A Jan. 23 forum on digital wellness gave parents thoughtful advice about how to use tech more intentionally, avoid the risks of constant connectivity, and focus on being great digital role models.
Presented by the non-profit advocacy group Common Sense Media, The Truth About Tech: How Tech Keeps Kids Hooked drew about 140 parents to Baker Theater and featured a three-person panel that included New York City Director Samira Nanda Sine and New York Education Director Tali Horowitz.
The two were joined by Giancarlo Pitocco, a former Facebook employee who left the company after the 2016 election and founded Purposeful Digital Wellbeing.
Pitocco described five urgent areas that need to be addressed around digital wellness in the home: attention, values, boundaries, quality leisure time, and solitude.
“I say that well-being is making sure technology is used in service of your needs, your values, your aspirations, and not as a distraction from those things,” he said.
Values, in particular, he said, can act as a powerful filter when it comes to interactions with the digital world.
“Knowing and living by our values protects us from the bias, the influence, and the manipulation that’s engineered into these products that we keep in our pockets,” he said.
Pitocco opened the forum by asking parents to turn off their phones and take a moment to “cultivate the kind of energy we’re looking to have in our everyday lives.”He then led the group through a full minute-and-a-half of silence, “so as to be present as we talk about our digital wellbeing and our healthy relationship with technology.”
In the hour-long conversation that followed, the panel reminded parents to lead by example on digital wellness and to talk about it often. They also offered their thoughts on everything from the “digital junk food” of many online social interactions to a kind of arms race that tech companies have waged in pursuit of our time and attention.
One concrete recommendation: keep phones out of the bedroom, and invest instead in a simple, old-fashioned alarm clock.
“Sleep — it is so critical for literally everything,” said Horowitz, adding: “Nothing good comes from a teen or tween having a phone in their bedroom at night.”
Pitocco, in particular, explained the “attention economy” of the modern world, where consumers use services like Facebook, Instagram, and Google but pay nothing for them.
“The way (these companies) are making money is by harvesting as much of our time and attention as possible,” Pitocco said. “That becomes part of their inventory to sell to advertisers.”
“The game is to extract attention,” he said. “They run out of inventory if you don’t spend time there. It’s this competitive race, to take over your time and attention.”