Senators Seek NIH Info on 'Tech Addiction'

A pair of Democratic senators are asking the National Institutes of Health for information on "technology addiction" and its impact on child development.

That came in a letter to NIH from Sens. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) as D.C. increasingly focuses on whether it needs to step in to regulate, or at least monitor, the impact of edge providers over content and users.

Schatz is ranking member of the Senate Communications Subcommittee, and Bennet is on the Senate Health Committee.

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They pointed to a report that said almost all homes with young children (those under 8) have a mobile device, up from 41% six years ago, and that almost half of young children own a mobile device, with kids spending an average of 48 minutes of screentime with the devices, up from 15 minutes in 2013.

The senators want information on the scientific basis for tech addiction and its impact on children and adolescents.

"Former engineers, designers and executives of leading tech companies have spoken out recently on the dangers of the products they create," Schatz and Bennet wrote.

The letter asked if there is scientific consensus on tech addiction, as well as information on the public health effects of social networking apps, including social media apps "purposefully designed to maximize user engagement," and whether there have been any analyses of the psychological effects of some mobile apps.

Schatz and Bennet also requested a briefing on the issue.

"Technological progress has benefited society, but we must not neglect its consequences as we continue to innovate," they told NIH. "To address the open question of whether we are addicted to technological devices and platforms, Congress must understand the current scientific consensus, potential gaps in research, and the best way to build a body of evidence that can inform effective policymaking. Technology companies must also engage in this national dialogue and provide researchers the necessary data required for their studies."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.