Monday

23rd Oct 2017

Interview

Polish president's advisor calls for online 'abstinence'

  • Some EU commissioners are also fond of their digital devices. Andrzej Zybertowicz thinks we should learn 'cyber abstinence' (Photo: European Commission)

It was almost as if the universe wanted to prove Andrzej Zybertowicz's point.

The social advisor to the president of Poland had uttered only five words in a conversation with EUobserver, before his phone began ringing.

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  • At the Cybersec conference in Krakow, Zybertowicz called for "cyber-free social institutions" (Photo: Kosciuszko Institute)

"Oh excuse me," he said, before quickly turning his phone off.

Zybertowicz met with this website on Tuesday (10 October) at the Cybersec conference in Krakow, after he spoke in a panel calling for "cyber-free social institutions". He surprised some of the audience members by saying that "probably we should establish a ban on every sort of addictive technology".

In the interview, Zybertowicz said children, like his 13-year-old son, were becoming "addicted to digital gadgets".

"When I talk to other parents, they have serious problems with their children. It seems as if a thief would invade our families and take our children away," said Zybertowicz.

"We should first learn and then teach cyber abstinence," he said. "It's pretty difficult because every single week new addictive technologies are developed."

"We should be more aware of side-effects of new technologies," the Pole added.

The professor has been a researcher in the field of sociology for several decades, but also has close ties with Poland's ruling party, the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS).

He had been an official state security advisor to both prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski (for five months in 2007) and for president Lech Kaczynski (2008-2010).

Zybertowicz, who tried but narrowly failed in 2014 to be elected to the European Parliament, recently co-wrote a book called 'Suicide of Enlightenment? How Neuroscience and New Technologies Devastate the Human World.'

In the interview, he referred to the tactics of technology companies to stimulate the use of their applications and devices, and mentioned the US company Dopamine Lab, which advertises with the slogan "Dopamine makes your app addictive".

"They were using research from neuroscience, from behavioural economy, in such a way to make people unable to behave as free agents," he said.

A ban is 'not easy'

When asked to elaborate on his comments about banning certain technologies, Zybertowicz said it would "not [be] easy" for the Polish government, or any, to do so independently.

"We need cooperation," he said, referring to one of the Cybersec panels that discussed a "digital Geneva convention" - although that one was more about cybersecurity than effects on society.

"Free societies have to regulate the internet," he said.

"When cars were invented, initially there was no regulation of that traffic. When it increased substantially, we had to write rules. … If we want arrange regulation of the internet, they might be diversified locally. But some patterns should be universal."

What exactly should be done, is "open to the debate", he said.

The European Union is in the process of moving towards a digital single market, but the political focus is not on what Zybertowicz called "the dark side of the technological progress".

Having Duda's ear

However, Zybertowicz is an advisor to Andrzej Duda, the president of the EU's sixth most populous country – number five after Brexit.

He said he hasn't discussed his views on "addictive technologies" with Duda, and spoke in his personal capacity.

But he admitted that as advisor he has Duda's ear, and that he wouldn't "exclude that one day [the] president might use his legislative initiative" if he felt the government was not doing enough.

Zybertowicz also noted that his views coincide with the "conservative attitudes" of Law and Justice.

"We are conservative, ... we think ... technological progress should be slowed down. Society should balance individualism and community."

"Europe needs to put more focus on common values, not only the freedom of individuals to self-realise. I think that my attitude to technology, follows from this basic conservative ideology."

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