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My 15-month old daughter, Adrienne, loves to read books about animals together, dance to Fleetwood Mac, and chase our cat around the house. She's starting to discover the fun of drawing with crayons rather than just eating them. But Adrienne will drop whatever she's doing, no matter how deeply she's engaged, as soon as she catches a glimpse of my phone.
I'm Claire Neary, senior editor in Report on Business with a focus on technology, telecom and media, and this week I've been thinking a lot about the way smartphones are changing our lives. In fact, it's something I think about all the time since becoming a parent.
Throughout my year-long maternity leave, I spent a fair amount of time at home alone with Adrienne, sometimes doing laps around my living room trying to settle her when she was colicky, and often finding myself stuck and unable to move in an armchair when she finally settled into a nap. During these long days, my iPhone was my constant companion. Connecting with other moms on Facebook (and finding comfort in their terrifying, but witty blogs and empathizing with their painful, but eye-opening stories), sharing the same worries about poops and sleep deprivation made me feel less isolated on frigid days when we couldn't get out of the house. Having the news and my podcasts (one recent favourite is It's a Real Mother, parenting podcast The Longest Shortest Time's series on discrimination in the workplace) at my fingertips kept me stimulated and entertained during marathon cluster-feeding sessions. Nothing sent me into a cold sweat faster than the realization that I was stuck under a sleeping baby with no phone within reach.
But my love affair with my phone started to come to an end in recent months. It became clear that hours of video-calling the grandparents and watching me fall into an Instagram trance when I thought she wasn't looking, had turned Adrienne into a monster. Now, she throws fits trying to get her hands on my phone. When I give in and let her claim her prize, she runs around the house in a frenzy, deftly swiping the lock screen and occasionally snapping pictures through sheer luck, as if there was nothing more natural.
Last week, The Globe launched a series on digital distraction, with Eric Andrew-Gee's deep dive into research that shows smartphones are causing real damage to our minds and relationships. The loss is measurable in seconds shaved off the average attention span, reduced brain power, declines in work-life balance and decreased family time.
One finding that really hit home for me: Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and research associate in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, interviewed 1,000 kids between the ages of 4 and 18 for her 2013 book The Big Disconnect. Many of them said they no longer run to the door to greet their parents because the adults are so often on their phones when they get home.
And it gets worse once they're through the door. One of the smartphone's terrible, mysterious powers, from a child's perspective, is its ability "to pull you away instantly, anywhere, any time," Dr. Steiner-Adair writes. Because what's happening on the smartphone screen is inscrutable to others, parents often seem to have simply gotten sucked into another dimension, leaving their kid behind. "To children, the feeling is often one of endless frustration, fatigue and loss."
Having returned to work a few months ago, I have to admit I've already been guilty of glancing at often low-priority e-mails and the occasional Facebook post during my precious evening time with Adrienne, and Dr. Steiner-Adair's words stung.
And I'm not alone in my feeling that something's got to give. As The Globe's California correspondent Tamsin McMahon writes, a proposal by two major Apple shareholders calls on the company to help curb smartphone addiction. This proposal is just the latest in a reckoning that is rocking Silicon Valley as the technologists and investors who have helped build the world's most powerful tech firms struggle with the consequences of their innovations.
For now, I'm making a concerted effort to stay off my phone when I'm with Adrienne (we use a laptop to chat with the grandparents now), but I know that will get harder as she gets older, and eventually asks for her own device. I'm already worried about the higher rates of anxiety and depression associated with increased social media and smartphone use – affecting girls disproportionately – cited by psychologist Jean M. Twenge in her widely read Atlantic piece, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?" Goodness knows, a break from my phone could probably do me some good, too.
What else we're reading:
This week I've been following some of the wacky products showcased at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but unfortunately one of the most consistent trends continues to be the lack of diversity among the keynote speakers, as Brenda Darden Wilkerson, president and CEO of AnitaB.org explained on Recode. "Listening to the same slate of white guys in blazers will not lead us down the path of innovation; it will not generate the change that is so desperately needed in the technology industry... It's well past time for this venerable show to grow up and start treating female executives and other women technologists with the respect they deserve."
Meanwhile, my colleague Sean Fine has written a fascinating profile of Beverley McLachlin, who recently retired from her post as the country's longest-serving Supreme Court chief justice, and put her stamp on some of the most pressing legal and social questions of 21st-century Canada. "Her independence and that of the institution she led, and shaped, would put her on an unprecedented collision course with a sitting prime minister from the Conservative Party, whose strongest supporters were to be found in rural, religious areas like the one in which Ms. McLachlin had grown up... The legal architecture she helped put in place, built in increments over decades, will not easily be torn down by future jurists."
By the looks of it, Brie Code was pretty lucky. The University of British Columbia graduate had landed an exciting job at video game developer Ubisoft, working on big titles like Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood and Child of Light.
But the reality was a little different. Every day, Brie fought to prove herself in a male-dominated environment. "When you're the only woman, you're put in a box," Brie says. She was often the sole woman at meetings, sharing ideas that would get attributed to someone else or disregarded entirely.
After more than seven years with Ubisoft, Brie took four months off to travel, learning about how different communities react to gaming. She created prototypes of simple games, gauging locals' reactions and asking – most importantly – what they didn't like. She wanted to learn what the video game industry was missing outside of its niche market.
As she travelled, Brie participated in talks at conferences such as South by Southwest in Austin, the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and others in Tunis, Casablanca, Beirut, Melbourne, Berlin and Copenhagen. She spoke largely about how lack of diversity in the gaming industry was often hurting the finished product.
Determined to help change this, two years ago Brie launched her own gaming studio, TRU LUV, which creates a different kind of video game. TRU LUV's focus is on people who don't normally play games at all. "Why so shocking, so white, so misogynist, so shallow, so dystopian?" a statement on the company website asks about the typical games out there. "Our games are an exploration of the idea that when people from different backgrounds and with different interests work together, they create better things." TRU LUV, with a seven-member team in offices in Montreal, Berlin and Paris, is set to launch its first iOS game, called #SelfCare.
"I will never be interested in super violent, stressful game, whether it has a female character or not," Brie, now 37, says. "I also want to see more diversity in topics, the way the game feels to play." Most of all, Brie wants to offer a space for women to work comfortably and develop their skills.
Brie believes her approach can apply to other industries. Her advice to women? "Find as many allies as possible and build networks separate from the usual boys' club," Brie says. "Help each other out, put each other forward, and always maintain your unique perspective even if you aren't in the position to use it yet. One day you will be."
– Shelby Blackley
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