an evangelist for speed
both inside and outside the company. He leads a “Make the Web Faster” program,
begun in 2009. He also holds senior positions in industry standards groups.
Speed, Mr. Jain said, is a critical element in all of Google’s products. There
is even a companywide speed budget; new offerings and product tweaks must not
slow down Google services. But there have been lapses.
In 2007, for example, after the company added popular new offerings like Gmail,
things slowed down enough that Google’s leaders issued a “Code Yellow” and
handed out plastic stopwatches to its engineers to emphasize that speed matters.
Still, not everyone is in line with today’s race to be faster. Mr. Kurtz, the
Dartmouth computer scientist who is the co-inventor of BASIC, is now 84, and
marvels at how things have changed.
Computers and networks these days, Mr. Kurtz said, “are fast enough for me.”
For Impatient Web Users, an Eye Blink Is
Just Too Long to Wait,
Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime
August 24, 2010
THe New York Times
By MATT RICHTEL
SAN FRANCISCO — It’s 1 p.m. on a Thursday and Dianne Bates, 40,
juggles three screens. She listens to a few songs on her iPod, then taps out a
quick e-mail on her iPhone and turns her attention to the high-definition
Just another day at the gym.
As Ms. Bates multitasks, she is also churning her legs in fast loops on an
elliptical machine in a downtown fitness center. She is in good company. In gyms
and elsewhere, people use phones and other electronic devices to get work done —
and as a reliable antidote to boredom.
Cellphones, which in the last few years have become full-fledged computers with
high-speed Internet connections, let people relieve the tedium of exercising,
the grocery store line, stoplights or lulls in the dinner conversation.
The technology makes the tiniest windows of time entertaining, and potentially
productive. But scientists point to an unanticipated side effect: when people
keep their brains busy with digital input, they are forfeiting downtime that
could allow them to better learn and remember information, or come up with new
Ms. Bates, for example, might be clearer-headed if she went for a run outside,
away from her devices, research suggests.
At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when
rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show
new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their
exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a
persistent memory of the experience.
The researchers suspect that the findings also apply to how humans learn.
“Almost certainly, downtime lets the brain go over experiences it’s had,
solidify them and turn them into permanent long-term memories,” said Loren
Frank, assistant professor in the department of physiology at the university,
where he specializes in learning and memory. He said he believed that when the
brain was constantly stimulated, “you prevent this learning process.”
At the University of Michigan, a study found that people learned significantly
better after a walk in nature than after a walk in a dense urban environment,
suggesting that processing a barrage of information leaves people fatigued.
Even though people feel entertained, even relaxed, when they multitask while
exercising, or pass a moment at the bus stop by catching a quick video clip,
they might be taxing their brains, scientists say.
“People think they’re refreshing themselves, but they’re fatiguing themselves,”
said Marc Berman, a University of Michigan neuroscientist.
Regardless, there is now a whole industry of mobile software developers
competing to help people scratch the entertainment itch. Flurry, a company that
tracks the use of apps, has found that mobile games are typically played for 6.3
minutes, but that many are played for much shorter intervals. One popular game
that involves stacking blocks gets played for 2.2 minutes on average.
Today’s game makers are trying to fill small bits of free time, said Sebastien
de Halleux, a co-founder of PlayFish, a game company owned by the industry giant
“Instead of having long relaxing breaks, like taking two hours for lunch, we
have a lot of these micro-moments,” he said. Game makers like Electronic Arts,
he added, “have reinvented the game experience to fit into micro-moments.”
Many business people, of course, have good reason to be constantly checking
their phones. But this can take a mental toll. Henry Chen, 26, a self-employed
auto mechanic in San Francisco, has mixed feelings about his BlackBerry habits.
“I check it a lot, whenever there is downtime,” Mr. Chen said. Moments earlier,
he was texting with a friend while he stood in line at a bagel shop; he stopped
only when the woman behind the counter interrupted him to ask for his order.
Mr. Chen, who recently started his business, doesn’t want to miss a potential
customer. Yet he says that since he upgraded his phone a year ago to a
feature-rich BlackBerry, he can feel stressed out by what he described as
internal pressure to constantly stay in contact.
“It’s become a demand. Not necessarily a demand of the customer, but a demand of
my head,” he said. “I told my girlfriend that I’m more tired since I got this
In the parking lot outside the bagel shop, others were filling up moments with
their phones. While Eddie Umadhay, 59, a construction inspector, sat in his car
waiting for his wife to grocery shop, he deleted old e-mail while listening to
news on the radio. On a bench outside a coffee house, Ossie Gabriel, 44, a nurse
practitioner, waited for a friend and checked e-mail “to kill time.”
