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Nov 28, 2023·edited Nov 28, 2023Liked by Zach Rausch

All of humanity seems to be entering the teen years; we need to begin learning, how to “babysit our lower selves”.

As a mom of four kids, (ages, 14 to 24)- the difference in parenting due to technology is astounding and not some thing I signed up for. With the first three kids, by age 14 I typically begin letting go a bit- I’ve done the hard-core parenting, and they can begin making a little mistakes on their own and learning from them -but technology and social media has changed all that. I am still right up there in their hamster ball, trying to keep the phones out of the bedrooms & screens facing their bedroom doors, trying to keep my 13-year-old off of all social media until he’s in high school… It’s just a constant, never ending struggle and in the meantime, I’m trying to keep my husband engaged and off of his phone while doing the same for myself! It’s nonstop lower-self babysitting that just wasn’t present in the 80s. This is a great article that gives me a glimmer of hope. Thank you.

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This is an excellent and much-needed initiative. The open-source document is an impressive, if complex, set of proposals.

One of the challenges with implementation is that the proposals are, in effect, a series of tactical adjustments across a range of practical concerns. It’s as if we have a sinking ship with holes in numerous locations, and we need to plug most of these holes, if not all, to keep ourselves and our children afloat.

Another approach would be to recognize that the ship itself is the problem. The ship is not technology, but the overall context of values that defines what it means to be human. For many of us within the “unMachining” movement, we are dealing not only with a set of practical challenges with how tech is used, but with an underlying worldview that sees human beings as having no parameters, like blank slates, or rather like factory molds that can be shaped however we wish.

Some of us feel this way because we are coming from a spiritual perspective, but the same position can be taken as a materialist. Our minds and bodies are very adaptable, but not endlessly adaptable. They have limits. For instance, there is arguably only so much time that a still-developing human creature (i.e., child or teen) can sit at a screen, sedentary, disconnected from real human beings, from nature, from embodied engagement with physical reality, and remain mentally and physically healthy.

We need all the proposals within the open-source document, and probably more, but we also need a new ship, a new set of understandings about people that prioritize the development of our cognitive, social, and physical capacities in all their native fullness. If we cannot establish something like a common vision here, we may plug some of the holes in the old ship, but the ship may still remain intrinsically leaky and keep sinking.

Still, the proposals and resources you’ve amassed are incredibly helpful. Thank you. The more awareness that’s raised at a grassroots level, the more likely it is that both the practical and underlying philosophical issues will become integrated priorities within a broader public discourse.

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Nov 28, 2023·edited Nov 28, 2023Liked by Zach Rausch

Absolutely superb collaboration that offers concrete avenues to overcoming the digital hydra! My husband Peco and I have been writing along similar lines over the past few months, presenting guideposts to approach the social dilemma at the home front. While changes at the political, legislative, and commercial level are essential, they will take time to implement. Adding pressure from individuals and parents will help to accelerate these changes, attacking the problem from both fronts. In the meantime, providing parents with guidance for actionable, meaningful steps away from digital dependence is urgently needed. My husband and I hope to be able to offer practical, much needed solutions that can aid in solving the social dilemma, and are currently working on a book on "The Making of UnMachine Minds" to aid in this process. Thank you for your excellent work!

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What I love about this essay is that it is oriented towards solutions.

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Nov 28, 2023Liked by Zach Rausch

All your work is very important, thank you.

I’m curious why you focus so much on social media, and not just phones more broadly. They seem to be the real culprit, or at least the crucial element.

I ask because, though I have never and will never use a social media app, I am as addicted to my phone as anyone. (I’m in my 40s).

Perhaps It’s the constant, immediate access, not the content as much?

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Making a law to limit social media access for young people will not alleviate the angst, and despair that so many of them are consumed with. They’re desperate for companionship, and guidance, to help boost their morale and confidence. This can only be achieved by having a mum, or a dad around in the home by setting an example for them. That’s the first step. The second is to lead by example. Parents need to log off when they’re home and be present for their kids. They need you. And, finally, cherish your time with them. They feel it when you’re not really there for them, (this notion of “quality time” is b.s. And they know that). Passing laws is meaningless and won’t have any impact if there isn’t any foundation established in the home. We owe them that.

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Nov 28, 2023Liked by Zach Rausch

This is a superb article reflecting intelligent and thorough-going work on how to address critically needed reform in social media. My megaphone is tiny, so I hope those with bigger voices here will help assure that this article is widely read and shared. Among other things, the “design-based solutions” described in the article are a much smarter way forward than attempts to censor content, which are often arbitrary and unworkable.

