You swiped left on life nearly 5 years ago now. Or, to put it in your perspective, at iOS 4.3.5; which was pretty much the iRon-age to today’s iOS 10.3. I’m sure you’d be proud how the defining feature of your latest system is pushing the boundaries of emotional articulacy:
So, considering the speed of tech-development, we’ve had plenty of time to consider your legacy now and, let’s face it, it’s massive. Your iPhone, has changed the world. I know it wasn’t the first handheld computer or touch-screen smart phone but you made it all work and you made it simple enough for any fool to operate.
You’ve had two hagiographic movies made of your life, countless biographies, and I’m sure somebody would have made a statue of you by now if they hadn’t worried it would already need an upgrade in September and be redundant within a year.
Your empire has grown and inspired rival empires. All colonising new territory: the heads, minds and attention of virtually every young person in the developed world.
Like an East India Company for the 21st century, and all the great colonisers, your corporation has exploited this new territory for profit, mined and extracted anything of value to leave behind empty husks. No street in this city is without the shuffling zombie, bowed heads, of your human data mines, transfixed by their screens. You, Steve, created the habit forming machine par excellence.
And it’s not like you didn’t know what your machines could do to young minds. In the year of Our Job iOS 3.2 you launched the iPad with a lecture on just how incredible it was, it would revolutionise lives. Strange then that you never let your own kids have one. And when you told the New York Times “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home,” you weren’t alone. Chris Anderson, editor of Wired, did too, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.” And Evan Williams, one of the founders of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, stocked his house with hundreds of books for his sons, but refused to give them an iPad. It’s the drug dealer’s mantra: “Don’t get high on your own supply.” Even Bill Gates didn’t allow his kids to use cell phones until they were fourteen.
So Steve, it turns out that instead of technology that would liberate the world, you created one of the most addictive fixations ever. In Irresistible author Adam Alter points out that our definition of addiction is too narrow. “Greg Hochmuth, one of Instagram’s founding engineers, realized he was building an engine for addiction. ‘There’s always another hashtag to click on,’ Hochmuth said. ‘Then it takes on its own life, like an organism, and people can become obsessive.’ Instagram, like so many other social media platforms, is bottomless. Facebook has an endless feed; Netflix automatically moves on to the next episode in a series; Tinder encourages users to keep swiping in search of a better option. Users benefit from these apps and websites, but also struggle to use them in moderation. According to Tristan Harris, a ‘design ethicist,’ the problem isn’t that people lack willpower; it’s that ‘there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.’”
It’s not just that we’re passive recipients of information. It is changing who we are. “If you’re in a public place, look around: How many people are hunching over a phone?” Amy Cuddy, a professor at the Harvard Business School, told the New York Times “Technology is transforming how we hold ourselves, contorting our bodies into … the iHunch. When we’re sad, we slouch.” Cuddy then pointed out the studies that show, posture does not only reflect our emotional state, it’s also a cause.
But hey, Steve, there’s an app for that: Moment has been created to help people manage their telephone screentime and, of course, it spies on them as well. Of its 8,000 users, almost ninety per cent are using their phone far more than they had thought when self-assessing and, on average, every month they (we) are spending almost a hundred hours glued to their (our) phone screens. Not even taking into account how long we may also be looking at TV or computer screens. That’s eleven years of an average lifetime. Just staring at your little lighted rectangle.
That’s quite a legacy Steve. Your tiny little screen has even forced Hollywood, big-screen story teller to the world, to fight back to compete for eyeballs by churning out even more addictive dramatic “Box Sets”. Stories being, as Scheherezade proved to keep herself alive for a 1001 nights, one of man’s earliest and least resistible addictions.
One study, according to the, The Washington Post found “59 percent of parents think their teens are addicted to mobile devices. Meanwhile, 50 percent of teenagers feel the same way.”
So Steve, I thought I’d write to you personally because, well, you got personal first. Though, just by being old I’m fairly immune to your iNchantment, my kids are as vulnerable and susceptible to FOMO as all teens and preteens, and they’re screen hooked. Not just to the smartphone, but any device that will serve up endless diversions and decimate their tolerance of boredom. Bullfrog-like croaking to each other across the social network ponds, repetitive, flashing colour, swiping/tapping games and series of inane drivel , picaresque petty dramas, that plague the denizens of the Gossip or Gilmore Girls and their Dance Moms. Even the BBC iPlayer is jumping into e-diction, giving you seconds to switch off before they push the next episode and another hour of your life is eaten away as easily as lotus leaves, soma or opium.
It is terrible to watch the minds of your own children rot in front of you, close off the outside world and only think within the boxes of their screens.
Over a hundred years after colonialists and slavers like Cecil Rhodes, Isaac Royall and Edward Colston did their own bit for immortality by having statues erected and university buildings bequested, their positions as ‘alright chaps’ are being questioned, their right to posterity challenged. Your colony, your slaves, Steve, are on my train, in my office, and worst of all at my table. Only 6 iOS iterations after your death, if a statue of you is ever put up, I’ll be the first in line calling #SteveJobsMustFall.
This article first appeared in