Getting Kids off of their Phones

In France, they have criminalized the owning of smartphones by those under 15 in school but while I like the idea of them not having smartphones I tend to be against using the coercive force of the state for non-dangerous behavior. Plus, it is a solution devoid of finesse or sophistication and just uses brute force and the problem with outlawing smartphones as opposed to making better smartphones is that if the children will get a smartpone and the only options will be bad ones. The best gun laws don’t outlaw guns but allow people to shot non-assault rifles. Right now, every smart phone is the psychological analog to an assault rifle so if the kids do want to break the rules and be sneaky, their option is an assault rifle. A better way to deal with people being on their phones is to design the phones in such ways that they disincentivize their unhealthy use which is not easy but is far from impossible. The first thing I would suggest would be to provide tax breaks to companies who design smartphones without game or social media apps with possible exceptions like chess or LinkedIn and award those companies government contracts over their competition.

The problem is not the phone, itself. The problem is that software developers make money by producing cheap, addictive, and toxic crap. There is nothing that says teenagers would be that sad about losing access to Candy Crush or Instagram. They wouldn’t like it but they would be more emotionally hurt by losing the phone altogether because the phone is a signifier of autonomy and maturity. For their own feelings of dignity and self-esteem, I want them to feel like proto-adults and for that reason believe that smartphones, per se, should be given to teenagers. If the only game is chess and the only Social Media is LinkedIn, they will use their phones as adults ideally should and it will train them to be adults. The ultimate way to do it is to give perks to the manufacturers. Outlawing things creates a binary, especially if there is no gradient. Once one is in the criminal underground, it is literal anarchy. Using market forces rather than the coercive force of the state affects what they want to do which is much more reliable and effective than what they have to do which they won’t do if they can and if they successfully circumvent the rules there are no rules in the undergroud for them to then follow.

Ultimately, our aim should not be to have adults use their phones in immature ways and that kids should not use them at all. The aim should be to make adults who don’t use phones like children or in other stupid ways. The problem is not just kids on social media but adults on there, too. The problems are a bit different but the solution is not very different. Adolescents get anorexia and NPD while adults get anti-vaxx beliefs and also sometimes get anorexia and NPD. In both cases, they waste their lives sitting down and staring at a screen which is physically very unhealthy and they become lethargic, obese, and nearsighted. The kids should be trained to use phones like adults should and the phones that we design for kids should be ones with formal restrictions that will be informal and volunintary ones as adults.

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