If you compulsively refresh your news feeds, check your Facebook likes or maintain Snapstreaks, it’s probably not your fault. According to design ethicist Tristan Harris, today’s smartphones and apps are deliberately designed to interrupt your thoughts, redirect your attention and keep you scrolling for as long as possible. Harris joins Forum to talk about how a handful of tech companies are steering the thoughts of billions, and how consumers can liberate themselves from their phones.

Guest:
Tristan Harris,
design thinker; co-founder, Time Well Spent

Design Ethicist Tristan Harris on How to Fight Back Against Your Smartphone 22 August,2017Amanda Stupi

  • EIDALM

    As an expert in the field I totally agree with Tristan Harris.

  • geraldfnord

    Many evils are not your fault, but still your responsibility to guard-against. To set-up firms with no direct stake in the well-being of their customers and investors with overwhelmingly short-term views of profitability will usually produce firms that can’t be expected to act as if the long-term effects on their customers mattered very much.

    You can’t create a tiger and not expect it to stalk. I think we”d ought to stop creating predators, but until then, it’s up to us to make loud noises and to wear confusing masks on the backs of our heads; I look forward to Mr Harris’ advice on how—the words ‘off switch’ occur to me, but….

  • Noelle

    Put the bare minimum of apps on your phone. I don’t even read email on mine. Then I do not feel the need to check all the time.

  • Noelle

    This sounds similar to how casino gambling is designed.

  • Ben Rawner

    Smart devices have just supplanted the television and radio. Everything your guest said can be replaced with TV and Radio. People used to waste hours watching tv, now they do the same on FB and YouTube. People want to be entertained. Your guest’s arguments are older than newspapers.

    • Noelle

      yes, but Facebook is extracting information from you for profit.

      • Ben Rawner

        TV companies used to do the same thing. Though definitely not as much and granular. However, statistically speaking most people fall into the normal bell curve on some level so even a large enough sample Population will represent the entire population.

    • Robert Thomas

      Television never caused my coworkers to collide with me on their blind, face-down exit from elevators. Television didn’t make pedestrians stare blankly into their palms as they wander across crosswalks, in which they compete with equally phone-distracted right and left turners. Television didn’t reduce a family night out at Olive Garden to two adults solipsistically staring at their devices while a toddler in his high chair rhythmically kicks the underside of the table, in vain attempt to attract his parents’ attention.

      Etc. etc. etc. etc.

      It’s no wonder that Millennials feel such kinship with the zombies that populate the popular media, in all its delivery channels.

      • De Blo

        Not to be a San Francisco snob, but I do not think I have ever met someone who has eaten at an Olive Garden. I do not think that would be considered a ‘night out’ though.

        • Robert Thomas

          De Blo, you are a San Francisco snob. I – a South Bay native and a man of the People – have eaten at Olive Garden twice.

          • geraldfnord

            I think we need to stop snob-shaming.

          • William – SF

            …feeling defended, thank you.

          • Robert Thomas

            Agree. I’m Robert Thomas and I’m a snob.

            Ownership!

      • Ben Rawner

        People used to do the same thing with newspapers. Someone recently walked into me while reading a book. I agree that television is more compelling but really it’s just that.

    • Gene K.

      Agree. This is not a new mechanic he even called it a slot machine in his pocket. But good for him for monetizing it for personal gain.

  • Noelle

    what they are talking about Snapchat sounds evil to me. 🙂

  • concerneth

    I agree for the most part. But dont forget how many devices or other parts of life these phones have replaced.

    Clock
    Alarm clock
    Newspaper
    Radio
    Phone
    Record player (?)
    Snail mail
    Map
    Television
    Flashlight

    My phone makes me loads more effecient so its probably a wash.

  • geraldfnord

    One way I deal with it is to notice or guess the events that are being fired-off whenever you do anything—o.k., not every ‘onTouch()’ but at least every ‘onLongTouch()’ and every time the application (in the Android case) saves itself into an ‘icicle’, and every time it’s thawed.

    It helps to keep me conscious of every application’s being a construct designed to react to me. (Not calling them ‘apps’ helps, too, it’s too familiar.)

    Using web-page versions, as opposed to dedicated applications, as much as possible helos, they generally are less well-tailored and inform on you less.

