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The New Hypocrisy
Puritanical Elites Limit Their Kids' Use of Tech They Create

The 21st century is seeing the rise of a new form of hypocrisy: The puritan pretending to be a wastrel. The NYT reports that many of the giants of the tech industry—including company executives, those who create new digital platforms or devices, and those who market or write about them—strictly limit their children’s freedom to mess around with the internet and various gadgets. The author of the piece, Nick Bilton, notes that Steve Jobs himself once told Bilton he limited his children’s technology intake. Bilton then lists some more examples:

Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” he said of his five children, 6 to 17. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.” […]

Alex Constantinople, the chief executive of the OutCast Agency, a tech-focused communications and marketing firm, said her youngest son, who is 5, is never allowed to use gadgets during the week, and her older children, 10 to 13, are allowed only 30 minutes a day on school nights.

Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter and Medium, and his wife, Sara Williams, said that in lieu of iPads, their two young boys have hundreds of books (yes, physical ones) that they can pick up and read anytime.

These parents are, of course, more successful in protecting their children from the harmful side-effects of technology overuse than lower class parents working two jobs are. This is a classically American phenomenon in some ways: We don’t really hide the important stuff, we just don’t make it easy to find. In this way, the successful upper middle class just quietly teaches their kids not to listen to all the hedonistic crap pumped out into the culture. Ross Douthat has chronicled this phenomenon well: the well-off preach social libertinism but are conservative in their private lives. Whether they are exporters of technology or ideology, the elites are able to profit by encouraging one set of behaviors while they teach their children another.

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  • Not Rick

    I don’t see them doing anything wrong here. Having been in the tech industry most of my life I can safely say – there is a cost. They’re doing exactly what I would do if I had kids. They’re doing what I encourage all parents to do. Most of them just don’t listen. To say they don’t have a choice because they’re poor is disingenuous of Mr. Bolton, although that’s hardly a surprise given where he works.

    The idea that we don’t need all the crap they push at us every day is hardly new. The problem lies not with the availability, but the desire for an easy way out. This all started with first using the TV as a baby sitter, then the public schools. Using computers, and iPads and… take you pick of poison, is simply the logical progression of replacing the parent with the state. I’d be more inclined to blame public schools, as I view them as being so close to child abuse as to make no difference, yet they are what liberals made them with consent of the conservatives Certainly there are a number of examples of poor parents seeing that error and reacting appropriately.

    It is rightfully the job of people like you, and Mr. Bolton, in short, those with a public forum and time to pursue stories like this, to bring a broader awareness to the issues. Mr Bolton of the NYT has failed in his responsibility as a journalist, he’s brought awareness but pointed at the wrong cause, once again blaming the supposedly wealthy elite. In effect casting blame and providing no attempt at a solution – not that I’d expect him to propose anything but more of the same.

    It’s the parents responsibility to make those choices some make good ones, others don’t, that’s been true though out history. I refuse to endorse a system where someone else decides how a parent raises their children. If someone has a solution that doesn’t involve the government or some other social justice warrior sticking their nose in other peoples business I’d be happy to pass it along.

    To the Mr Bolton’s of the world – They are not hypocrites because they are taking care of their children in a system of, ostensibly, free choice. However, using a product built by those same people to reach your audience to complain about them might be.

    • Thom Burnett

      One of us missed the point. Maybe Bilton can clear up just what he meant.
      The point I take away is that the elites are damaging other people’s children by building and encouraging technology that they know is harmful. The proof that they know it’s harmful (or overused) is that they prevent their own children from making that mistake.

      Charles Murray and many others have noticed that the advice given by these elites doesn’t match what they do. I think the hope is that they’ll start saying what they do – not start doing what they say.

      • Not Rick


        The tech is for the most part, aside from video games, not made for children. I don’t know many grade school kids that earn enough to buy an iPad or any smart phone. Even if they did, their parents would need to sign for the data plan.

        Parents have the ability to control how much time the kids spend submersed in tech, they either don’t have the will to control it, they don’t care, or they don’t see it as a problem. If they care, and are willing to put some boundaries up, then a lot of the available tech can be very beneficial in limited doses.

        I don’t hear any tech companies pushing the idea that you give your kids a smart phone and an unlimited texting/data plan and then ignore them. Then again, I tend to ignore ads. Did I miss some that proposed that you let your child have unlimited access to Facebook?

