Commentary

Will Smartphones Get Warning Labels?

I’m a non-smoking libertarian.

That is, I prize autonomy and freedom of choice, but I also know I never would have kicked the habit without pressure from then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and my future wife. Together, their anti-smoking policies set me straight, and saved me from a world of hurt.  

Like a lot of people, therefore, I’m conflicted about mounting pressure to regulate mobile use.

Take a group of psychologists and computer scientists in the UK who are now calling for phone makers to attach warning labels to devices.

These scientists argue that mobile gadgets are turning people into digital addicts. “Excessive and obsessive usage and preoccupation about technology are associated with undesirable behaviors such as reduced creativity, depression and disconnection from reality," Dr. Raian Ali, a professor of computing at the University of Bournemouth, said in a statement.

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In the category of undesirable behavior, we should also add the scourge of distracted driving, which is costing thousands of lives a year in the U.S. alone.

The numbers are definitely scary. According to the second annual report on Consumer Mobility from the Bank of America and Flurry Analytics, U.S. consumers are perpetually plugged-in. Indeed, 71% of those surveyed actually sleep with their smartphones.

Mobile Addicts, consumers who launch applications 60 times or more per day, are growing at the fastest rate, from 176 million in the second quarter of 2014 to a whopping 280 million in the second quarter of 2015 -- a 59% increase.

Of course, the industry isn’t helping. On the contrary, top platforms, publishers, and marketers are investing billions of dollars to increase usage numbers and “engagement” rates. At least in the short term, it would be in their collective best interest to glue a virtual reality headset to every consumer’s head, and, in true "Clockwork Orange" fashion, pump them full of content 24 hours a day.

Mark Zuckerberg probably wouldn’t paint that exact picture, but (following the release of Facebook's Oculus Rift VR headset, early next year) such a scenario would do wonders for the company's stock price.

So we know the industry isn’t going to regulate itself, and -- given my personal experience -- I don’t have much faith in the powers of self regulation.

Betraying my libertarian leanings, therefore, I think it may require an independent regulatory body to save us from our mobile-obsessed selves.

This column was previously published in
 Moblog on October 9, 2015.

1 comment about "Will Smartphones Get Warning Labels?".
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  1. laura buege from at&t, October 14, 2015 at 11:44 a.m.

    I believe the phenomena is simply a transition from Web browsing/TV watching into smartphone use. Nobody put a warning label on TVs for people who spent their entire 6 hour evenings or weekends sitting in front of a TV - why would anyone do it for portable devices?

    Device use while driving is an entirely different issue and it represents people who are foolish. There's no warning for fools.

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