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Zach and Jon, I adore your work. You describe brilliantly the problems with social media. AND your proposed solutions will just create more heads on the hydra. There IS a golden sword, but it’s not external solutions like enticing or forcing Meta or TikTok to change their algorithms. The law is not a solution. Your solutions truly are—in your own words—an endless game of whack-a-mole. A thorough paradigm shift is required, not revision or regulation of social media platforms.

The real solution—shock!—is parents, the true gateway for children to social media. The primary reason that children use social media is their profound desire for connection, which they need as much as food or air. More pointedly, children need to feel loved unconditionally, a love that involves no disappointment or anger. But parents didn’t receive that higher-order love themselves as children, so they don’t know how to give it to their children. In the absence of unconditional love, children understandably settle for any kind of attention, and social media eagerly fills the vacuum. Children use their phones and social media to “connect” to every “friend,” acquaintance, corporation, predator, bully, celebrity, salesman, and crazy influencer who can access the internet. These connections are either horrifyingly unhealthy or just empty, but to a child, it feels better than nothing. Jon has proven that social media is a major cause of the declining mental health of young people, so we can’t just stand by while children are immersed in this poison, which Jon compares to “marijuana use and binge drinking.”

The solution is two-pronged and so very simple. First, children do not need phones. They’ve lived without them for thousands of years, and the past 11-12 years have not proven that their net value is positive. Sure, children do sometimes need internet connection—notably for school assignments—but they can do that from a home computer or school computer, where their screens can be seen at all times and their internet history examined. Parents must stop trying to manage phone use and social media, and go straight for removing phones. Millions of children with sensible parents have proven that the policy of no phones actually works, while all the regulations in the world are but feeble obstacles for corporations to dodge.

But simple phone removal is not enough, which brings us to the second element of the solution. We can’t just take away the superficial and harmful connection of phones and social media. Children still yearn for connection, and the obvious and primary answer for that need is parents. Yes, but parents don’t know how to unconditionally love their children, which provides the ultimate connection.

Solution? Teach parents how to unconditionally love their children. And the course material has already been created. Visit the free websites RealLoveParents.com and RealLove.com and learn how to find unconditional love and share it with your children.

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I think many of the proposed laws miss the biggest danger, and we need to pay attention to it. The biggest danger is that the internet is influencing our thinking, and more importantly the thinking of vulnerable children, to a very large degree.

As a parent 5+ years ago I believed the biggest dangers to my children from the internet were possible exposure to porn or other inappropriate materials, sharing personal information that might lead to them being stalked or contacted, or communicating with strangers who might convince them to share photos or make plans to meet in real life. I had some lesser concerns about comparing themselves to others or being subject to online bullying or mocking, but overall I thought my kids were smart and sensible enough to avoid trouble. Brainwashing by online communities using cult-like tactics was not on my radar.

After watching my teenager suffer a complete mental breakdown, which 4 years later she's still largely in the throes of and may never fully recover from, I want to warn others.

In my opinion, the root problem is propaganda, and censorship of any opposing views. A culture has sprung up in corners of the internet frequented by Gen Z (Tumblr, most of Reddit, much of Tik Tok, and many private Discord communities) that goes against everything that most adults over 30 would consider positive values - it is anti-work, anti-capitalism, anti-merit, anti-logic, anti-critical thinking, anti-family, glorifying criminal activity, glorifying substance abuse, glorifying mental illness and encouraging people to adopt thought patterns and behaviors that are bad for mental health, discouraging goal setting, hard work, success of any sort, responsibility, or persistence, extreme identity politics where teens get shamed for simply existing in the body they were born in and encouraged to reduce themselves to a set of labels, and no dissenting opinions whatsoever are tolerated. The platforms themselves enforce these extreme world views. Even people who consider themselves quite progressive would likely be shocked if they witnessed the extreme points of view that are being pushed on these platforms and the degree of censorship of thought that takes place. The tactics used are sophisticated brainwashing techniques reminiscent of those used by governments to control populations.

I don't believe more censorship is the answer - less is. When a platform feeds an impressionable young mind a steady diet of only one point of view, giving the impression that everyone thinks this way, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The nature of teenagers is that if they believe everyone thinks a certain way, everyone will actually start to think that way. (This is also the nature of adults but to a lesser degree). But if they are exposed to a variety of views, and allowed to read views refuting these extremist points of view, they'll develop critical thinking skills and learn to judge for themselves and develop their own opinions.

