In a day and age, when social media and smart devices are found around every corner, one begins to wonder at what point is it too much. The idea of ever-evolving technology in and of itself is not a bad thing, and as history has shown can prove itself to be quite worthy of our time and attention. However, does it at some point become something more, a hindrance, in fact, to live our best lives?
That is the question Republican Senator Josh Hawley asked as he presented his SMART act a few weeks back that seems to be only the beginning of his revolt against Big Tech. The Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or SMART Act, would seek to make social media companies such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and others from being so addictive.
Hawley and others who back the bill plan to crusade against the “infinite scroll or auto-refill” as well as “badges and other awards linked to engagement.” In this way, users would be less likely to spend so much time on any one platform.
The 14-page measure would also put daily 30-minute time limits on each platform, with a pop-up appearing when that time limit has been reached. It would also require that a report on internet addiction concerning an individual’s free choice be submitted to Congress every three years.
According to Hawley, the youngest member in the Senate, “social media shareholders are investing in… the addiction of users.” He calls out the millions of stories of America’s youth who have become addicted to technology and, in particular, social media during the last few years.
And these addictions can cause some rather severe consequences such as self-esteem issues, severe mental health problems, and numerous hindrances for having any sort of real social life. In addition, Hawley cites the relationship between teen suicide rates and the increasing rate of those with social media equipped smartphones.
The act begins to ask some essential questions about how such technology can impact our lives and how it should be regulated.
However, not everyone agrees that this is the way to do it. Experts in the field of technology addiction, for one, say that the subject is so new to us that it is not fully understood yet, such as what causes it exactly, how prevalent it is, or even if it is a real thing. They argue that enacting government regulations to such an issue is like putting the cart before the horse.
Others argue that, while well-intentioned, the bill is just another form of government control. And coming from a party that is built on less governmental influence, many are critical of it.
The bill is also seen as a beginning of “the revolt” on attention industries such as Big Tech. According to Tim Wu, a tech ethicist, lawyer, and author of The Attention Merchants, a revolt happens when audiences (in this case users) “begin to believe that they are being ill-used – whether overloaded, fooled, tricked, or purposefully manipulated.” He likens Hawley’s attack on Big Tech to the revolt against Parisian posters in the 1860s.
During that time, an artist began putting up brightly colored posters around Paris, and they were well-liked. However, it wasn’t long before other artists followed suit until there were so many posters lining the streets that they were seen as an annoyance and something that cluttered the city.
Groups began to rise up in revolt of the posters, lobbying for regulations to be implemented on where the advertisements could be placed throughout the city. And they eventually won.
Wu incites that a similar act is taking place here with Hawley’s bill being just the start. Whether the bill is signed into law or not, people are beginning to see an overabundance of social media and that it can harm them and their livelihoods. For many, it’s only a matter of time before we see more and more negative effects on our society. And if we aren’t careful, it could easily take over such as those posters did in Paris. To those people, Hawley merely is trying to get a head start on it.