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Are your kids addicted to Facebook?

Bill FoxBy Bill Fox/Columnist

Facebook co-founder Sean Parker let us know what’s really going on and how apps like Facebook are wired to have you addicted.  He was uncharacteristically frank about his creation in an interview with Axios.   He was so honest in his interview that he feared Mark Zuckerberg would probably block his Facebook account.  Facebook is making money through advertisements, feeding your curiosity throughout the day and slowly but surely pulling you into a vortex so you can consume more. It may seem like you are addicted and that’s where Facebook wants you to be.  Confirming every ‘big brother’ conspiracy there is about the social media giant, Parker explained how social networks purposely hook users and potentially hurt our brains.

When Facebook was starting to get popular, Parker had people coming up to him proud that they were not on it as they valued their real life interactions more. He would say, ‘OK. You know, you will be… We’ll get you eventually.’  Social media literally changes your relationship with society, and with each other.  It interferes with productivity. “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains. The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: ‘How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?’”

Eventually users contribute more content, and that gets us as we use more likes and comments. Parker went on, “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”  All of these social media inventors understood this consciously.  “And we did it anyway.”

But it starts with our cell phones.  According to Apple, the average person checks their phone 80 times a day. Nicholas Carr, writing in the Wall Street Journal, surmises that we consult our phones close to 30,000 times in a given year. Carrying such an extraordinary computer that can dial numbers, retrieve information and solve problems could we be eroding our intellect, as our brains grow dependent on a phone for providing information, rather than ourselves?

Adrian Ward is a cognitive psychologist and has been studying how our phones not only change our cognitive ability, but also our attention span for more than a decade. The main conclusion from Ward’s work is that not only using a smartphone, but its mere presence whether it is turned on or off, makes it harder to concentrate and diminishes our performance.

Carr cites a University of California study with 520 undergraduate students that were given two tests measuring intellectual sharpness. Test one measured how a mind can focus and the second test measured how a person solves problems. The only variable in the test was where the student placed their smartphone. Some of the students were asked to place their phones in front of them on the desk, others in their handbag or briefcase while others were asked to leave their phones in a different room. The tests discovered that the closer the phone to the subject the worse they scored on the test even though every student with a phone on their desk claimed their phone was not a distraction nor did they even think about their phone during the test. Well, wrong. They did.

Similar tests have been conducted addressing social skills and communication flow and both facets are also being eroded. We have all experienced having an in-depth conversation and yet for some unknown reason (other than addiction) your colleague checks their phone mid-dialogue.

Never has access to information been so available and yet our ability to process, interpret and maintain information has never been so poor. I am guilty as anyone, perhaps worse, since I tend to fall back on the lame excuse that I need my phone!  Do you need yours?  Do your children?