Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

The Danger of Thinking We’re All ‘Addicted’ to Tech

Anne says: Addiction versus I can’t stop using my phone…

This article aligns with previous  Friday Fave articles ( 22 February & 12 July 2019 ) where I’ve been looking into digital distraction versus addiction. The subtitle: Telling ourselves that devices and platforms “hijack” our brains plays right into Big Tech’s hands –  hints at the opinions that are explored. For me, there are two themes equally weighted: the way language shapes our beliefs and behaviours, and the true meaning of addiction (in physiological terms). 

In an era where unsubstantiated claims quickly become the truth, addiction is too easily blamed for the use of technology and devices. The article reminds us of previous claims, such as:

“Not only does the idea that technology “hijacks” our brains smack of the same moral panics leveled at previous pastimes—Novels corrupt women’s minds! Pinball machines create an unstoppable compulsion!”

In contrast, addiction is defined in the article as:

“…addiction is a compulsive dependency that harms the affected individual. It is a behavior or substance the person has a very difficult time stopping, even when someone wants to… Addiction is a pathology. It is not simply liking something a lot…”

Understanding the behaviours associated with addiction is key to determining how to manage and counterbalance the claims that devices are hijacking our brains – for the majority of people they’re not addicted. The article discusses the issue of allowing addiction to be blamed for overuse – this claim of addiction is limiting our ability to respond (language can shape our behaviours and responses). If we believe we’re addicted, we’re conceding we have little or no agency to change that behaviour. If, on the other hand, we decide we’re being distracted or overusing technology, we are empowered to look for strategies to change our patterns of overuse. 

As the article develops its argument, the author shifts the focus on to the tech companies (as the did the article cited in my 12 July Friday Fave). The suggestion is based on the use of data to create a “use and abuse policy,” companies could reach out to the people who spend an inordinate amount of time on their sites with a simple message: “Can we help?”

To counterbalance the negative of overuse, the author reminds us of the value – they’re entertaining, they’re useful, we stay in touch with friends and family – it can’t be ALL bad, right? The design is intended to be engaging – why is that a problem? 

So – stop blaming addiction for your behaviours of distraction or overuse, take back control, stop spreading #fakenews and let’s get some control back!

Now – back to my apps and their updates – see you online!


Virtual reality collaboration aims to bring opera star Dame Joan Sutherland to a new generation

Joel says: The ABC published an interesting article today talking about an industry collaboration that could change the way we experience museums, art and iconic locations in the future. 

The CADET Virtual Reality Lab located in Melbourne’s Deakin University has teamed up with curators from the Arts Centre to create digital 3D copies of Dame Joan’s iconic outfits. While that is a pretty interesting story on its own, the thing that interested me the most about the process is that they’re doing so with technology normally used by dermatologists. 

The ultra-high-resolution scanner that is able to scan these highly detailed costumes in seconds is the same as those normally used to scan the skin and identify cancers. Once they develop the methods to digitise the captured models, Lab Director Ben Horan said they plan on implementing the models into a virtual reality experience, possibly allowing users the opportunity to see these costumes up close, or perhaps even wear them and feel what it would be like to be Dame Joan Sutherland on stage.

As with many of the articles I talk about here, the thing that excites me the most about these new technologies is their potential uses. While the goal here may be to digitise and preserve an art museum, it may not be long before we’re able to visit some of the world’s most iconic landmarks, cities or experiences right from our home using just an internet connection and a capable VR headset.

Imagine if the technology advances to a point where a whole room or city can be scanned with relative ease – would you be interested in jumping in and wandering around, taking in the sites in virtual reality? Could we soon see a rise in virtual tourism?


The fantasy of opting out

Jakkii says: I know I’m not alone in my concerns about surveillance. The risks inherent in data collection and protection, the ethics and morality surrounding the practices, the desire for safety (or the perception of it) over the right to liberty. I watched the Netflix film Anon this week, and while it seemingly borrows from a Black Mirror episode and is a clumsy look at a future in which we’re all instantly recognised while our every moment is recorded, stored and accessible to police at any time, others by our choosing, and ‘hackers’ without consent, it tries to imagine the harm technology can do when every moment is surveillable and, if hacked, what happens when we can no longer separate fact from fiction because of, essentially, highly sophisticated deepfakes. Scary, no?

For me, the idea of constant surveillance, particularly combined with facial recognition technology, is deeply troubling. At scale and sophistication of facial rec, no longer can you be unknown, let alone forgotten. I am a strong believer in liberty and a person’s right to exist, privately and without police surveillance, and that there must be a reasonable basis for suspicion before that is given up. It should be the default setting and, indeed, in most democracies that is the case. However, little by little we have seen laws implemented that erode that premise because, in part, of technology – both on the citizen side, and on the law enforcement side. The idea that one must have something to hide in order to resist this kind of invasive erosion of liberty is outrageous – not least because we ought to be able to just be, but because while today your life and behaviours might not be of interest or governmentally unacceptable – what’s to say tomorrow they won’t be? 

As this article describes in the opening setup: we are, in most large cities, under near-constant surveillance from the moment we leave the house. It’s not just the cameras everywhere; for most of us, we’re participating in our own surveillance just by carrying a smartphone with us wherever we go, nevermind the apps we choose to use to operate and share our lives through each day. The point is clear: we are opting in to this surveillance through our choices every day. But, can we actually opt-out?

… the costs of refusal are high and getting higher: A life lived in social isolation means living far from centers of business and commerce, without access to many forms of credit, insurance, or other significant financial instruments, not to mention the minor inconveniences and disadvantages — long waits at road toll cash lines, higher prices at grocery stores, inferior seating on airline flights.

In short: not really. Not practically, for most of us. The idea of opting out is, in effect, an illusion. But if we can’t opt out, what can we do about it? The author of the article suggests obfuscation is our primary defence – indeed, we’ve seen obfuscation efforts recently during the Hong Kong protests, with protestors cutting down ‘smart lamps’using lasers and trying to stop their faces being used against them. The article provides a few ways in which we can implement obfuscation ourselves; however, the piece ends on a more philosophical note about the nature and the problem of privacy. The article is well worth a read and, if you’re like me, you’ll be reflecting on it for a while.


This Week in Social Media

Politics, democracy and regulation

Privacy and data

Cybersecurity and safety

Society and culture

Extremism and hate speech

Moderation and misinformation

Marketing, media, advertising and PR


Facebook’s Libra and Calibra

Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: What can we do to save the planet? And how will the world end? Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

Our guest this week: Professor Christopher Wright.

The stories this week

03:02 – Lifestyle changes aren’t enough to save the planet

26:14 – A brief guide to the end of the world

Other stories we bring up

Plan A and B failed. What is next for big oil?

Drones cause Saudi oil shock

Coal mining is drying out Sydney water catchments

Germany’s climate change policy is not cheap but full of opportunities

Bill Gate’s calling for changes to renewable subsidies

Bill McKibbin’s article in Rolling Stone on the maths of global warming

Could climate change really end the world

The University of California goes fossil fuel free

Bylong coal mine proposal knocked back on ‘environmental impacts’

Atlassian CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes calls for climate action

Mike Cannon-Brookes in conversation with Al Gore

Our previous discussion on insect extinction

Our previous discussion on science satire

Our previous discussion on electric buses

Event: Choose your own apocalypse – 30 October 2019


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