        You’re putting the blame and the burden in the wrong place. Every tool man has made has the potential for abuse, every single one. It’s the parents job to teach the young what those dangers are, and if they’re too young to understand, to keep those tools out of reach.

        Perhaps Mr Murray has forgotten that someone running a tech company has a job – to make money. Their job is not to go around preaching about potential misuses of the tools they create. That job would fall to Mr. Murray, Mr Bolton. Now I’d find it refreshing if one or more of them chose to do some “preaching” on their own dime, but I’m not sure how their shareholders would take it. Personally, I’d be more inclined to buy their products.

  • Fat_Man

    Also Charles Murray who has said that our elites won’t preach what they practice.


  • qet

    Next you’ll be telling us that the makers of Cheez-Whiz refuse to allow their own kids to eat it night and day. Hypocrites!

    As for the class issue: knowing first-hand as I do the exorbitant cost of all this new technology, I would think that lower-class parents have the protection advantage here.

    As for the preach/practice thing, honestly, at some point in history people, of whatever class, who buy every shiny new object hawked by some slick-talking elite are going to have to allowed to be solely and exclusively responsible for that behavior.

  • PDX_traveler

    Ah, this is just trivial, piffle if you wish. If you want serious examples of how the elites preach, consider all the rules restricting abortion rights being passed by all our learned state lawmakers. Because, my gosh, they certainly know what’s right and moral for all those poor, unwashed women.

    • Enemy Leopard

      I think it goes without saying, to reasonable people at least, that their concern is for both the women and the unborn children in their wombs. And that an abortion hits one of the two harder than the other.

      • PDX_traveler

        Well, appropriating the garb of reasonable people may be comforting, I guess, as long as we don’t bother with things like seeking truth. Anyway, since we are not going to settle the *political* issue of abortion rights (different than the moral one, note) – I’ll just hark back to the reason I commented on the original article: I have no doubt that the ‘puritanical tech elites’ have concern for the ‘digital savviness’ of all the people they are ‘preaching’ to; it’s just that they’d apply the rules differently to themselves.
        Or, a little bit more caustically
        I think it goes without saying, to reasonable people at least, that the concern of the Republican assh*les posing as moral legislators is for both their poliitcal and their careerist ambitions. And passing these laws is a no-cost way to hit both these targets.
        There have at it, this is my one reply and I’m out.

        • Enemy Leopard

          I don’t think you’re hurting my point about reasonableness.

    • CrassyKnoll

      Tell me precisely when a pregnancy becomes a human being deserving of legal protection and I will entertain your otherwise trite and dismissive close mindedness.

    • InRussetShadows

      No, the use of technology is not trivial. It affects long-term reasoning, ability to sacrifice, concentration, and so much of what makes us human. It is in no way trivial. You in error, and then you add to error, a red herring. The restrictions on abortions come from socially conservative politicians. Any law reflects the moral perspective of those who champion it. The moral perspective being advocated here is obviously one that protects human life, and this law is law — it applies equally to all. They are making a truth claim, that they know what is true and right for all people. You can disagree with their claim to truth, but attacking the messenger and denying why they do what they do is arguing in bad faith. Now go back to sleep in your blood-soaked bed and try to ignore the whispering voices of the dead that plead for life.

  • JDanaH

    You know what’s *really* puritanical? Being a tut-tutting busybody when it comes to the legitimate choices of other parents — even if those parents happen to be Steve Jobs and other tech titans.

    • InRussetShadows

      So it’s being busybodyish to point out hypocrisy? Ah, I see. You fear anyone pointing out the hypocrisy in your own life, so you say that no-one can expose hypocrisy anywhere. You fear being exposed so you want to shut off all the lights.

      • JDanaH

        “Puritanical” is not a synonym for “hypocritical”. I said nothing about any supposed hypocrisy; my focus was on the irony of misusing the term “puritanical” while engaging in arguably puritanical behavior oneself.

        (In any case, there’s nothing hypocritical about limiting your child’s consumption of a product you produce. Or if there is, then everyone working in the gambling, liquor, fast food, or automobile industry is a hypocrite.)

  • Montgomery Draxel

    Intelligence and behavior are highly hereditary. Things that smart parents do for their children are just the markers – not the cause.

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