In this episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast, I interview Gaia Bernstein. She is a law professor, Co-Director of the Institute for Privacy Protection, and Co-Director of the Gibbons Institute for Law Science and Technology at the Seton Hall University School of Law. She writes, teaches, and lectures at the intersection of law, technology, health, and privacy.
Her forthcoming book, Unwired: Gaining Control Over Addictive Technologies shatters the illusion that we can control how much time we spend on our screens by resorting to self-help measures.
Our society has a technology problem because of how addictive it is, causing mental health issues for its users, especially children and young adults. The tech industry is manipulating us to spend much more time connected than we intended, while they are making money by harvesting our data and our time. Gaia compares the tobacco industry and tech companies, and how they use similar strategies and addictive measures to keep their customers engaged. She suggests that regulations should be applied to regain control, protect users and prevent addiction.
Questions I ask Gaia Bernstein:
- [00:52] There are many books talking about how we need to be unwired, what are you kind of hoping to add to that collection of warning books?
- [02:48] The book’s first part is about the idea of taking back control. Do we first have to understand that before applying any kind of measures?
- [04:48] Is there something evil going on here?
- [05:45] Is it intentional manipulation?
- [06:40] So there are some suggestions that some of the current state of mental health in certain countries, the state of political environments, and the state of cultural and social changes can be linked to these new norms. Would you suggest that there’s something to that?
- [08:25] People aren’t aware of some of the addictive behaviors around online gaming, I think particularly it would be pretty alarming, wouldn’t it?
- [11:56] You make some parallels to the tobacco industry, which was found to do everything they could to make their product more addictive and this brought some regulations. Are you suggesting that that’s where we’re headed here?
- [16:50] Are there other countries that have embraced these changes or measures and are really running down the track pretty quickly on reigning this in?
- [19:18] At what point does private enterprise get overregulated?
- [20:34] Who is in charge of making this changes happen?
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(00:52): Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Gaia Bernstein. She is a law professor, co-director of the Institute for Privacy Protection and co-director of the Gibbons Institute for Law, Science and Technology at the Seton Hall University School of Law. She writes, teaches and lectures at the intersection of law, technology, health, and privacy. Her forthcoming book, Unwired: Gaining Control Over Addictive Technologies shatters the illusion that we can control how much time we spend on our screens by resorting to self-help measures. So, Gaia, that was a mouthful, but welcome to the show.
Gaia Bernstein (01:35): Thank you for having me.
John Jantsch (01:37): So let's get right into the, there. There are some very interesting, scary,
Gaia Bernstein (02:06): Yeah, that's a great question. Most of the books, I think practically all books written so far were written by psychologists or right marketing experts and people who were looking at a problem, and many of them agreed that there was an issue, but they were looking at self-help measures. How can we help ourselves? In the extreme case, they would talk about therapy, but I'm coming from a different direction. I'm look saying basically we have been trying this for years. We try our screen time. She just keeps going up. Yeah. And we are blaming ourselves instead of looking at other solutions.
John Jantsch (02:48): So yeah, so as an example, I remember one of the books was talking about like removing all the apps from your phone and you know, things like that. Right. So it was just kind of doing all these measures to take back control. But I think the whole first part of the book is about this idea of it's an illusion, this control. So do we first have to understand that before any kind of measures
Gaia Bernstein (03:12): Yes, definitely. I basically, we now know we spent tons of time online. That's no surprise to anybody at this point, but when we got into this, we did not realize that we are going to end up spending more. So much time. We thought we were just adopt, adopting, you know, an app or we're going to start texting on the go. So it was small decisions. We didn't realize that once we start using them, tech industry is manipulating us to spend much more time than we intended. So we were under the illusion, we were making all the choices. One fact we were not, and by the time we got it, it was a bit too late because our life was completely entangled in screens.
John Jantsch (03:54): Yeah. I wonder, I know somewhere in the book, and there's obviously lots of research on this, in fact, there's apps to track this, how much time we actually spend, say, on mobile devices and things. And I would bet money that most people greatly underestimate how much time they actually are on the devices.
Gaia Bernstein (04:12): I think people do underestimate, I still underestimate myself. I'm shocked every week to find out how much time I spend on my phone. The, although I think that the problem is that these apps are part of the illusion here. Yeah. Because we get notifications of how much time we spend on our phone, and the idea is that now if we know we're going to do better
John Jantsch (04:46): So let's just start with this premise. Is there something evil going on here?
Gaia Bernstein (04:52): I think we, for the last few years, we've gotten a lot of information from the tech industry, from whistleblowers. People like Tristan Harris. Francis Hogan basically showed that companies like Facebook and other online companies, and they basically know that there are addicting users to spend more time online. They're hired psychologists to do that. And when they realize how it's affects kids, for example, how Instagram affects especially girls and how, and they still decided they're just going to ignore it because the whole business model is based on having users spend more time on screen.
