[“Let's free ourselves from the screens, let's take care of the internet!”

FIGAROVOX/TRIBUNE – The former Minister of National Education proposes to limit the internet, for example, by granting a limited number of gigabytes for daily use. Faced with digital pollution, such a measure would be profoundly progressive, he argues.

The former Minister of National Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem is director of the NGO ONE and president of France Terre d'Asile.

I have a problem. You have a problem. We have a problem. This is both obvious – it is a problem – and at the same time we tend not to see it. It's invasive, and we love it at the same time. We put up with it, but we refuse to let it go. This problem is that of our relationships with screens and, more specifically, with the internet. It is not for me here to start yet another retrograde complaint. This would be particularly unwelcome: I am not the last person to use social networks, to tell myself, to take another look, just before going to sleep, and to find myself, two hours later, commenting, indignant, smiling and have fun too.

The fact remains that the problem exists, obviously, but that we refuse to provide a political solution.

If I talk about the obvious, it is because all the main issues, ecology, discrimination, inequalities, harassment, education, knowledge and cultures, are connected to the Internet. The latter is less often a solution than an aggravating factor. Among the studies that highlight the damage caused by excessive exposure to screens, those that show the extent to which social networks are toxic – especially for young girls – or the recent Senate work on the harm of online pornography – without to forget the issues connected with the development of AI and its democratization deeply fake, it's surprising that no one has ever asked the right question: not how to limit companies or how to regulate usage – we know very well that there is an addictive dimension to our relationship with screens, and that addiction is never resolved through good will of those who maintain it or suffer it. But simply: do we really need the Internet that much?

If we know we only have three gigabytes to use in a week, we're probably not going to spend it posting hate comments or making up fake.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

And, as we are incapable of setting limits for ourselves – let's admit it and stop falling into the trap of all these electors who rant against young people and their dependence on screens, but rush to their phones during meetings in Assembly, the Senate, or elsewhere – the restriction must come from elsewhere: therefore from the law, therefore from the state.

This is why I would like to think specifically about ways to share the Internet, for example by granting a limited number of gigabytes to be used daily. What I propose, in short, is a large-scale political action, the consequences of which will be beneficial on many levels: in terms of cognitive development, for health, but also for the fight against discrimination, harassment, global warming and many other absolutely fundamental issues for today.

So, of course, retrofitting the Internet won't eliminate all problems. But scarcity requires a certain wisdom. If we know we only have three gigabytes to use in a week, we're probably not going to spend it posting hate comments or making up fake. Maybe we'll stop considering it “normal” to spend several hours on porn sites watching ultra HD videos.

Maybe then we'll learn to cultivate that again “ecology of attention” dear to Yves Citton, and quite simply to look at us again, to consider ourselves differently. And I am not even emphasizing the calm that such a measure could bring to family relations…

So, obviously, as soon as I mention this possibility of rationalization online, accusations rain down: unrealistic! reactive! DICTATORIAL – China finally does it! Can you imagine? China! Is this what we want for our children? But unless I'm wrong, in China we also treat the sick, and I don't see why that would lead us not to do that and close all our hospitals. Reactive? On the contrary, it seems to me that such a measure is profoundly progressive: because it makes it possible to deal specifically with one of the main sources of pollution – digital technology. because it promotes the fight against cyber-harassment and online violence and discrimination; because it also works for the health of all of us, both mentally, cognitively and physically, preventing us from sinking into a harmful sedentary lifestyle. because we finally know that, on the internet, intelligence never wins… unfortunately…

There is a digital emergency as there is a climate emergency. It's not about sending more satellites into space, it's about pulling the plug, turning off our screens and finally starting to live again.

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem

Finally, there remains the question of the realism of such a measure. This obviously requires large-scale collective work and real consultation. For example, what about businesses? Will they be subject to this limit or not? And if there are exceptions, aren't there risks of abuse? There are, obviously, many points that need to be resolved, and we won't get to them in this forum. But we can also, from now on, consider that many of the activities we are used to doing online can be done without it. You can write your emails for the day in a word processor before sending them. You can go ask a colleague a question or even take advantage of the famous “coffee pot” effect. You can even, as anyone who knows a little programming will tell you, code without a computer, with pencil and paper. In short, maybe it's time to collectively detox, and therefore take care of the internet.

We can't cross our fingers and hope that this gets better and that awareness campaigns stop us from putting our kids in front of a smartphone to keep them busy during a train journey because we're too tired to take care of them . their. No ministerial message will be able to stop a teenager from ruining his life online. This does not work and cannot work. If we don't voluntarily unplug the cable, the internet's self-regulating capabilities are the same as the financial markets, and we can see how well it works…

So yes, it takes real courage. This courage we have forgotten, signing online petitions, posting comments and tweeting outrage. All these actions have their virtue: they also have their limits. Above all, in fact, they do not require anything from us, unlike the possibility of a dividend. So let us be courageous and decisive.

Many voices will rise against this proposal, starting with ours, with mine, deep inside me, even as I write these lines. But we've already wasted too much time to waste any more. There is a digital emergency as there is a climate emergency. It's not about sending more satellites into space, it's about pulling the plug, turning off our screens and finally starting to live again.

And if there are many of us who demand that we break our dependence on fossil fuels, we must also be able to demand it for our most personal dependencies, namely that which binds us to this object that you may hold in your hands as you are reading these lines. Because yes, I have a problem, you have a problem, we have a problem: turning a blind eye won't change anything. This is the screen we need to disable.

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