If you find it hard to put your phone down throughout the day, you’re not alone.
Millions of people stare at their mobile phones for hours at a time for entertainment value, to ease loneliness and to stay up on what’s happening in the world and with their friends.
Tristan Harris is a former employee of Google and he raises a number of concerns about how the technology industry is vying for our attention in such a way that everything we see and do online can be traced back to manipulation from the likes of Facebook and Google.
Tristan was a “design ethicist” at Google, which means he helped the company figure out how people’s minds worked online in order to determine how to create content, place content, and promote content to keep people on the platform longer and longer.
He gives a number of examples of how our interactions are watched carefully to see what keeps people on the platforms and then more of that content is delivered so we remain, or want to return more frequently.
You can watch Tristan’s brilliant TED talk here:
Can’t watch the video now? Here’s a summary in text
Tristan Harris starts off by referring to the example of Youtube and how the company redefined their viewership by simply changing the way videos played.
Originally, viewers would have to click on the next video to get it to play, but it was determined that auto playing the videos would keep people on the platform longer. So if you are struggling to put down your phone, it’s not your fault.
The entire industry, Harris says, is designed to keep you online. And the scary part seems to be that many people think it is random.
But it’s not.
And he goes on to point out that if you are feeling mad about being manipulated, the industry wants you to feel that way and tell your friends about it, because they gets even more people on their platforms talking about the outrage. And nothing drives profits and sales like traffic…good or bad.
Harris says there are several things we need to do make this dire situation better
The first is that there needs to be global acknowledgement that people are susceptible to this kind of manipulation so that you can start to watch for it in your own life online. The next thing is that we need more models for accountability online and they need to be enforced properly so people are not at risk of such manipulation. Finally, Harris recommends staging a design renaissance whereby we change the way we interact with technology completely.
The biggest problem with the technology company’s manipulating our feelings, actions, and conversations is that it is happening right now, under our noses and we aren’t even the wiser. Paying more attention to how we feel and act in relation to our online lives can help us break the cycle and give us more freedom from our screens, overall.