Tech Diets Catch On With Apple Executives, Facebook Billionaires And Googlers

Meanwhile, prominent figures in the technology industry are criticizing companies like Facebook. Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya, former Facebook executives, have said the product is addictive and harmful to mental health. Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook said he wouldn't let his nephew on social media. Salesforce.com Inc. CEO Marc Benioff compared Facebook to cigarettes.

The warnings are beginning to reach board rooms, too. Apple investors Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, recently asked Apple to study the harmful effects of smartphones on mental health and offer more protections for children. A Facebook shareholder is pushing its board to create a risk committee that will study the potential financial harm to Facebook if its product leads to depression or other mental health problems.

"The technology industry is reaching the point where they will need to put more resources into addressing the negative externalities of their products and services," says Jonas Kron, senior vice president at Trillium Asset Management, the Facebook investor lobbying for the risk committee.

As “mindfulness” enters the Silicon Valley lexicon, the urge to unplug is creating new business opportunities. Digital detox retreats where people spend several days without technology are increasingly popular among tech workers, as is meditation. Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square Inc., recently finished a 10-day silent meditation that strictly prohibits any communication.

Calm and Mindfulness Daily  are available.  " data-reactid="42">Asana co-founder Justin Rosenstein, who helped create Facebook’s “like” button, meditates one hour per day. Benioff has mandated that each floor of the Salesforce's soaring new office tower in San Francisco have a meditation room, "where employees can put their phones into a basket or whatever, and go in to an area where there's quietness," he said in 2016.  And for those without time for a retreat or access to a dedicated space, apps including Calm and Mindfulness Daily  are available.  

jack @jack

Just finished a 10 day silent meditation. Wow, what a reset! Fortunate & grateful I was able to take the time. Happy New Year! ???? #Vipassana

https://twitter.com/jack/status/947885229464805382

Jon Callaghan, founder of True Ventures and former chairman of the National Venture Capital Association’s board of directors, said phones are not allowed in partner gatherings. At the firm’s quarterly meetings, participants meditate at the beginning of every session. He limits phone usage at home and his family has a no-device policy for meals.

Tony Fadell, the former Apple executive involved in the creation of the iPhone, said he experienced the distracting effects of the device almost immediately after its 2007 release. Most employees at the company didn’t use Blackberries or other pre-iPhone smartphones, meaning email was limited to certain times of the day. Messages outside work hours were rare. “When the iPhone hit, you couldn't stop the stream of emails because the devices were always on people,” Fadell says. He thinks companies should block employees from sending and receiving emails during non-work hours.

The technology industry needs to own up to the addictive qualities of its creations and add new safeguards that make it easier for people to put away their phones, Fadell said. Apple and Google, owners of the two largest smartphone operating systems, should offer apps that break down smartphone usage -- time spent reading and writing texts, in apps such as Facebook, browsing the web, writing emails -- similar to how their health apps show steps walked or hours slept each day, Fadell said. 

"They have all that data, just give it back to us," Fadell said. "This isn't like building a self-driving car, which is 10,000-times harder and costs way more."

Companies are beginning to get the message. After Jana and CalSTRS demanded action in early January, Apple said it plans new features to give parents more control over how children use its devices. “We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users,” the company said in a statement. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is changing the company’s news feed to reduce mindless scrolling and increase meaningful interactions between friends and family. Google recently ran an ad  highlighting the mental-health implications of smartphone and social-media use.

“These devices absorb so much of kids’ lives and it’s a bit of a challenge to set the boundaries.”

Regardless, many technology-industry veterans are taking their own measures. Fadell, whose family has no-screen Sundays, uses a product called Circle that sets online time limits and blocks certain content. The device connects to a Wi-Fi router, making it easier to set restrictions for any device in a household connected to the network. Devices can be disconnected completely during pre-set hours, like bedtime.

"Some families are more concerned about the kind of content they're exposed to,” said Circle CEO Lance Charlish. “Others may be worried about device time and life balance." The company has hundreds of thousands of customers and revenue has doubled every year, he added, without being more specific.

One customer is Luca Maestri, Apple's chief financial officer, according to an interview he gave last year to journalist and award-winning author Maria Teresa Cometto.

told Cometto. His wife decided to use Circle as a means to moderate their children's iPhones and iPads, according to a write-up of the interview by i-Italy, a magazine about the country and its ties with the U.S. It’s unclear if the CFO or his wife still use the device. An Apple spokesman declined to comment." data-reactid="55">“These devices absorb so much of kids’ lives and it’s a bit of a challenge to set the boundaries,” Maestri  told Cometto. His wife decided to use Circle as a means to moderate their children's iPhones and iPads, according to a write-up of the interview by i-Italy, a magazine about the country and its ties with the U.S. It’s unclear if the CFO or his wife still use the device. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Rudin, of Indiegogo, said that if all else fails, religion can help. His family observes the Jewish custom of Shabbat every Friday night through Saturday, meaning technology use is restricted. "My wife will turn her phone and any other tech off for 25 hours straight," he wrote in a weekday email. "I try to do the same, but it's not always possible :)"

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