Five Ways China Is Trying To Unaddict Kids From Social Media
Blackout hours, educational content, time limits, and interspersed pauses. This is how China is attempting to mitigate social media addiction, especially among kids.
Welcome to a special Wednesday edition of Big Technology. I’m sending this one a bit early ahead of Thanksgiving, and wishing you and your family a great one if you celebrate.
Social media apps are changing quickly in China. A Chinese government push to limit app addiction — especially among kids — has sparked some major modifications from the country’s leading players. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has been particularly aggressive. Blackout hours, built-in breaks, and time limits are now standard on its app.
The Chinese government demanded these changes after watching social apps cut into kids’ schoolwork and socializing time. By pushing them forward, it’s making a bet that what the kids might lose in creativity and digital literacy they’ll make up for in attention span and ambition. So, we’re about to witness an unprecedented, natural experiment about whether unfettered social media access helps or hurts kids.
Here’s a look at five major social media changes taking place inside China, along with some potential tradeoffs:
Kids using Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, will only be able to use it for 40 minutes per day. Bytedance — the maker of Douyin and TikTok — said all children under 14 years old would be subject to the limit. TikTok did not respond to a question about whether it had similar plans.
If kids under 14 try to use Douyin between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., the app simply won’t work. These blackout hours eliminate the social pressure for kids to participate in social media conversations that run deep into the night, said Tristan Harris, president of the Center for Humane Technology. “It's quite literally as if Xi Jinping saw the Social Dilemma," he said last week while discussing these changes with Joe Rogan. If everyone’s on social media, you feel obligated to be there. If nobody’s on, you can sleep.
Last month, Douyin said it would add five-second pauses between some videos. In these pauses, the app will show messages like "put down the phone," "go to bed," or "work tomorrow." The breaks might shock some people out of mindless, endless-scroll rabbit holes. It also has some population control vibes.
Douyin will show more educational content to kids. The company said it would increase the number of informational videos appearing in the feed, including science experiments, museum exhibitions, scenery, and history. This could be used for propaganda. It might also inspire kids using Douyin to develop passions in science and the arts.
This summer, China made headlines by banning video games for kids outside of three hours on the weekend. The ban could help break some video game addictions, but it’s risky. If the future of computing moves to the so-called Metaverse — where people interact as avatars in common spaces online — then video gaming is where it all begins. There are already kids living this reality in places like Roblox and Fortnite. So removing them from video games could potentially set them back when it comes to grappling with, and thriving in, this new digital world.
Meet Big Technology’s Headline Sponsor: CMS Wire
Every tech leader should be paying attention to how women are represented within their companies and the industry more broadly. CMS Wire, a publication that reaches 3 million digital executives each month, reports the benchmarks you should know. Whether you’re assessing how your company compares to the industry average, or how your conference or event measures up, this must-read report breaks it all down.
You can get the report — Women Leaders in Technology - Are We There Yet? — for free as a Big Technology reader.
When your tagline is “What happens on your iPhone stays on your iPhone,” you cannot allow spyware companies to take stuff off those iPhones. So Apple is now suing the NSO Group, a notorious spyware provider that helps governments access what’s on people’s iPhones and Android devices. In addition to damages, Apple is seeking to prevent NSO Group from using its devices, software, and services. This could be the end of the line for NSO Group if Apple wins.
Inside the rise and fall of Clubhouse (Business Insider)
Remember Clubhouse? The rising star of the pandemic, which some thought would displace professional media(!), is a shell of itself. Daily downloads are off 90% from their peak, and daily users are down 80% since February. Yikes.
Advertise with Big Technology?
The newsletter now has placements available early next year. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
Recommended Reading: Divinations (cross-promotion)
Divinations is a newsletter about business strategy and technology written by Nathan Baschez, the former first employee at Substack and head of product at Gimlet Media. He's written about why content is king, an essay unpacking how media creates power, the economics of belief transmission through memes, how power works in venture capital, and whether DAOs will replace corporations. I’m a happy subscriber, and I recommend you check it out!
This week on Big Technology Podcast: Inflation and The Great Resignation — With SoFi Head of Investment Strategy Liz Young and Margins’ Ranjan Roy
Inflation is skyrocketing and everyone’s quitting their jobs. What does it mean? Liz Young, the head of Investment Strategy at SoFi, and Ranjan Roy, the co-author of Margins, help us figure it out in this week’s Big Technology Podcast. Come for an exploration of the source of the price hikes (Turkeys are 14% more expensive this year!) and a wild theory connecting interest rates with quitting. Stay for where to find savings (Hot Dogs!).
Thanks again for reading and see you next Thursday!