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Is Your Technology Hijacking Attention, or Improving Humanity?

I listened to the RECODE podcast with Tristan Harris this week while I was working late. Super fascinating discussion. Formerly a Design Ethicist at Google, he’s now working on Time Well Spent:

Time Well Spent is a movement to align technology with our humanity.

Today apps and media compete in a race to grab our attention. Join a movement to:

  • Live better with more empowering settings for our media and devices.
  • Change incentives so media competes to improve our lives, not get eyeballs.
  • Invent new interfaces that help us to make room for what matters.

attention-economy-iconsThe attention economy — also known as the time suck economy (which I wrote about in 2013) — is a topic I think about constantly, and care deeply about.

The attention economy causes screen addiction.

The ad model is the reason the attention economy exists; there’s a direct financial incentive for companies to waste as much of your precious time as possible.

It’s clear from the Recode discussion Tristan hates the ad model, same as I do. Ev at Medium believes the same thing — so much so that he layed off 50 of Medium’s staff to extend their runway and figure out a different path to revenue.

The ad model is broken, and simply does not advance humanity (IMHO of course).

The takeaway I got is there are not nearly enough people sitting in product meetings asking whether “this thing we’re doing” is a good thing. Should notifications be turned on by default? Are notifications being triggered by a human being, or a machine? Are we actually making lives better, or just hijacking time to make a buck?

Screen addiction is a very dangerous society trend, that — left unchecked worldwide — is going to have major negative repercussions over time. It’s a huge part of the core reason I’m working on Horizon. To degree we ever have an incentive to get people to spend MORE time looking at our product, we fail. The fundamental product goal is to get your OFF your screen, and to experience the world face to face.

Is your product advancing humanity? Does your product really deserve people’s attention?

I urge you to think deeply on this topic — and yes, put a meeting on the calendar to discuss it.

Those who want to listen to the interview and think deeper…

You can also read Tristan’s Medium post, How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist.

[Graphic via Linkedin]

About Drew Meyers

Founder of Geek Estate Blog / Geek Estate Labs. Zillow Alum. Travel addict & co-founder of Horizon. Social entrepreneurship & microfinance advocate. Fan of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Kiva.

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