If too much screen time is bad, then how about more immersive tech e.g. AI/VR/5G?

I’ve been working to improve the safe, healthy, and productive use of mobile screen for young children these last two years.

But I’ve recently recognized that even though the research on the negative effects’ of children’s screen time is still being debated, we are moving full speed ahead with technologies like VR, 5G, and AI-powered applications.

Here is what gravely concerns me about these, and why I think it’s essential that national governments globally, led by the EU or the US, assign a expert led task forces to pressure relevant law making bodies.

  • While engaging with a mobile app, AI infers a child’s interests and demographics by analyzing the child’s actions and choices, and then it presents the child with highly personalized content and targeted advertising. This AI activity is dangerous for a child because a child does not understand that their experiences are not purely coincidental. Therefore, there is a strong possibility that a child will come to prefer to “live” in this personalized digital world rather than in the actual world.

  • VR headsets are going to amplify the negative effects of this AI-powered personalized world. If mobile screen time is considered dangerous partly because a parent cannot co-view content as easily as they can on a TV, what about VR headsets where the viewing is limited to the user? What is more worrisome is that over time the child may not be able to easily distinguish the content experienced in VR — recorded and streaming video, video games, and video chat — from real life. Therefore, a virtual realistic life that is also personalized will surely be a life that is preferred to real life. To boot, with this technology, developers and content creators will possibly influence a child’s thinking in scary ways, directing not only the child’s future consumer behaviors but even shaping the child’s philosophical, political, and religious thought.

  • Then there is what some call the electricity of the new era, 5G, which ties all of the other technologies together. 5G will enable any internet connected device blazing fast speeds with low latency. Verizon claims that “5G will deliver speeds roughly 20 times faster than what is possible with 4G … latency could drop into the single milliseconds, making lag times nearly impossible to detect.” So that means that AI-processed data can travel from device to device or device to server and back with nearly zero latency, and images streaming from the other side of the world, even from the outdoors, can appear through VR headsets as if the child is actually present.

Have you thought much about this? How to start a conversation on these new technologies as parents already feel overburdened today with managing screen time? What can we expect from a regulatory perspective - this is about more than privacy.

I share more details on this whole idea my op-ed published by Venturebeat “U.S. needs a task force to examine risks AR, VR, and 5G pose to kids


Thanks for sharing these thoughts (and the article). Really important topics, and these tech trends are coming our way sooner than we image and indeed the power of these converging is something that is hard to fathom from where we stand now. Let alone the parents who might be less tech-aware, and like you rightly point out already (also) struggle with the screentime issue.

Media technology is becoming more and more immersive. That is a fact. A while back I’ve written a short post on the psychology of ‘cognitive absorption’, you might find this interesting as well: https://medium.com/media-psychology/screentime-goes-faster-e873a07e4e61

The Pokemon Go craze was just a hype to some, to me it is a forewarning of the immense impact that AR will have on our society. With respect to VR, my youngest of then 4 years, once insisted to try on the simple cardboard VR holder for a smartphone when I once brought that back from a conference where I got it a as give-away. I thought I’d let him try once, with an innocent app showing a rocket launch and lunar landing. I was shocked to find him asking me (with the goggles still on) if he was ‘really there’ (on the moon, that is). The effect of such a crude VR setup to me was astounding…

I don’t feel we can set our hope on regulations, at least not from our governments. Policy-making has proven to slow in the past, and still, to be able to keep up with the accelerating and increasingly complex technological advancements. The impact on society should be flagged by communities like this, and guardrailed by industry bodies through self-regulation. I hope that this will happen, and that it will be enough…

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I have concerns about AR and VR as well. They are physically dangerous because when we cannot tell our true surroundings it is easy to trip and get physically hurt (see the plethora of video of people falling with VR goggles on via YouTube). It can also increase our dissatisfaction with the real world, as you mentioned. Video games already have this effect and can cause an addiction to a simulated environment. But having an entirely immersive simulated environment tailored to your preference is worse by multitudes. I agree that policy is a slow solution, but sometimes (keyword lol) for good reason, as law makers have to do research and present their cases just like we do. But we can support our concern through this community and by using social media responsibly to promote it. This can even increase the likelyhood of policy action because issues with large amounts of public concern have the possibility of driving policy issues.

Regarding Augmented Reality do watch Hyper Reality:

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