Tech & The Web

Should Apple Be Responsible for Battling Device Addiction?

Investors are calling on Apple to create software that combats device addiction in young people…but whose responsibility is it?

For more and more children who seem to become tantalized with their smartphones and tablets, device addiction can be a very real thing.

Some of Apple’s investors want Apple to come up with software that limits a child’s screen time.

But why is that Apple’s responsibility, exactly?

Half of teens think they’re addicted.

A recent Reuters article reported on 2016 survey results claiming half of America’s teenagers feel “addicted” to their phones and feel pressure to “immediately respond” to phone messages.

There are adults who feel the same way.

What kind of software is being developed for us? There’s a good chance there’s none.

I do know this: if there had been iPhones and iPads around when I was a kid, I’d have been limited on how much I could sit in front of them the same way I was limited when necessary on how much TV screen time I had: my parents would simply say that it was time to turn off the screen and that was that.

Why that seems to be so impossible these days is absolutely beyond me. Perhaps it starts when weary parents allow the phone or tablet to distract their children for a while to give the parents a break. Who, in this day and age, could fault them for that?

But the distraction isn’t mean to be an all-day or all-night distraction. Parents are still supposed to have control over their children’s actions. Mine certainly did.

If a parent can’t tell a child it’s time to put down the phone — say, for dinner or for family time — it seems to me that’s the fault of the parent, not the phone.

What about emergencies?

The thought of some kind of digital lockout is frightening when you consider the possibility of an emergency situation.

What if a child reaches whatever time limit a parent chooses and the phone gets locked. Do they still have access to make calls?

I can imagine a scenario in which an emergency would force the child to need to contact their parents or other family members. If their phone is “locked” because of excessive screen time, what happens then?

More and more families seem to be dumping landlines in favor of their mobile phones, and most people have their personal devices locked. So even if the child were at home and an emergency call needed to happen, it’s possible their phone being locked out could delay getting word to people they’d need to reach.

What about multiple devices?

Let’s say a child has a smartphone and a tablet. Is this imagined software going to be smart enough to know when enough is enough no matter which device is involved?

If, for instance, a parent sets a three-hour time limit on screen time — which might be two hours too long — and the child hits the three-hour mark on his smartphone, what’s to stop him from then grabbing the tablet and spending another three hours?

If the software can’t limit all devices at the same time, it seems to me there’d be little advantage.

I must respectfully agree with a recent editorial on USA Today, which points out that Apple might just be the wrong company to focus one’s anger on, since it’s more likely social media that’s causing the “addiction,” not the device maker. Why aren’t these folks calling on time limits for Facebook and Snapchat? Wouldn’t that make more sense? Or do we believe Android users have no device addiction at all?

The editorial also suggests a better way to address the issue begins with parents:

“To some degree, this means individual parents setting limits individually on the screen time of their children, and using their financial leverage as payers of smartphone bills to enforce those limits.”

If parents these days have surrendered so much authority that they can’t have a say in how much time their kids spend in front of mobile screens, there’s a much bigger problem than device addiction going on here.

If these devices had been around when you were a kid, do you think your parents would have had any trouble limiting your time on them?

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.