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.