Thought Factory Podcast #401 || Digital Life Series: Screen Science

We cannot go through a day without the digital world impacting our existence.  If students don’t have the survival skills of navigating the digital life, they won’t survive in this modern world.  We are evaluating how students interact with technology and how to help them learn these digital survival skills in the next few episodes.  In today’s episode, we discuss screen science with an interview with Protect Young Eyes founder, Chris McKenna, as well as discussing areas where digital technology is shaping students’ world & relationships.

Major Events of World History:
Jesus’ Resurrection (33 AD)
Constantine’s Conversion of Rome (313-323 AD)
Gutenberg’s Invention of the Printing Press (1440 AD)
Invention of Sliced Bread (1928 AD)*
Creation of the Internet (1990 AD)
Apple’s Invention of the iPhone (2007 AD)

Think about things that have affected human history. We are at the beginning of a revolution in humanity in relation to the Internet and the current form of the Smartphone.  We are thinking about the influence it has in our lives.


Do you allow devices besides your phone that listen to you like Alexa or things like that?  Are they listening and are you allowing those things in your home?

“None of those devices are in our home nor would I allow them to be in our home.  I believe they are gathering more information than I want them to know about me.”

When it comes to this idea of screen science, some of the things that you’re seeing, some of the trends in the technology industry about the effect of screen usage and time on, particularly young people and students.

“I read a terrifyingly fascinating book last year called Glow Kids, by  Dr. Nicholas Kardaras.  He’s a doctor, purely scientific, but I think that’s what’s most interesting about it is it’s a purely objective, peer-reviewed approach to what we are finding.  What screen time is doing to kids.

The iPhone was released in 2007, so just over 11 or so years ago.  So we now are seeing the results of a generation that grew up with the iPhone fully at their disposal for all of their formative years.

There is a Wall Street Journal article that equates teaching a kid how to use an electronic devices/smartphone like teaching them how to enjoy just a little bit of cocaine.  In other words, the impact that a glowing screen has on the dopamine reward system in the brain of a child has similarities to the dopamine reward process that you would discover in the brain of somebody using cocaine.  This book, Glow Kids, goes through comparisons to the levels of dopamine that are released during certain behaviors.  Whether it’s drug consumption, eating a piece of chocolate, sex.  All these things that our brain interprets as stimuli that then creates this reward “engine sort of revving up,” dopamine is behind all of that.  What they discovered was that certain types of screen usage by children produces the same level of dopamine as sex in adults.  So we are exposing these very young brains, unfortunately at a time when the brain is most formable.  The brain is plastic as they say or shapeable throughout our entire life, but it is extremely shapeable during ages 5 to 15  – those formative years.

That’s why so many people when they go through a therapeutic experience as an adult, the therapist is typically unpacking things that happened during their formative years because so much of who we become is established foundationally during those 5 to 15 age years.  So, unfortunately, that’s when we are putting, arguably, the most dangerous piece of equipment that’s ever been placed in the hands of children is during this time when their brain is most susceptible to its impact.”

Chris, have you seen in the research of the last ten years the results of maybe a from a five-year-old to a fifteen-year-old and has there been anything like what is happening to our brain because of the exposure to these screens?

Some of the behaviors that we’re seeing children exhibit as a result of some of those exposures that are showing a trend line radically different than pre-iPhone.  For example, there was a study released in 2015 that talks about for girls ages 11 to 14 the number of them that have committed suicide has tripled since the release of the iPhone.  Now, as with most issues when it comes to teenagers, we can’t prove causation because it’s unethical to try to prove suicide through a process of causation and teenagers.   But, it’s an interesting correlation that you can look at.

The Internet is constantly just one or two clicks away in the hands of kids to things that we definitely don’t want them to see.   I think we can all agree that too young kids are seeing too mature of content way too young.  I think one of the primary results from that is peer-on-peer sexual abuse.  That’s one of the primary behaviors that has increased just significantly now that young people are seeing these horrific acts on a screen earlier than ever.  Again, neurologically during a period of their life when their brains are programmed to act out the things that they see. That’s different than adults.  We process things that we see and analyze things that we see but young children have mirror neurons that compel them to do what they see.  That’s why they learn things so quickly, they are a bunch of little copycats.

Technology had this unfortunate acceleration of maturity downward and a deceleration of maturity upward.  Meaning, through early exposure and putting devices in young kids hands too early, we have erased childhood and have accelerated adulthood by kids seeing information and being exposed to things they’re just not ready for.”

Talk to us about what the internet really is designed and programmed to do to us. 

We used to measure culture change in sort of generational trends, in terms of decades.  Now it seems to me that we are measuring cultural change and generational trends in terms of devices.  I think that’s a radical shift.  The timeline has shrunk significantly.  You could look at a thirty-year period of time and find some similarities now you have to look at a 3-year period of time. 

