What is Technology Doing to Us?

Tristan Harris has been called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience,” by The Atlantic magazine. He was the Design Ethicist at Google and left the company to lead Time Well Spent, where he focuses on how better incentives and design practices can create a world that helps us spend our time well.

This is a counterintuitive mindset in silicon valley, where the goal is to get users to spend more time on your website or app by any means necessary, and there's rarely any accountability or concern for ethics.

Tristan makes the case that, contrary to popular belief, technology is not neutral, but instead is actually a very persuasive medium. The makers of apps and websites design things in order to guide users into choosing the things that suit their goals and control user behavior, rather than thinking about what's healthy for the users' time. App makers like twitter, facebook, and instagram create scenarios where their users become addicted to the instant gratification of notifications, and infinite scrolling feeds to keep users engaged for infinite periods of time.

These things are clear to those of us who work in the web and mobile industry, but it's less obvious to users, who maintain the illusion that they have more control over their decisions on the web than they really do.

Tristan goes a long way to make us aware of the conflicting goals of designers and users, and helps us think about ways to create better habits online.