Steve Hilton – the former adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron and potential mayoral candidate – is famously laid back. He came round to my house for coffee during his time in Downing Street, dressed in trainers, a baggy T-shirt and shorts. He cycles everywhere. But just because he does not wear a suit is no reason to assume the 45-year-old’s thinking is sloppy – far from it. Now a professor at Stanford University, Hilton has been in the UK promoting his new book, More Human.
At a talk the other day, he dared to suggest that teenagers should be banned from carrying smartphones until they are 18. He says that easily available porn is having a brutalising effect on boys. Girls are viewed as objects to be passed around. Phones allow them to share imagery, make snap judgements and communicate without ever speaking.
My friends with teenagers complain their children have lost the power of speech (not that my generation was particularly communicative), that they watch television while texting and commenting online, and spend hours just staring at tiny screens.
In the US, many schools are banning smartphones and tablets, so why is the same not happening here? Some do, but all UK schools should install secure bins inside their gates and pay for guards to remove gadgets from pupils. We all know teens cheekily sit with their phones on silent mode, operating them behind a teacher’s back, even when they are supposedly banned. The people at Apple who invented these phones and tablets don’t let their own children use them – doesn’t that say it all? Some bosses in Silicon Valley go as far as preventing their children from using the internet at all until they are teenagers.