We’ve fallen out of love with Silicon Valley’s creations, as smartphones and social media have us chasing “another dopamine hit”


Last year was Apple’s triumphant 10th anniversary of the iPhone’s launch. The device that ushered in our smartphone era and truly made the internet mobile was glorified for what it has done for us.

It seems, with almost indecent haste, that by January of the following year Apple and its iPhone are no longer the media darlings they have always been but the new villains in our over-connected world.

Apple did itself no favours after its practise of slowing down older model handsets was revealed late last year, prompting numerous class-action suits in the litigious United States. Whoever thought such a foolhardy move would not become public knowledge?

Apple has been criticised for any number of sins, real or imagined, no doubt inflamed by the haughty arrogance that characterised the Steve Jobs years. But this was an active attempt at making its own products inferior – no matter what justifications it offers for preserving battery performance. No one is buying Apple’s flawed logic. It was a needless own goal.

It’s the latest scandal to befall Silicon Valley and its creations. 2017 was the year we all fell out of love with social media, which has been weaponised by trolling, misogyny, intolerance, legions of bots (for software robots) and used to disseminate propaganda by Russian trolls and the Gupta’s evil Bell Pottinger.

At the same time, the halo slipped from Silicon Valley’s shining example of innovation culture as story after story of sexual harassment, a misogynistic bro-culture and endless examples of bad behaviour emerged. This was personified by its most valued startup, as scandal-hit Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to resign.

Silicon Valley stopped looking like the most innovative place in the world and more and more like the rest of it: where men in powerful positions took advantage of women who weren’t; be it engineers at Google or startup entrepreneurs being preyed on by venture capitalists. Only Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace was faster.

But by new year, Apple was facing another, more thorny problem. First, two of its investors – Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (Calstrs) – who control about $2bn of Apple stock wrote an open letter to the iPhone maker calling on it to develop software tools for parental control and find ways to stop children’s obsession with their phones.

Then, the man who co-created the iPhone and its iPod predecessor, Tony Fadell, went on a Twitter rant about how our electronic gadgets and social media give us “another dopamine hit” and why the big firms need to work on saving us from our “digital addictions”.

“Apple Watches, Google Phones, Facebook, Twitter – they’ve gotten so good at getting us to go for another click, another dopamine hit. They now have a responsibility & need to start helping us track & manage our digital addictions across all usages – phone, laptop, TV etc,” Fadell tweeted.

This comes as research increasingly finds links between our obsessive use of them and mental health problems, including depression, in children.

Apple, as the creator of the original smartphone, is the lightning rods for these concerns, perhaps unfairly, but as Fadell added: “Adults are addicts – not only kids… [and]Google needs to help”.

From an online nirvana that is always with us through our mobiles, we’ve discovered we’re really living in a Fomo-driven nightmare where our children are most susceptible to the disastrous effects.

Sadly this is the world we have created.

This column first appeared in Financial Mail


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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