5 Jan 2019

Chris Anderson: Silicon Valley leaders wary of tech for kids

From The Weekend, 8:35 am on 5 January 2019

No phones until high school, no social media until you're 13, no devices in bedrooms, all screens in public places and absolutely no iPads.

A lot of parents might listen to that list of rules - actually a selection from a longer list - and feel like the ship has sailed on getting their pre-teen or child on board with that lot.

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Chris Anderson Photo: supplied

Chris Anderson is one of a growing number of Silicon Valley bosses who are restricting their children’s access to the internet and devices.

His 12 Rules For Kids and Screens is is how he and his wife have raised their five children, who are aged 10 to 21.

Anderson is chief executive of drone software platform 3DR, and a former editor-in-chief of Wired magazine.

He says there were two main things that concerned him about the creep of technology into the lives of children.

“One of them is the simple addictive nature of anything and when I was a kid it was TV and now it’s screens of other sorts. The second is the nature of the content on those screens,” he says.   

His strategy is to delay access to technology, not hold back the tide.

“I can’t avoid the fact that my kids, like all kids out there, essentially have had their brains re-wired to be drawn to screens where ever they are.

“And we don’t quite know what the consequences of that will be, I presume that fewer screens is better but it maybe we’ve already crossed the Rubicon and we’re already addicted.”

Not allowing screens in private spaces is a based on the simple principle that someone’s always watching.

“With it comes this sense of accountability and transparency, so they always know on some level we’re aware of what they are doing on screens.”

Anderson says his main worry is tech’s addictive allure.

“I think the main thing is the addictive nature of it, to see the world through a lens to always gravitate to a screen is a somewhat narrow view on the world.

“My main concern is just that it’s a really powerful, very seductive technology and their little plastic brains are going to get re-mapped around it and I’m not sure what the consequences of that are but in general I think addiction is a bad thing for young people.”

iPads, he says, are “crack for gaming” and therefore not suitable for school work.

“What we found in practice is that iPads are such good gaming places and have so many games available to them that they were not being used for the purpose intended. We essentially had to dumb them down, and if you dumb down an iPad you essentially end up with something like a Chrome Book.

“Chrome Books have now become pretty standard in our schools; they’re cheap, reliable and they’re easy to maintain.

“It was simply a case of recognising when you have a device in front of you that can do two things - one homework the other games - you are going to be tempted to do games it’s a procrastination tool and the iPad was too tempting whereas the Chrome Book is not.”

Anderson says as a Silicon Valley pioneer he and he colleagues were a little naïve about the internet.

“We assumed that most people are good, and the internet would be mostly good, the mistake we made was assuming that attention would be distributed as evenly as people are - in other words most people are good, good people do good things and good people would get most of the attention.

“The realisation that people who have ill intent could get disproportionate attention by using viral techniques and hacking and just being more extreme was something we all kind of missed, we had hoped that the market place would solve this problem by level headed people winning the public debate, in fact what we’re finding is this trend towards where the most extreme voices dominate the debate.

“I think we were surprised how much of a tyranny of the minority the internet had turned out to be.”

Chris Anderson is the author of The Long TailFree, and Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.