Three articles from this weekend’s New York Times deliver a gut punch to anyone still wondering whether they should hand their kids an iPad to keep them quiet at a restaurant. The answer, you might have guessed, is “no way.” At least, that’s the loud, clear message from the people who designed and built the screen you’re reading this blog post on right now. How do tech executives describe the products they and their employers have foisted upon humanity? “Crack cocaine…going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain,” says one. “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones and is wreaking havoc on our children,” says another.
Silicon Valley isn’t known as a bastion of social conservatism. When tech elites liken their own products to hardcore drugs and Satan, it's probably not to throw down a culture war gauntlet. More likely, these folks know something horrible is happening, especially to kids, and they want to stop it.
Alarm grows outside of Silicon Valley, too. A Kansas City pediatrician interviewed by the Times calls screens a massive “social experiment” using poor and middle-class children as test subjects. A British Member of Parliament this week published an op-ed in which he compared parents’ and children’s screen use as a creeping crisis "akin to climate change." Half a world away, Chinese health authorities recently released nationwide guidelines for diagnosing and treating adolescent internet addiction.
Why the warning bells? Perhaps it’s because we’re reaching a global tipping point of awareness of just how drastically some fundamental human behaviors and health factors appear to have changed since the advent of ever-present screens. As screen use has risen, rates of sexual intimacy and procreation have declined. As online porn consumption and availability has risen, so have rates of young men reporting problems with erectile dysfunction and of young adults struggling with intimacy. As social media use has risen, teen mental health has declined. Screen use has been linked by researchers to sleep disruptions, declining person-to-person interaction, and a plethora of unwanted addictions and compulsive behaviors.
Researchers rightly point out that correlation is not necessarily an indicator of causation. Long term studies, not anecdotes, are necessary to establish scientific conclusions. Screens, in the form we use them today, simply haven’t been around long enough for multi-generational longitudinal study.
And yet, we’re not blind to screens’ effects on our lives. It’s not just that people are getting into horrific car wrecks because they feel the insatiable need to send a text at 65 miles per hour. It’s not just that “phubbing” (snubbing people by staring a phone) is actually a thing. It’s not just that people are becoming more sexually responsive to cold pixels than to a warm touch. It’s not just that research has coined a term (“ludic loop”) to describe the trance-like state video gambling (and other screen) addicts enter when they stare at a screen for hours on end, or that screen content designers readily admit they aim to manipulate and exploit their users’ primal psychological responses to help them enter that state. It’s all of those threads woven together that make it feel like screen use has us trapped in a terrifying spider’s web.
Traffic to PornHelp.org has grown steadily since our founding in February 2016. As our readers know, we’re based in the U.S. But, our visitors come from all over the planet these days. That global interest in our mission is, to us, the strongest signal that Silicon Valley executives have good reason to keep their own children as far away from screens as possible. Screens bring the same problems wherever they go. A college student in India reports the same life disruptions from using online porn as does one from Brazil, or France, or Kansas. Chinese teens and British teens struggle equally with compulsive gaming. Humans everywhere, no matter their age, gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or culture, seem equally attracted, entranced, and disturbed by screens.
So, consider this a wake up call. Around the world, alarms are ringing. Red lights are flashing. For all the productivity and creativity screens bring humanity, they also inflict widespread and indiscriminate harm. Like so many Dr. Frankensteins, tech designers show growing terror at what their creations have wrought. These people? They know. Something horrible is happening.
Longer-form writing from the PornHelp team on current topics relating to problem porn use and recovery.