Crossing the street from the grocery store to his car, David Alvarado pushed his
2-year-old daughter in a cart filled with shopping bags, his phone pressed to
He was talking to a colleague about work scheduling, noting that he wanted to
steal a moment to make the call between paying for the groceries and driving.
“I wanted to take advantage of the little gap,” said Mr. Alvarado, 30, a
facilities manager at a community center.
For many such people, the little digital asides come on top of heavy use of
computers during the day. Take Ms. Bates, the exercising multitasker at the
expansive Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center. She wakes up and peeks at her
iPhone before she gets out of bed. At her job in advertising, she spends all day
in front of her laptop.
But, far from wanting a break from screens when she exercises, she says she
couldn’t possibly spend 55 minutes on the elliptical machine without “lots of
things to do.” This includes relentless channel surfing.
“I switch constantly,” she said. “I can’t stand commercials. I have to flip
around unless I’m watching ‘Project Runway’ or something I’m really into.”
Some researchers say that whatever downside there is to not resting the brain,
it pales in comparison to the benefits technology can bring in motivating people
“Exercise needs to be part of our lives in the sedentary world we’re immersed
in. Anything that helps us move is beneficial,” said John J. Ratey, associate
clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and author of
“Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.”
But all things being equal, Mr. Ratey said, he would prefer to see people do
their workouts away from their devices: “There is more bang for your buck doing
it outside, for your mood and working memory.”
Of the 70 cardio machines on the main floor at Bakar Fitness, 67 have
televisions attached. Most of them also have iPod docks and displays showing
workout performance, and a few have games, like a rope-climbing machine that
shows an animated character climbing the rope while the live human does so too.
A few months ago, the cable TV went out and some patrons were apoplectic. “It
was an uproar. People said: ‘That’s what we’re paying for,’ ” said Leeane
Jensen, 28, the fitness manager.
At least one exerciser has a different take. Two stories up from the main floor,
Peter Colley, 23, churns away on one of the several dozen elliptical machines
without a TV. Instead, they are bathed in sunlight, looking out onto the pool
and palm trees.
“I look at the wind on the trees. I watch the swimmers go back and forth,” Mr.
Colley said. “I usually come here to clear my head.”
Digital Devices Deprive
Brain of Needed Downtime,
surfing the Internet
altering your brain?
Mon Oct 27,
By Belinda Goldsmith
(Reuters) - The Internet is not just changing the way people live but altering
the way our brains work with a neuroscientist arguing this is an evolutionary
change which will put the tech-savvy at the top of the new social order.
Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA in California who specializes in brain
function, has found through studies that Internet searching and text messaging
has made brains more adept at filtering information and making snap decisions.
But while technology can accelerate learning and boost creativity it can have
drawbacks as it can create Internet addicts whose only friends are virtual and
has sparked a dramatic rise in Attention Deficit Disorder diagnoses.
Small, however, argues that the people who will come out on top in the next
generation will be those with a mixture of technological and social skills.
"We're seeing an evolutionary change. The people in the next generation who are
really going to have the edge are the ones who master the technological skills
and also face-to-face skills," Small told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"They will know when the best response to an email or Instant Message is to talk
rather than sit and continue to email."
In his newly released fourth book "iBrain: Surviving the Technological
Alteration of the Modern Mind," Small looks at how technology has altered the
way young minds develop, function and interpret information.
Small, the director of the Memory & Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute
for Neuroscience & Human Behavior and the Center on Aging at UCLA, said the
brain was very sensitive to the changes in the environment such as those brought
He said a study of 24 adults as they used the Web found that experienced
Internet users showed double the activity in areas of the brain that control
decision-making and complex reasoning as Internet beginners.
"The brain is very specialized in its circuitry and if you repeat mental tasks
over and over it will strengthen certain neural circuits and ignore others,"
"We are changing the environment. The average young person now spends nine hours
a day exposing their brain to technology. Evolution is an advancement from
moment to moment and what we are seeing is technology affecting our evolution."
Small said this multi-tasking could cause problems.
He said the tech-savvy generation, whom he calls "digital natives," are always
scanning for the next bit of new information which can create stress and even
damage neural networks.
"There is also the big problem of neglecting human contact skills and losing the
ability to read emotional expressions and body language," he said.
"But you can take steps to address this. It means taking time to cut back on
technology, like having a family dinner, to find a balance. It is important to
understand how technology is affecting our lives and our brains and take control
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
Is surfing the Internet altering your brain?,
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