I do believe some other tactics are needed - limits on the amount of time spent online, generation of more positive content to counter some of the negative content (although we have to be very careful about who is allowed to determine what is "positive" and "negative" and ensure there are checks and balances), getting to the bottom of who is pushing some of these extremist ideas and who benefits from influencing the thinking and self-image of an entire generation.

Bottom line - the biggest danger to kids isn't that they'll use selfie filters and unhealthily compare their appearance to others, or that they'll be stalked by creeps (which is scary, but unlikely). It's that they'll be sucked into a negative online culture that will destroy their self-image, their motivation to act in their own interests, and turn them into a shell of the person they used to be.

Any proposal for improving online safety that doesn't address this issue is like closing the front door of the house while ignoring the fact that the house itself is on fire.

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I wrote a response to this: https://deanrossiter.substack.com/p/re-solving-the-social-dilemma-many

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Forgive me if you’ve addressed this somewhere already, but have you challenged the business model itself that creates the dangerous incentives in the first place? A “free-to-play” Advertising-based revenue model always incentives people to Click by any means necessary. We see this problem as well with Cable News networks.

Instead of considering what’s in the best interests of users, the focus is on what’s in the best interest of advertisers in spite of the users.

What is your take on this problem?

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One aspect of social media that is not discussed often enough is how it has become a requirement in certain professions. I loathe social media. At one point, I had deleted all Twitter, Insta, Facebook, etc and didnt miss it. I felt as though a weight had been lifted. However, I quickly found out the hard way that I was severely disadvantaging myself professionally. I'm a chef, and a damn good one, but almost all marketing for the hospitality industry these days, be it for businesses or individuals, is done through social media. Most listings for high level chef positions ask for links to social media. I am consistently asked for professional quality photos of my food or for "headshots" of myself for use in social media marketing. I am often asked if I can make a dish more "instagrammable" to make it sell more. I wanted to do a pop up dinner with a guest chef that I deeply respect recently and was told to "find someone else with a bigger following." At the risk of sounding like an old man yelling at a cloud, no one seems to care if your food actually tastes good these days.

This is yet another dynamic that seems to also fall into the category of "collective action problem." If I, as an individual, choose to opt out of social media, I am screwing my career. However if a critical mass of chefs opt out, the industry overall would have to adjust and we would get to go back to focusing on food again.

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It is telling that none of the tech titan's kids use social media. I think the fix is going to be much more drains up than this. The tech companies need dissassembling -a bit like the big 4 accounting firms who got split into audit and advisory. They (similarly)operate a cartel over the tech and the content so split the 2 apart and place the content under different oversight with massive transparency in real time Red/Orange/Green on how they are performing on different indicators (of 'dangerous' activity). They then get remunerated on being in the green only. AI can do this unaided but under oversight.Also no soc media till 18-which with different oversight will be easier.

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Thank you for developing and sharing this - it's so essential, and calls out exactly why we haven't seen these issues addressed yet. It's also coming at the right time when there is significant individual interest in this, and with the general public often supportive of these policies -- protecting the individual.

It also seems like a lot of these policies may be equally effective in dealing with the misinformation crisis as well. For example -- limiting likes/favourites (as one idea poses) would similarly reduce the propagation of "hate" and bullying content, the same as it could for false information or faulty claims. Of course, this penalises free speech. But the case can be made that the individual can still speak - posting independently their thoughts, aspirations and so on instead of single-click alignment to an ideology. It'd increase the onus on each of us to create and (hopefully) think critically, instead of just "liking" and quickly aligning to a proposed idea.

It's clearly a complex topic requiring tons of expertise from philosophers, psychologists, tech folks... practically ever domain. I hope to see some of these come to fruition soon.

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Remember when the phones were flip and music was the way of life?

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I believe the field of climate change policy provides an excellent solution that will outperform prescriptive efforts significantly both in speed and effect

It is commonly stated by economists that an ideal carbon tax is from 50% to twice as effective in reducing CO2 than whatever politicians will come up with by trial and error

A huge revenue neutral tax shift should be applied to social media based on their relative pro-social characteristics. Their algorithms are very effective at achieving their strongest incentive. All we have to do is divert that power to fulfill the incentive of a revenue neutral tax that taxes from the worst performing platforms and shifts that revenue to the best. Not just road blocking the problem, this would also unleash the algorithms towards intentional pro-social optimums

Along with annual reports to users on the performance of the platform relative to competitors and special support to new platforms with especially pro-social characteristics this will be more comprehensive more quickly than any set of prescriptive policies

Finally a mechanism that enables porting your account, its followers and the accounts you are following to a different platform will enable more intense competition towards the newly established incentive. Twitter has already created a version of this where users' networks can be recreated with email addresses on another platform

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