How technology brings out the worst in us, with Tristan Harris

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In 2011, Tristan Harris’s company, Apture, was acquired by Google. Inside Google, he became unnerved by how the company worked. There was all this energy going into making the products better, more addicting, more delightful. But what if all that made the users’ lives worse, more busy, more distracted?

Harris wrote up his worries in a slide deck manifesto. “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention” went viral within the company and led to Harris being named Google’s “design ethicist.” But he soon realized that he couldn’t change enough from the inside. The business model wasn’t built to give users back their time. It was built to take ever more of it.

Harris, who co-founded the Center for Humane Technology, has become the most influential critic of how Silicon Valley designs products to addict us. His terms, like the need to focus on “Time Well Spent,” have been adopted (or perhaps coopted) by, among others, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

I interviewed Harris recently for my podcast. We talked about how the 2016 election threw Silicon Valley into crisis, why negative emotions dominate online, where Silicon Valley’s model of human decisionmaking went wrong, whether he buys Zuckerberg's change of heart, what happened when meditation master Thich Nhat Hahn came to Google, what it means to control your own time, and what can be done about it.

Further Reading:

A Verge interview with Jaron Lanier where he talks about the idea that to maximize engagement, you need to maximize emotional engagement, and the emotions that are most engaging are the negative ones.

Tristan mentions Kahneman’s System 1 & System 2 thinking. Here’s an explanation of that.

The Onion article Ezra mentioned about the ways meditation is applied in Silicon Valley

The New York Times piece with a headline Tristan says is somewhat different from the truth

A description of the Facebook earnings call that Tristan mentioned

The Stanford Persuasive Technology lab Tristan mentioned to explain the psychology behind the Snapchat Streak

Ezra mentioned Ralph Nader’s Consumer Movement. Here’s a description of that.

The New York Times article on greyscaling a phone that Tristan and Ezra discuss

Recommended books

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves Reprint Edition by Adam Hochschild

Finite and Infinite Games by James P. Carse

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business by Neil Postman

Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology by Neil Postman

154 episodes available. A new episode about every 5 days averaging 74 mins duration .