Dean Clough

April 3, 2024

Portico Darwin: Dumbphones


1 Minute Read

Disclaimer:  I fully acknowledge I don't have children and thus can't truly understand the challenges faced in parenting.  But what follows makes a lot of sense to this outside observer.

Many of us of a certain age vacillate between amusement and disgust at how others of a different, younger age must hold and look at their phones approximately every 5 or 6 seconds.

This addiction to smartphones in general and social media specifically is not a positive.  While causation is different than correlation, there is a disturbing sameness to the trend lines for the invention and rapid adoption of smartphones around 2010, and things like teen suicide and depression.  I join many, including Professor Jonathan Haidt, out with a new book on the subject entitled The Anxious Generation, who advocate a new approach, one based upon not simply caving in to kids' demands for access to smartphones and social media.

His central thesis is that Generation Z, being the first that had smartphones and social media throughout puberty, provides a cautionary tale for what unbridled access at too early an age does.  He points to several academic studies that confirm Gen Z suffers more anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation than any previous generation. 

Haidt says that is because the brains of pre-pubescent children aren't sufficiently developed to handle the infinite barrage of imagery, sounds, and text a smartphone gives them.  He connects the fear and anxiety exhibited by Generation Z to their digitization at too early an age.  Versus, you know, playing outside with friends in the analog world.

While I have not read the book (it was released on March 26), I did read an interesting article recently in The New York Times about Mr. Haidt.  And Haidt is pals with my hero Scott Galloway, so I also heard him on Galloway's Prof G podcast discussing this and other related subjects. 

An NYU professor, he came to prominence by calling out the Psycho Woke bullshit at American universities in his now-famous article, originally published in The Atlantic in 2015, entitled "The Coddling of The American Mind."  If you've not read it, and you wish to understand more about that region of Wokistan, here's a link to the article, with no paywall.

OK, drumroll, please.  What does Dr. Haidt suggest to parents, seeking to raise a less distracted, more mentally healthy child?  His 4 principles for parents are easy to understand but difficult to implement.

  • No smartphone before a child reaches high school - give them a flip phone, instead

  • No social media until a child is 16

  • Phone-free schools

  • Free play and independence in the real world 

He acknowledges the severe peer pressure to be on social media prevalent among youth today.  Haidt's solution are regulations - like what Florida just passed - that age-gate smartphones and social media at the state level, much the same way alcohol and cigarettes are already. 

There will no doubt be free-speech zealots seeking to overturn the new Florida rules in the court system as unconstitutional and a restriction on free speech.  But I've already explained that's not how it works.

And if smartphones and social media are as dangerous to children as booze and smoking - and they are - can't Insta and Snap and whatever wait until your kid is 16? 

I know, I know - most kids seek things that are prohibited and find a way to get their hands on them.  I know we did.  But while we occasionally succeeded, it was not easy scoring a sixer at sixteen, because nobody was directly enabling the behavior, as the social media platforms absolutely are in today's world.

Or did you forget what your kids are seeing is being algorithmically controlled to hook them further? 


The wedding planner Nicki Vale minced no words in response to Monday's post on Biden and immigration.

I don't know how this immigration problem is affecting San Francisco, but in Denver we have immigrants sleeping on every street corner.  Each time there is a massive freeze, they open up temporary shelters and then kick them out once it warms up. 

OK:  Every street corner?  But I agree with Nicki's overall sentiment that we have a mess on our hands.  But fixing our country's immigration system is complex, so it's not getting addressed.  

You know, like gun violence and climate change and wealth inequality.

Thank you for reading this newsletter.  


This is a Diamond Certified soundtrack, and one completely aligned with its subject.  Here are Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross and their disturbing accompaniment to the equally disturbing (and also Diamond Certified) movie The Social Network.

About Dean Clough