Stanford students call on public to unplug

At Apple store protest, student group aims to raise awareness of device addiction

Stanford Students Against Addictive Devices spoke out against device addiction during a protest outside the University Avenue Apple store in downtown Palo Alto on March 3, 2018. Photo by Marley Arechiga.

Stanford Students Against Addictive Devices held a protest Saturday at the Apple store on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto, with the aim of raising awareness of "device addiction." The student group formed two months ago after the founders realized they had several friends who could be more engaged with one another in social situations.

The founders of the group, Sabri Eyuboglu, Sanjay Kannan, Cameron Ramos and Divya Gupta, appeared for the protest, with a steady stream of friends and supporters joining them throughout the afternoon. The group spoke with several passersby and Apple customers, and received several honks by passing cars in response to their "Honk if you're addicted to your iPhone" sign.

"It's sad to see that kids aren't playing outside anymore," said Bernadette Hsing, a Fremont resident. "I heard one man (tell the students) to just use self-discipline but what if you don't have self-discipline or if you're a child?"

A pamphlet from the group cites a 2016 Common Sense Media poll that found that 69 percent of adults check their iPhone hourly and 50 percent of teens feel addicted to their iPhones.

The student group's definition of "device addiction" closely resembles that of "internet addiction" outlined in a 2008 paper by University of Iowa psychologists Martha Shaw and Donald W. Black which states that "internet addiction is characterized by excessive or poorly controlled preoccupations, urges or behaviors regarding computer use and internet access that lead to impairment or distress."

"We also think that it is important not to conflate device addiction with other forms of addiction," Eyuboglu said. He added that by using the word "addiction," the group is not implying that cellphone addiction matches other addiction crises in scale or severity.

The group contends that Apple is uniquely suited to address this issue given its ubiquity and because Apple has pioneered many of the features that people come to expect on cellphones today.

According to Kannan, it is also not necessarily in Apple's business interest to keep users hooked on their devices -- unlike Facebook, which relies on customers to continuously use their networking services. Apple's iPhone is a viable product whether a user is on for a few minutes a day or many hours.

The group believes that Apple can take three actions that will help curb the impact of device addiction: giving users the ability to track their cellphone usage, more control over what notifications they want to receive and creating an "essential mode," (akin to "airplane mode") wherein users can select access only to "essential" functions such as phone calls, texts and maps.

The student group is not alone in their pleas to Apple to take a more active role in curbing the overuse of smartphones. In January, Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, which collectively own approximately $2 billion worth of shares in Apple Inc., published an open letter asking the tech giant "to offer parents more choices and tools to help them ensure that young consumers are using (Apple's) products in an optimal manner."

The letter cites multiple studies that link increased cellphone use to higher risks of sleep deprivation, depression and lack of empathy in children and adolescents.

According to the student group, iPhone and other smartphone users can request these features directly with their cellphone makers by voicing their concerns through feedback forms. They can also make their cellphones less addictive now by monitoring their usage, turning off notifications and changing their screen display to grayscale to minimize dopamine hits.

The Stanford student group has also attracted fellow undergraduates at other top universities to raise awareness about device addiction, with one student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showing interest in starting a chapter of the group at that campus, according to Kannan.

Last week, the group also paid a visit to Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, where the students spoke with employees as they were leaving the building after work hours. They received positive engagement from the employees – some even agreed with their message – and were invited to return in September, when Apple employees spend two weeks to work on an annual project of their choice and may be able to pursue the issue more actively, Kannan said.

"At the end of the day what's going to drive Apple to change is what their customers want. It would be great to talk with someone in the decision-making (division) at Apple but if change is going to come, it's going to come from their customers," Eyuboglu said.


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24 people like this
Posted by turn off the phone when driving
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 4, 2018 at 1:17 pm

Very scary that people that are addicted to their phones are driving cars. I don't care if you use your phone at home, but please turn it off when you start your car. Thank you.

10 people like this
Posted by Good work
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 4, 2018 at 5:48 pm

Great to see young people taking action for our health and well-being.

When I see people looking at their phones while crossing the street in traffic, I wonder about their mental health.