John Jantsch (05:31): Right, right. Yeah. It's amazing the notices you get now, it's like, so and so just posted. I was like, I don't even know who that person is,
Gaia Bernstein (05:58): It's definitely intentional manipulation. It's basically you, we get most of our products for free. Yeah. And we get Gmail for free. We get Facebook for free. These companies, the, this business model has been in effect for, since the beginning of the internet. Basically they make money by harvesting our data and our time. And there's not been enough attention to the time part of this much more attention to the privacy issue. But basically we have to stay on line for as long as possible so they can collect more data on us and then so they can target more advertising in us. So they basically, they create designs to make sure that their business model works.
John Jantsch (06:40): Yeah. So, so there have been some, I was gonna say hints, but they're far more
Gaia Bernstein (07:08): I think for the last two and three years, we've had a lot of data coming out. If we're talking about kids, I think it's pretty clear there's a public health crisis of kids mental health issues related to addiction impact and cognitive development. And there's also a lot of research about adults, how it affects their wellbeing. Mm-hmm.
John Jantsch (07:50): So you mentioned kids, um, in, in particular, and I never really got into the online gaming thing, just, it just never appealed to me. And so I'm really not as aware of that. But I've read some articles recently that, that talk about the addiction of, particularly of online gaming. I mean 10, 12 hour days, you know, spent
Gaia Bernstein (08:33): I think with online gaming, we see, I would say, but the studies vary, but one to 9% of the gamers are concerned to be clinically addicted. Mm-hmm.
John Jantsch (09:19): Yeah. So, so is it, are we talking about something that will be, you know, it will not, the true sort of ends will not reveal themselves for 20 years and at that point will have societal crisis?
Gaia Bernstein (09:33): I think the what's happening is already revealing itself. I basically, I believe teachers are noticing what the kids are different than they used to be. Especially after spending the pandemic in front of screens. They have trouble paying attention. We can see kids are behaving differently. They're looking at screens, they're not talking to each other. The data shows are staying at home more. They're not going to parties, they're not meeting up with each other. So, and then you have all the data about mental health, the mm-hmm
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(11:56): So you make some parallels that, you know, at first I was like, why are we talking about cigarettes? But you kind of draw some parallels to the tobacco industry, which was, was found to, you know, do everything they could to make these things that they sell more addictive. And consequently, a lot of litigation, a lot of, you know, things happen that I don't really know what the state of that industry is, but certainly some regulation, pretty heavy regulation came. Are you suggesting that that's where we're headed here? I mean that at some point somebody's gonna be able to sue one of these online gaming companies because they are making the games too addictive.
Gaia Bernstein (12:36): So basically it's already happening. Part of what I show in the book, I draw the parallels because I think there's a very similar strategy going on of basically cigarette companies blamed people for smoking saying it's not responsible. Our responsibility, you're choosing to smoke, right? Same thing is happening with tech. And the same strategies, legal strategies are taking place. So we already have a lot of parents suing games. There's a very famous loss going on Quebec now suing Fortnite for being addictive as cocaine. They're, for the last year, there have been multiple parents actually youth class actions suing social networks for addicting kids and affecting their mental health. And I think most interesting, a very interesting parallel to the cigarette companies, we're now seeing school systems suing social networks for addicting kids because they have to pay for the cost of the kids mental health. That's exactly what happened with the cigarette companies when states started suing cigarette companies because they had to pay for the health cost of smokers.
John Jantsch (13:43): So while people are maybe taking that tack, do you see that is really gonna, will that end up being able to influence? Yes. So they get fined, they pay a lot of money, they're still selling cigarettes. Right? So
Gaia Bernstein (14:04): So first of all, I think things have changed with smoking. I think far, of course we have e-cigarettes, which is a different story, but smoking has gone down significantly since the first studies came up in the 1950s and regulations started sixties, 1970s and lawsuits. So, but the thing is, it's not as no magic pill. It's not as though, you know, there's gonna be one Supreme court case. There's going to change all of this. Right. This is not going to happen. Yeah. So basically what we are going to see is what happened with cigarettes. There were multiple actions, class actions, legislations, advertising warnings, all of this happened and things changed over time. This is, we're already seeing this happening now. And that's, I predict what we are going to see here. We also have like, I would say the Achiles heel of the personal responsibility argument and kids are so affected and we saw basically where kids are concerned, it's much easier to regulate because it's hard. It's harder to argue that kids are making choices, that they're responsible. Right. So I think regulation to protect children is where things are going to start shifting for all of us, not just for children.
John Jantsch (15:14): So, so you'll have to prove that you are over 18 or something before you can log into a game or it will come with a warning that says this could cause cancer. I mean, are we talking about similar, similar types of measures?
