IT’S BECOME COMMONPLACE. You’re at a coffee shop or restaurant and four people, they could be friends or a family unit, come in, sit down and prepare to place their orders. What a great opportunity for quality face-to-face bonding, but then, it happens. 

All four people pull out their smartphones and spend the next 45 minutes staring at their screens; no conversation, no interaction, no eye contact. In fact, two of the four friends seem to converse via their phones.

Tristan Harris, 34, a former product designer and ethicist at Google, is on a mission to warn people that technology is having a broader, more corrosive effect on society than most realize.

Technology hasn’t just hacked the attention of users, but it is having negative effects on their self-esteem through the obsession with likes and followers, and their self-will through features like autoplay on YouTube and Netflix that feeds videos continuously.

Not only is technology already at the root of polarization and fake news, but Harris predicted the misuse of facial-recognition technology will soon further undermine trust and affect the 2020 general elections.

Social media is addicting people. Harris asked “Are young people waking up and saying to themselves ‘I want to create a culture where we take pictures of ourselves all day?’ ” He warned that as we’ve been upgrading machines, we’ve been down-grading humanity.

If people don’t get a call or text on their devise every 10 minutes they wonder if their battery is dead. Their feelings are hurt and they have an anxiety attack.

Many of the design elements that he argued against have been crucial for the industry’s growth and a central part of the advertising model that drives many billions in revenue. The big companies are controlling billions of minds every day through features designed to attract and keep users’ attention.

Marc Benioff, co-CEO of, which has a 40,000-person workforce, said social media should be regulated like tobacco. He said users need a better understanding of how tech works on the human brain so they can make products that strengthen society instead of pulling it apart.

If you think the 2016 general elections were manipulated by social media, it will be substantially worse in 2020. The fact is, your “can’t live without it” devices are taking control of your brain. Try doing without them for a few days.

We have to go from being really sophisticated about technology to really sophisticated about human behavior,  said Harris. Failure to do so has serious consequences. Many people fear it is already too late. We need face-to-face interaction.

Harris cofounded the nonprofit Center for Humane Technology with Aza Raskin. Raskin is the guy who invented the infinite scroll, the feature that serves up bottomless social media feeds. He now regrets it because it’s designed “not to help you, but to keep you addicted to looking at the screen.”

Companies have worked to capitalize on teen insecurities, causing the painful fear of missing out. That keeps them constantly distracted and checking their smartphones.

“This is really serious. We are not fooling around,”  said Harris. “Technology is holding the pen of history right now. The culture of a new generation is being written by who?” Chances are you are getting messages from robots on your devices. 

Who controls the robots?

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IF YOU are not getting spam, robocalls or spoofed calls, you’ve got to feel invisible. You must be the only person that scammers feel sorry for. Recently, Verizon identified nearly 300 million numbers linked to spam and robocalling.

About 4.9 billion robocalls were received nationally in February, according to YouMail, a company that provides a service to block such messages. The all-time high for robocalls was 5.2 billion made in January. That’s 2,024 robocalls for every second of the month.

Consumers are increasingly receiving spoofed calls that appear to come from legitimate numbers, like from friends or neighbors. More than two-thirds of the calls are identified as nuisance or high risk.

Scams make up at least 46% of all robocalls, said YouMail. The top offender involves health insurance. Other calls promise to lower your credit card interest rates. All you have to do is give up your personal or financial data.

While regulators are working to make a dent in the problem, the best advice is when your phone rings, do not answer if you are not expecting a call from the caller displayed. If it is a legitimate call, they will leave you a message. Let the answering machine do its job.

Tax scams and phishing operations are getting more sophisticated. It is easy for scammers to spoof phone and identification numbers. Adding to the problem is that not all robocalls are illegal. Charities and political campaigns can use them.

Microsoft reported there was an average of 300,000 phishing attempts across their browsers Internet Explorer and Edge. They are cheap and easy to make. If these scams weren’t working for the criminals, they’d stop doing it. They believe a success rate of 10 per 50,000 calls makes it worthwhile.

YouMail said there were 50 billion nuisance calls made in 2018. What if those calls were assessed a Penny for Sanity Tax? This is a one-cent tax on every call made. This would cost the perpetrators $500 million; a powerful incentive to stop. If a penny isn’t enough, make it a nickel. The bad news is the tax would be assessed on all legitimate calls, but it may be worth it to curtail the robocalls.