The first Industrial Revolution was supported by child labour. Arguably the latest Industrial Revolution — the data driven economy — is the same.
Is it time for age restrictions on social media platforms to become enforceable?
The invention of the steam engine saw the dawn of the 1st Industrial Revolution. It was the defining movement when the power driving machines was no longer human (or animal) but steam. Of course the new machines were not autonomous and still needed labour to work them, but agility and nimbleness became more in demand than strength. A surge in the use of child labour, accompanying the factory system, bears witness to this. During the early stage of the Industrial Revolution the share of children (under the age of fourteen) grew rapidly and reached about half of the workforce employed in textiles and a third of coal miners by the 1830’s.
Child labour was cheap, disenfranchised, and unprotected by the law. The UK became the “workshop of the world”, with an enormous increase in output. In the period 1770–1840 profits of early industrialists soared, but the wages and living conditions of workers stagnated. It was not until the legal system changed and workers were allowed to represent themselves through unions, did the situation start to improve.
So let’s roll forward 180 years to the age of the internet; where data is the “new oil”.
Who are the consumers of the future? Our children.
Who does social media target? Our children.
Who is contributing a large portion of the data? Our children?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that children ages eight to 10 spend an average of six hours per day in front of a screen, kids ages 11 to 14 spend an average of nine hours per day in front of a screen, and youth ages 15 to 18 spend an average of seven-and-a-half hours per day in front of a s screen. All of the time they are on these devices they are contributing vast amounts of data to Mega Cap companies.
Interestingly there are age limits on all social media platforms. So how is it that so many young kids are spending so much time on them? Well we all know the answer — There are no restrictions. Social Media companies have allowed everyone to put whatever they want into the age declaration box, with no counter-check. The truth is that Silicon Valley Founders created some great tools for social good, but the day they capitalised on those ideas (through multi-billion dollar IPOs) was the day the goal of these companies became singular — the pursuit of profit for the shareholder. So all products are designed to allow you the easiest possible access and to keep you glued to the screen for as long as possible — even if you are only 8 years old.
The most amazing thing in all of this is that they have our children contributing valuable data for free! Yes, they are all working long hours every day, enriching the wealthiest individuals on the planet, with no contract and for no pay.
Yes, parents should police their children’s access, but isn’t it time that age restrictions on Social Media platforms become enforceable?