I say this to teenagers all the time when we speak to them.  I ask them a really simple question and look them in the eye and say, ‘Why does Snapchat exist?’  – so that we can keep in better touch with our friends…for the fun filters… they give me all of these reasons.   I lovingly tell them those are great answers but they’re all wrong.  The only reason Snapchat exists as a publicly traded company is to make money.  The primary way they make money is through your addiction.  If you’re not addicted to their app, they go bankrupt.  You are a slave to the app that is at the core of all things digital – money.  The billions and billions of dollars behind pornography, it’s money.  Everything that has to do with the devices in our hands, it only exists for one purpose and that is to make money.  When it comes to social media, the primary way social media makes money is through our usage.  As a normal consumer, they make money because the more you play, the more the marketers pay.  It’s almost that simple.  Are you going to allow them to have that much control over you or are you going to step back and go ‘wait a minute, do I need to pay my friend to keep my Snapstreak going while I go on a digital free missions trip?’

One of Facebook’s original founders, he’s no longer with them, spoke about sitting around a table in the early days of Facebook.  Him, the gentleman who eventually became the CEO of Instagram, and Mark (Zuckerberg) and they sat around a table and they fully admitted that they knew that what they were creating was exploiting a weakness in human psychology –  this desire for worth. This desire to feel significant, which is at the core of every human being.   Yet they looked at each other and this was his quote, he said, ‘and we did it anyway.’   They knowingly went into this, knowing that people would become what they are today and that is hopelessly addicted to their screens. 

At the end of the day, this is our fault.  Apple didn’t force me to buy that iPhone.  Nobody forced me to download Snapchat and give it to my seventh grader.  This is our fault.”


SEGMENT 2: How is the digital world impacting us physiologically, psychologically, relationally?

1. Push Notifications.
Studies show that push notifications – those little pings and prods you get to check your apps – are habit-forming. They align an 
external trigger (the ping) with an internal trigger (a feeling of boredom, uncertainty, insecurity, etc.). Every app uses them, but some, have discovered that when notifications tell us to do something, such as “Watch Sally’s new video!” or “See who liked your post!” we respond immediately. These calls to action not only interrupt us, they cause stress.

They affect us physiologically because when we respond immediately to these push notifications, or when we allow these pings to interrupt what we are doing, it disengages us, especially when we are in conversation with another person.  When we check our phone after a notification, it immediately disengages us from the real world to engage with the digital world.  When we try to return, we are unsure of where the conversation left off or we no longer paying as much attention to the conversation as we were before checking our device.

2. Autoplay
Even “likes” and messages that self-destruct – are scientifically proven to compel us to watch/check-in/respond right now or feel that we’re 
missing something really important.

More and more industry insiders — including some who designed these attention-claiming features — are coming forward to cry foul on digital manipulation.

There are psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.

In fact, it’s not just people who are going public. In 2017, a leaked Facebook internal memo showed how the social network can identify when teens feel “insecure,” “worthless,” and “need a confidence boost.” That’s not a problem “likes” can fix. 

Remember: The other side wants to reduce the time between your thoughts and actions.

3. Snapchat’s Snapstreaks
A Snapstreak begins after two users send snaps (pictures) to each other for three days straight. You might think competition is the motivation behind Snapstreaks, but it’s more likely due to a psychological theory called the rule of reciprocation. Humans have a need to respond to a positive action with another positive action.

This feature keeps us addicted to the device, which ultimately brings in revenue for Snapchat.  It is like waiting in line, the longer you wait, the less likely you will get out of line because you would end up seeing the time you spent in the line up to that point as a waste.  The longer the snapstreak, the less likely you will stop because otherwise all that time spent “streaking” was a waste.

4. Variable Rewards
This technique 
keeps us searching endlessly for our “prize,” such as who friended us, who liked our posts, and who updated their status.

5. Gameplay
Fifty-seven percent 
of teens have met a new friend online. Social media and online gameplay are the most common digital venues for meeting friends only 20% of all teens have met an online friend in person.

  • Boys are more likely than girls to make online friends: 61% of boys compared to 52% of girls have done so.
  • Older teens are also more likely than younger teens to make online friends. Some 60% of teens ages 15 to 17 have met a friend online, compared with 51% of 13- to 14-year-olds.
  • Instant messaging: 79% of all teens instant message their friends; 27% do so daily.
  • Social media: 72% of all teens spend time with friends via social media; 23% do so daily.
  • Email: 64% of all teens use email with friends; 6% do so daily.
  • Video chat: 59% of all teens video chat with their friends; 7% video chat with friends daily.
  • Video games: 52% of all teens spend time with friends playing video games; 13% play with friends daily.
  • Messaging apps: 42% of all teens spend time with friends on messaging apps such as Kik and WhatsApp; 14% do so every day.
  • 38% of all teen boys share their gaming handle as one of the first three pieces of information exchanged when they meet someone they would like to be friends with;
  • 62% of teens share their social media username as one of the first pieces of information they share as a way to stay in touch when they meet a brand new friend.
  • 88% of teen social media users believe people share too much information about themselves on social media.
  • 21% of teen social media users report feeling worse about their own life because of what they see from other friends on social media.

Technology is here to stay. We must not ignore it, we must guide students and parents into redeeming it.  When Bibles were being printed for the common person, the leaders of the Church freaked out and outlawed it.  People died over this issue.  They missed an opportunity because they were afraid of the possible outcomes.  We must have a faith-based approach to all things in life, including technology.  We must not fear it, but be aware of its effects and then use it in ways that redeem it. 

© 2018, Never The Same