Social Unhappiness, Disruption, and the Crime Explosions

March 9, 2023

Note: No smart software on earth writes like a dinobaby channeling his inner Jonathan Swift.

The mobile phones are responsible for: [a] fights on Carnival Cruise ships, [b] teens killing themselves, [c] stupid committee decisions that make the camel analogy comparatively harmless, and [d] an efflorescence of cyber crime.

How do I know this?

I read an essay called “Honestly, It’s Probably the Phones.” I admit I took the main argument of the essay and extended it. That argument proved stretchy, and I think the write up is on to something.

I noted this passage:

The first reason smartphones should be our prior is that the timing just lines up really well. The smartphone was invented in 2007, but it didn’t really become commonplace until the 2010s, exactly when teen happiness fell off a cliff…. First, they’re a distraction — the rise of smartphones was also the rise of “phubbing”, i.e. when people go on their phones instead of paying attention to the people around them. Second, phones provide a behavioral “nudge”, like a pantry stocked with junk food — when your phone is right there in your pocket, it’s easier to just text a friend instead of going and hanging out, even if the latter would be less fulfilling. And third, in-person interaction is a network effect. If 20% of people would rather be on their phones, that reduces everyone else’s options for in-person hangouts by 20%.

Okay, I am sold.

I want to shift gears and switch to a write up which purports to present facts. For the purposes of this blog post, I want to assume that the information in The US Sun (an estimable news source) article “Google Issues Six Major Alerts to Billions – You Face Bank Wipeout If You Ignore Them” is correct.

The article identifies a lottery scam, a tech support scam, fake jobs and invoices scams, Google account recovery scams, gift card scams, and blackmail and extortion scams. The idea seems to be that Google has created a massive ecosystem of crime. With most Google interactions taking place on mobile phones, it seems as if Google and its fellow traveler Apple are making clear that more than teen self-harm is a consequence of these gizmos.

Now what’s the fix? Perhaps a variation of “first, let’s kill all the lawyers” is a step too far. What about a driver’s license approach? No mobile and no phone until one reaches a certain age? What about a variation of the ever popular Chinese social credit system? Trouble in high school? No mobile for you.

I prefer that parents and guardians play a major role. I think smart software might be worth considering as a method for filtering to certain demographics some content. Why not ask the Dilbert cartoonist for some ideas.

I would suggest that the confluence of mobile phones and outfits like Google may have been like a lab experiment gone wrong. A clueless high school student (not in the science club, of course) mixes two apparently harmless household substances and makes the entire class sick. How does that get fixed? The answer, “Not easily.”

Stephen E Arnold, March 9, 2023


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