Apple Urged To Take Responsibility For 'Toxic' Effects of Smartphone Use

By Victoria Kim 01/10/18

Two of Apple's shareholders are urging the company to be more proactive in researching its products' impact on young customers' mental health.

young boy using an iPhone

These days, children as young as two are placed in front of iPads and iPhones, and grow up to be literate in this technology and social media from a young age. However, we’re still in the dark about how this affects mental health, especially among young people. 

According to comScore, about 86 million Americans over the age of 13 own an Apple iPhone. The iPhone accounts for nearly half (43%) of the U.S. smartphone market. According to Statista, Apple sold over 211 million iPhones in the 2016 fiscal year. 

Clearly, Apple has a rather large stake in the business of disseminating this kind of technology—which is why, two of its stakeholders have concluded, the multi-billion dollar company has a social responsibility to address the potential impact of its products.

Jana Partners LLC, a New York investment firm, and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (Calstrs), the largest public teacher’s pension fund in the U.S., hold about $2 billion of Apple shares. It’s a relatively small stake in the $900 billion company, but the shareholders have nevertheless made waves with its message to Apple. 

In a letter sent to the company over the weekend, the shareholders urged Apple to be more proactive in researching the impact of its products, and to invest in the health (including mental health) of the young people who are growing up on their technology—many of whom have embedded Apple products in their daily lives. 

The letter reads:

“Apple can play a defining role in signaling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do. There is developing consensus around the world including Silicon Valley that the potential long-term consequences of new technologies need to be factored in at the outset, and no company can outsource that responsibility.” 

The shareholders say that if Apple does not take action now, it may face public backlash in the future for not considering the potential negative effects of pervasive iPhone use. The company can start by being the first in the industry to set guidelines for “optimal usage” of its products, say the shareholders.

Jana-Calstrs are teaming up with researcher Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University, who has contributed to a “growing body of evidence” that has shown that increased screen time is having negative effects on young people’s mental health.

According to Twenge's research, teenagers who spend five or more hours per day looking at a screen are 71% more likely to have risk factors for mental health issues including depression and anxiety, according to theDaily Beast.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr