Addictive scrolling, Media manipulation, and more. In this episode, Andy, Robin and Adam discuss the dangers technology can bring. Are we always aware that technology is usually designed to be addictive? Are we playing catch-up with it’s rapid growth? Plus, should kids be made more aware of the dangers out there?
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Hi, I'm Andy Psarianos.
Hi, I'm Robin Potter.
Hi, I'm Adam Gifford.
This is The School of School podcast.
Welcome to The School of School podcast.
Welcome back, everyone. Another exciting episode of The School of School podcast. I know you're all excited to hear what crazy idea we've come up with today. And this one was suggested by Robin, so we're going to let her talk about it primarily. I'm kidding.
Throwing me under the bus.
Say hi, Robin. Say hi to all our listeners.
Hi. Hi, listeners.
And Adam is here as well. Say hi, Adam.
I can almost hardly say hi. I'm just waiting for Robin. I'm intrigued. Come on, Robin. The anticipation's too much.
No, I know. So the question is, knowing how technology works, is that the same as knowing how to use technology? Are our children truly digital natives? Can they develop digital identities? What does all this mean? Robin, come on. Take it away. Where are you going with all this?
Well thanks, Andy. I guess the point here is that nowadays, kids don't really have the choice not to use technology. It's a part of who they are in their learning, and they've got to acquire certain digital skills and learn technology safely and ethically and critically and responsibly. But now what some studies, and I use that term loosely, some studies have shown that while young children are fluent with the new technologies, they also lack technical, critical, and social skills that is needed to deal with these dangers that they present. So I don't know what I'm wanting you to really answer. It's more of a discussion.
Yeah, no, but it's a totally... Totally, it's a valid thing to ask. But there's a lot here. I mean, if we tackle the first bit, which is, is knowing how technology works, the same as knowing how to use technology, I think that quite clearly they're not the same thing, right?
You don't really have to have any idea how a car works in order to get in it and drive it. So they're different things. Do you need to know how it works is a different question altogether. Yeah, maybe you need to understand some things, but it's not always all that critical.
Yeah, you don't necessarily have to know exactly how it works or how it was created, but you do have to have some deeper level of understanding, I think, at times to avoid going down the wrong path with it.
Yeah. You can kill people with cars, right?
Yeah. And I think that's the thing. And also, if you're using it, I'm just wondering whether it's... I could be on the wrong path here, but is that comparison or analogies in cars like a car that's like a self-driving car? So do I know that this car's got my best interest, or is it taking me to a destination that actually, I don't want to be at? But it's a car that works, and maybe that's where knowing which car's the right one to jump in. I'm just aware of that. I'm just mindful of it because I think things like politics are so heavily influenced now. I mean, they always were with the press media and just general media, but the levels of sophistication, some really big influential issues that come up in our lifetimes, they're everywhere. And the sophistication of how the messages that we're sent, I think it's different. Well, it's certainly different to when we grew up.
Give us an example. Try to...
Yeah. Okay. So I would suggest that... I read Apple News just on my iPad, so it's a roundup of headlines. Now, at some point there's something in that app that's deciding what headlines I'm looking at, right?
And I'm assuming that it will feed into the things that I'm clicking on or whatever. Whatever it might be. Or maybe Apple's decided, "Actually, these are the headlines that we want you to read." Whatever it is, it's determining the news that I'm choosing.
Now again, it's always been thus. You can choose a newspaper that might have a political bent one way or the other. That's always been the way, but I think that it's presented in a way that I'm getting multiple headlines from multiple news sources. So you might be under the impression that it's balanced, but is it? And I don't know. But being able to differentiate, I would struggle with. I would struggle with the news that I'm being fed and the decisions that I'd make based on that news or whether I'm mildly interested or not. And that's what I mean, is that there's a level of sophistication in tailoring things to me or shaping the way that I think, which I think is more wide-ranging because we've got a more wide-ranging, and I think it's fantastic by the way, a more wide-ranging or a bigger range of information sources that we can tap into.
Yeah, you've touched on a good point, though, because again, you can teach a child how to use an iPad and they can be quite good at it. They're able to use it in all kinds of ways. But maybe they don't understand. They're not grasping the-
They can understand the technology, but they don't understand what they're using it for could be dangerous. And you've just brought up the point of perhaps getting news sources that aren't accurate or real. And so a child in a classroom, although they may be technically savvy, they may not have that maturity or the understanding to be... understand the ethics of the technology or whether it's real or not.
Or that you're being manipulated, right?
Even if it's not intentional manipulation, but what's happening is that these things are dopamine machines. So the people who develop them, they're often... their interest is, how long can I keep you on this? So if I can keep you on this app for longer, let's say, I don't know, TikTok's a perfect example. It's like, "Okay, well hey. You're looking at a lot of dancing videos. Okay, well I'm going to give you more dancing videos. Oh, look. You seem to be more engaged with dancing videos with people who are wearing, I don't know, red T-shirts, whatever. It's just nonsense." So then it keeps feeding you this stuff. Next thing you know, you're being fed a whole narrative which is a very distorted view of what's going on in the world. So with politics, this is Twitter and politics and whatever, and there's a million documented cases of this kind of stuff. And you end up separating people based on what their perceived interests are, but these decisions are being made by machines whose sole purpose is to try to keep you on the machine for longer. And it creates all kinds of bizarre things.
