Apple Screen Time, configurable notifications, digital distraction coping methods. Let’s call them Tech Coping Tools (TCTs™) and they all have one thing in common - they want to help you be a better you(ser).
TCTs promise happiness and success and are pushed on us in a way similar to diets and gym memberships - we can get the results if we put in the work. It’s no secret that fighting the temptations of tech is difficult. We’re dealing with algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves, they have millions of data points that our primitive little brains can’t compete with yada yada yada... that’s a social dilemma I’ll leave for Tristan Harris. For me, the real problem starts way before TCTs are even needed and it gets a little more political.
Consider the iPhone. Screen Time is the built-in app which gives us a weekly report on our time spent looking at the screen and which apps we used in that time. But if we read between the pretty graphs, the iPhone, Apple, Tim Cook, are telling us something else… it’s our responsibility, and if our Screen Time report is problematic, it’s our fault. The act of empowering us with these tools on the very same thing which is captivating our eyes is a loud and clear message that the device and its makers are innocent. We are the addicts. We are the users.
But the very question of who is at fault is not really even valid. When we talk of “digital distractions” and “the attention economy” we tend to generalise it all into “algorithms vs humans” or “target ads are creepy” narratives. The problems become framed as something beyond the decisions of the makers - it's inevitable tech progress which we need to adapt and adjust to.
The questions of fault and responsibility can only really be asked on a case-by-case basis - and for each case all parties need to be considered - the maker of the thing, the person who has the thing, and the thing itself.
By not asking these questions we allow the makers to skip ahead to the already accepted world of TCTs as a cure-all. All it takes is a simple warning message about the dangers of over-indulgence and magically the fault and responsibility lies with us, leaving them to carry on with the same Hooked methodologies while telling us "you are free to quit at any time".