3 people like this
Posted by Student mukti-taskers
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 4, 2018 at 6:45 pm

I remember articles about college professors scientifcslly noting college students, including Stanford undergrads - were wildly incorrect as they asserted they could certainly mukti-task during class lectures. They were incorrect; their cell texting and social media use were found to be valid distractions. Not to mention, disrespectful to those giving the lectures...
We all know young people are the ones walking the sidewalks while texting. Not all of us in the general oublic are so stupid.

13 people like this
Posted by You can't help it
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Mar 4, 2018 at 7:19 pm

It has been engineered to addict you and of course it has. Denial is a huge symptom, but know you can't be without it without getting all sketched out.
I never have owned one and I've CLEARLY seen the change from anyone around me who got their first over the past 20 years. It is not age dependent either, it's millions and millions of R&D $ spent with the precise intent to make sure you become addicted.

Acceptance is the first step towards healing your addiction. It's not your fault, it's simple science, programs to hit the brain in just the right places. You were helpless once you begun, as long as you had a normal human brain.
Some parents let their kids have them now. ouch.

10 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 5, 2018 at 8:43 am

The cell phone is the new babysitter for the Millennial Moms. The addiction starts very young.

Like this comment
Posted by lms
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:01 am

Live music (with acoustic instruments) is a step in the right direction.

20 people like this
Posted by bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:06 am

I love this. My 3 yr old and I were crossing Cal Ave at Park Blvd to head into MOllie Stone's the other day. We were halfway through the crosswalk when a man who was looking down at his phone drove straight through the stop sign without pausing. We had to jump back and I yelled so loud. Jerkface almost hit us. I was so pissed. I was alert enough to make eye contact (which he couldn't) and always hold my kids hands because of this. I wish cellphones were disabled in cars.

6 people like this
Posted by DT North
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:23 am

It would be nice if Apple incorporated better parental controls. I'm sure we all would be in favor of easier time-limit setting. The cell services have apps to control data usage but the app doesn't work/count the time if they're on wifi. I cannot believe that with all those smart people at Apple they can't easily incorporate that into their next iOS update. Would love to know why they don't do it.

3 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:23 am

Annette is a registered user.

Somebody smart like one of the Musk Brothers should be able to develop technology that can be added to any car that will not allow a driver's cell phone to function while a car is operating. Think of the lives that could save. C'mon Elon and Kimbal, help us out here!

Note to DMV and Insurers: once this technology is available, anyone who adds it should get a break on their registration and insurance costs.

4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 5, 2018 at 11:28 am

Wow. I would not have heard about this if I weren't addicted to my device. I hope they schedule a Webinar. I'll check back every hour for updates.

5 people like this
Posted by Liz
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Since Friday, March 2 El Carmelo Elementary School is celebrating for the first time ever, “El Carmelo Unplugged”. The kick off included a Coffee with the Principal led by their Site Council, a Stanford a Wellnness coach, parents and a Cassy Bay Area counselor. The campus wide event is including students, staff, facaulty and families to celebrate in National Day of Unplugging March 9-10 with Unplugged activities and classroom education - taking place all week at the school. Please like the Facebook page Palo Alto Parents Unplugged and visit national day

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:19 pm

On two separate occasions recently I was out to lunch/brunch with friends and each time I was seated at a table next to a table with a family of 2 parents and 2 children. In each case, the parents were the ones on their phones much more than the children. In one case one child had a phone and the other was leaning over watching and the other one child had a tablet from the parent while the other had a phone. During the meal the only time we noticed the family talking was when they had to order or when the food came. On each occasion my friends and I commented as we left the restaurant about the family, so it wasn't just me who noticed.

I also notice often that parents have given a phone to a toddler sitting in a grocery cart to amuse them while shopping, or similar types of situations.

Kids are learning their addictions from their parents. Parents give toddlers their phone to amuse them when shopping (instead of talking about the things they see as they walk around the store) or use their phones at the table instead of interacting with the children. It is no surprise then when children and teens are doing the same - they have been taught that it is acceptable from their parents habits.

3 people like this
Posted by Ned Ludd
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2018 at 3:28 pm

In other news, it has been 239 years since Ned Ludd broke some machines in an apparent attempt to stop progress. Progress did not stop and has brought us semartphones.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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