Gaia Bernstein (15:28): So one of the things I am recommending in the book, I think for example, parents bought their kids Minecraft as an educational game and it's been declared as one of their most addictive games in all times. I'm sure these parents would've loved to know before they downloaded the game, what's the level of addictiveness. I think if you had some kind of warning, then this would prevent parents from downloading what also might affect game companies to think before they put these addictive measures in there. So I think that's definitely one thing that, that we are likely to see the issue of age. Well I think there are all kinds of bills trying to restrict if in Utah something's just passed to restrict the age of kids. This has been happening in other countries as well. But, so it's complicated because you need to be able to au authenticate the age and Right, right, right. You and kids are very smart technologically. It's not, I'm not saying it's easy, but we might see that having kids cannot buy cigarettes until they're 21. Now, when I was a kid I could just walk, get my parents cigarettes. Nobody said a word.
John Jantsch (16:31): Well, remember we had the machines, you know, right. That, that nobody was checking. Is this some, do you find that, you know, Americans are notoriously whether we actually are free or not
Gaia Bernstein (16:58): So there are southeast countries in Southeast Asia have been worried about gaming for over a decade and now more about social and networks. So there's, of course China, China is a bit of a difficult example because it's China. So the totalitarian regime, we don't think that we should be copying their laws. They've experimented with lots of systems. One system they're experimenting with is not actually, they've implemented it already. It's a sh basically restricts how much time kids can spend on social networks. 40 minutes a day on the Chinese TikTok equivalent. And there's also a limit to how much time they can play games per week. Now it's interesting because now basically TikTok is trying to restrict kids' time in the US They've already been doing it in China for a while. So we are seeing this, but it's not just China. I think Japan is doing the same thing. And other countries like Thailand, South Korea have experimented with different methods. So I think it's important to look there and see what their experience was, what worked, what didn't work. They've tried some methods they decided not work well. Yeah, they used to like, like, you know, getting kids off games at midnight. It was, kids were going crazy when they had to get off at midnight. So I think we should look at the whole spectrum of options and learn because we've not been thinking about it for long enough.
John Jantsch (18:18): So as somebody who spends a little time on privacy issues, you know, where does it fall in that line? I mean if, let's just call it the government.
Gaia Bernstein (18:36): So there are concern of some privacy advocates who are concerned about the idea of getting people's age and the identification part of it. So there are issues. The thing is where I, as somebody who writes about privacy as well, I think there's a strong privacy ad argument for that because the whole business model is based on data and time, as I said. Mm-hmm
John Jantsch (19:13): Maybe I'm asking the same question, but again, you know, at what point does private enterprise, you know, get overregulated because you know, because the, you know, the ends justify the means.
Gaia Bernstein (19:33): So the question is, I think the big question is how harmful you think a product is, right? Because when we think something is very harmful, we do not have a problem regulating it. Right? So the, but the thing is, even with cigarettes, which we know are vial, we know they cause lung cancer death, it took, the first studies came out in the fifties, only in 1964. The certain general announced it was harmful and then people started slowly to regulate. So the thing is, the big thing is to end the science war and to decide how harmful we think it is. I think for kids it's definitely very harmful for adults. It's not doing, it's not so great either. So if you think something's harmful, you regulate to protect people. It's a bit like the seat belt when you think about it. Mm-hmm.
John Jantsch (20:31): Yeah. Yes. We don't even think about it anymore. You get in the car and put it on. So, so who's in charge of making this happen? Is it, you know, legislators? Is it medical communities?
Gaia Bernstein (20:45): I think it's a move. First of all, it's a movement. It's already taking place. So I think it has different parts and part of it is legislatures, part of it is lawyers. I think parents are taking an important role here. Mm-hmm.
John Jantsch (22:09): It's funny, when my kids were little, it was the warning from the pediatrician was don't let 'em watch too much TV. But now nobody watches TV anymore. Right.
Gaia Bernstein (22:18): I beg my kids to watch tv.
John Jantsch (22:20):
Gaia Bernstein (22:32): So gaiabernstein.com is my website and they could also find a book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, anywhere they buy the books.
John Jantsch (22:40): Awesome. Yeah. Awesome. Well, again, thank you for taking the time and hopefully we'll run into you one of these days out there on the road.
Gaia Bernstein (22:45): Thank you so much for having me.
John Jantsch (22:47): Hey, and one final thing before you go. You know how I talk about marketing strategy, strategy before tactics? Well, sometimes it can be hard to understand where you stand in that, what needs to be done with regard to creating a marketing strategy. So we created a free tool for you. It's called the Marketing Strategy Assessment. You can find it @marketingassessment.co not.com. Co. check out our free marketing assessment and learn where you are with your strategy today. That's just marketing assessment.co. I'd love to chat with you about the results that you get.
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