Okay, we know that this is going on, right? Do the kids know this is going on? I remember having some discussions with my kids about this and saying, "Hey, you know that this is what's happening?" And they're like, "Yeah, I don't believe you," was their first initial response several years back. Now, they're well aware that it's going on and they're like, "Yeah, I know. But I don't really care. It's still entertaining." So this is the worrying bit about it. It's like that they don't even care that they're being manipulated, right? They're like, "Yeah, that's just... You don't understand. This is how the world works nowadays. This is what you do to be cool or whatever." And they're pressured into creating content and getting those dopamine hits as well. So it's not just what they're consuming, but they're also creating content based on "How many likes did I get?" or "What's the thumbs up? How many people pointed the finger versus how many people gave me thumbs up when I did this?" And then that becomes some kind of metric. It becomes important to them and it starts driving their behaviour, right? Yeah.
At what level of maturity do you need to be, to be able to do this responsibly? I think that's what you're asking.
Yeah. Just talk a little bit there about they're not being too critical. They're not thinking critically about the technology and they're not socially being aware of the dangers that are present. Yes, you said they're aware of it, but they're not concerned about it.
I would argue they can't. I would argue that they can't. I remember listening to someone and they were talking about gambling. And some of the most sophisticated, well-read, well-informed people with online gambling are writing programmes to keep you coming back. Now, some of that same information is being used in the same way. If we do this, then people will stay on longer, like Andy's talking about. It's well documented. There's nothing too racy about what I've just said there.
But I think that what's happening... Children's brains, you can't accelerate development. So in terms of if you've got an adult and groups of adults that are producing incredibly sophisticated pieces of software that their intention is to keep you going, what chance has a 10 or 12-year-old got? And I think the difference, certainly, to, I've talked about it before, us growing up is that this is 24/7. So whatever we had, there was a time where the lights went off, the magazine, newspaper went down, or whatever else. Even the television, you couldn't even watch telly... I'm talking about New Zealand here, but you couldn't watch it 24 hours when I was growing up. This is a different proposition, and I think that the difficulty is, is that we want our children to be more sophisticated around some things that very sophisticated adults are trying to be more clever, develop something that keeps someone...
I remember my son saying one of the online games that he was playing... I sent him an article today actually. He said, "This is just gambling. This is legalised gambling," where it was in-game apps that you didn't know what you were going to get in the box. So children were buying them and buying them and buying them, and he just said, "Of course, there's a market. This is gambling. It's just dressed up in a different way." And now today, they're going to try to legislate against it because that's all it is. Well, where does this come from? This isn't like an innocent wee child's game. This is hard currency. This is getting children to go, "Right, you didn't get what you want this time, but I'll give you just enough. So the next time, you will get something that's great." This is gambling tactics, and these are kids.
So I think there is... It's a difficult one because we can't expect children to be more sophisticated than highly intelligent groups of well-paid adults, who their sole purpose is designed to make these things very difficult to stop looking at. And so I don't know whether it's legislation, whether it's parents and those sorts of things, but it's going to be tough for some kids, I think. It is already. We know that.
So where do we go from here?
Well, I think they have to legislate. There has to be legislation. There has to reach a point where it says, "All right, we know..." With some things. So you can do that with financial. You can't stop people looking at stuff. So the TikTok model versus the online gaming one, the difference is money. That's the difference, is that one becomes gambling, which has to be legislated, regulated, those sorts of things. The other one with content, I think that's really hard.
Well, there's big money on TikTok. Some people are making big money with TikTok, right?
Of course, of course. But, I mean, I think that what separates that, not necessarily children putting their hands in their pocket because of TikTok, even though there's massive advertising revenue. And so then it becomes a little bit more "Well, it's okay. They're just watching dancers in red T-shirts. Where's the harm in that? We'll just keep them watching it for ages."
Yeah, well, except-
And I think that that's... Yeah,
They're not just watching that, and that's the other part of that whole... I mean, with TikTok, it's a whole other discussion. But again, kids don't really... I don't know if they're internalising all the things that they're able to see on something like TikTok, and so I think it can be dangerous. I mean, because they have the use of technology and they are digitally savvy and they know how to use these things and they know how to use apps and it's just a part of their growing up experience, there are dangers there that they aren't necessarily paying any attention to or aware of.
Or don't care.
Or don't care. Yeah.
Willingly taking the risk. A lot of people who gamble know the dangers. It's kind of like smoking. You know when you smoke that... Nobody who smokes or vapes doesn't know the dangers of it. I mean, people die from these things. We know that, but they still choose to do it. It's the whole dopamine thing, right?
Dopamine is so powerful. If you can give people little micro dopamine hits along the way, you can get them to do just about anything. It's the same stuff you get from doing drugs or smoking or whatever. You just get these little micro dopamine hits and you just keep coming back for more because it's so pleasing. It's... Yeah. I don't know, man.
Or playing your guitar, Andy.
That's your dopamine hit.
Oh, okay. Okay.
I'm entertaining the world with my creativity.
I think we're playing catch up. I think in society, we're playing catch up. I think that the acceleration of this technology, the sophistication of what's happening, the monetization of it which leads to all of these things, has happened at such a tremendous pace that I think it's difficult for parents to keep up and know what the right thing to do is. You worry about alienation. "You can't do that," and "What, I'm the only kid in the class that doesn't have TikTok?" Well, that's not going to swim. That's not going to work.
But I think... I don't know. If we could fast forward and have another conversation in five years, it'd be really interesting to see how society does something about it because there will be research and there will be people who will be absolutely fine and there will be people who will thrive in amongst it all, but there'll also be some other people, I suspect, who will be locked into it, trapped, and it will have real detrimental effects on society at large on a number of people. So I'll see you in 18... Well, today's date, but... 2023 now, so 2028 we can have a recap and see whether anything's changed whatsoever or whether we're having the same conversation.
Thank you for joining us on The School of School podcast.