Two major shareholders of American technology giant Apple have taken upon themselves to make the company more socially responsible. They are pushing the company to study the effect of iPhone addiction on the mental well-being of the upcoming generation.
Investors Jana Partners and California State Teachers’ Retirement System, which control about $2 billion of the company's market value of over $900 billion, have written to Apple, asking the firm to develop tools that let parents exercise more control and limit the usage of iPhones, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
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 a 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. Addressing this issue now will enhance long-term value for all shareholders.Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System
The two activist investors said there is evidence to suggest that entrancing qualities of the iPhone are having unintentional negative consequences on some of the most frequent young users.
Academics, parents and even the people who helped create the iPhone have raised concerns about increased rates of depression and suicide in teenagers as a result of limited human interaction due to excessive phone usage.
Apple already has some parental control in place. It restricts access to some applications and offers options such the ‘Ask to Buy’, which requires parental approval to buy goods and services. The investors, however, want the company to do more.
The iPhone, backbone of Apple’s business, generated $48.35 billion in profit in 2017 and helped the company become the world’s largest publicly-listed firm by market value. Up to 43 per cent of smartphones in use in the United States are Apple phones. At least 86 million Americans over the age 13 own an iPhone.
The two investors have teamed up with Jean M Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, and Michael Rich, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, to study the impact of the phone overuse on the mental health of children.
Both Twenge and Rich have worked on related issues in the past. Discussing the issue of smartphones and children in The Atlantic in September, Twenge wrote:
Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. Psychologically, however, they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.
Talking about the issue in a recent interview, Dr Rich said:
How can we apply the same kind of public-health science to this that we do to, say, nutrition? We aren’t going to tell you never go to Mickey D’s, but we are going to tell you what a Big Mac will do and what broccoli will do.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, the investors want the content and the amount of time spent on phones to be tailored to youngsters.
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