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Facebook 'like' designer puts parental controls on own iPhone

Commentary: As Apple's Jony Ive claims constant use of your iPhone is "misuse," Jonathan Rosenstein tries desperately not to download apps.

3 min read
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Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.

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Taking responsibility for what you've gone and done is hard.

Especially when you're in the tech industry and insist you're making the world a better place.

Yet some, at least, are reaching an age far enough beyond puberty to stop and wonder about the meaning of "better."

Take Jonathan Rosenstein. 

The Guardian reported Friday that the former Facebook engineer, who created the "like" button (and helped create Gchat at Google), has set up parental controls on his iPhone. 

Well, he got his assistant to do it for him.

The purpose, it seems, is to prevent him from downloading any time-sucking, mind-numbing apps. 

"It is very common for humans to develop things with the best of intentions and for them to have unintended, negative consequences," he told The Guardian.

It's not so common for humans to admit this.

"One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before," Rosenstein said. (At 34, he's getting on in tech years.)

I'm just about old enough to remember life before. Before, it felt like I had more free time. Now it is, indeed, a constant battle with oneself to avoid looking at one's phone because something "important" might have appeared there. 

Like an Instagram "like."

Constant use of your iPhone has become "normal."

It gave me pause, then, when Rosenstein's admission was published on the same day that Apple's chief design officer, Jony Ive, insisted that constant iPhone use represents misuse.

In an interview at The New Yorker's TechFest, Ive talked about the "authentic pursuit of excellence" and happiness.

"If I get to sit down for two hours with one of the world's best silicon chip designers, I could not be happier," Ive said.

You see, designers aren't like you and me. They have a chip in their hearts, not on their shoulders.

But he insisted that the definition of iPhone misuse is "constant use." 

This may be a noble thing to say. However, designers of both hardware and (especially) software deliberately create products that encourage you to use them constantly.

Many tech companies exist to follow you around, so that they can use your data to make money. 

And now that artificial intelligence has come along, that ability to follow you around -- and prompt you to do everything through your gadgets -- has grown. After all, your Siri and Google assistant are designed specifically to get to know you like the back of an algorithm, and to do that they need all the information they can get.

When an iPhone is beautiful, allows you to communicate, gives you information and answers, and even offers you Instagram likes, you're surely likely to use it all the more, not less.

Neither Apple nor Facebook responded to a request for comment.

It's surely the case that many tech companies -- Facebook and Apple included -- have contributed to our almost primal need to stare into our phones. Even when we cross the street.

Apple is clearly not oblivious to this. Its iOS 11 is already nagging me to download a feature that will stop me using my phone in the car. 

That, though, is a safety issue. 

When technology has moved fast, broken our former way of life and insisted that all things must be digital, it's getting harder and harder for humans to resist.

Rosenstein and Ive have clearly considered some of the negative consequences of their creations.

Ive has always been characterized by his decency. It's entirely authentic that he should be aware of iPhone overuse. 

But, really, what can we do about it? Someone needs to find a way to get us to think different.

Or is it already too late?

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