  • concerneth

    Not a one way direction bc for me autoplay diludes the experience in the negative. If that adds up then a new clean product comes to best the old product. Like myspace. It was so bloated it degraded the exp. Then came facebook.

    • Robert Thomas

      What?

  • geraldfnord

    George Orwell floated the notion that They’d watch us all. That would only tell Them what we as individuals were doing—knowing what we‘re watching can tell Them what in aggregate we’ll be thinking, and doing.

  • Mike Aquino

    How does Tristan suggest educators and schools (especially as we integrate technology into our teaching) help students recognize their own distractions and help to manage them as they grow into adults? I’m a high school teacher and ed tech coach working with students, teachers, and parents.

    • De Blo

      Do high schools allow students to bring cell phones to school? I would assume they would be completely banned, right?

      • Noelle

        or at least surrender the phone to the teacher.

  • William – SF

    My phone offers me slightly more comfort than my socks, which I’m not currently wearing. I long ago let go of the TV. I am definitely an information junkie, and I get my fix certain times of the day, and rarely outside of that. My family and friends are well aware of my loathing of my inclusion in any type of group comment – and they conform. My question is why are phones such crummy phones?

    • Noelle

      YES! The sound quality sucks and no one seems to care about fixing that problem. The “architecture” of them sounds like they would rather you use it more like a computer than as a telephone, thus using up more bandwidth and more money for them?

  • Livegreen

    I take Mr. Harris’s point about the options for reporting negative hate speech on Social Media. I just checked on Facebook and they offer 3 options for hate speech, trolling, swearing, etc.:
    “-It’s Annoying or not interesting
    -I think it shouldn’t be on Facebook
    -It’s spam”

    Those sound like Facebook is minimizing options so they don’t have to do anything. Does it actually work to their stickiness to get more people stay yelling at each other?

  • Livegreen

    What’s the impact on teenagers who can’t get off their phone? What does Mr. Harris think about efforts to help parents work with their children in Middle & High schools, like the movie “Screenagers”?

  • MikeCassady

    Speaking of “manipulations”, I find this current way of approaching issues as a “crisis” not hearer-friendly. That said, Mr. Harris keeps saying “nvever more in human history” have we been so close to exerting undue influence over hearts and minds, supposedly by way of minds. A more synopic view might add some interesting complexity and ambiguity. Some notable innovations that have influenced human thinking might include the printting press, the telephone, and such things as the Christian innovation of basing the practice of the religion on a single text that allowed people to form “communities” beyond line of sight interactions. We’re in the post World War II world, a way station in a long period of mass opinion, consensus generated integration of ways people can integrate with each other in their thinking and the way they shape their opinions. History shows that people find ways to take back their autonomy and use it in enhanced ways their former manipulators could not have imagined.

    • Noelle

      But do most people want to give up conveniences? More like “Brave New World” than “1984”?

      • MikeCassady

        I find dystopian thinking what I do when my imagination is suffering a “brown out.” I Agee with Harris that dealing with IPhones in the hands of children is “alarming” in the right way, but not unprecedented, “never before seen”. That’s rubbish. The commercial people operate on instincts appropriate to the base level they say is required by their fiduciary responsibilities to investors, i.e., you and me with our children as we contribute to our pension funds. What Harris is presupposing is that it’s appropriate to see this matter in its present somewhat silly permutation (talking to screens) as a collective matter in need of a collective response. I am adult enough to weigh the advantages of having access to the is technology to the disadvantages. In fact, if we just focus on the content being shared, or processed and reprocessed, cerebral melt-down appears to be not far off. But, in the spirit of Mcluhan—the message is in the message—what is being shared in the most important sense is the “form”: intimate and direct ways of peer communication opens new prospects for working thoughts and opinions in a more nuanced and testable way. With a bit of critical attention and independence, we can give our own personal shape to how technology serves us. Must I recall to attention that Donald Trump wants less room for open content and discussion so that he can make deals in smokey rooms, behind closed doors,, where power is a guy thing and happens using lies, dirty tricks and arm twisting. An attack on Korea is much less likely if consensus arbitration is wide-open and prepared to phagocyte the small minded antics of “the guys.”

  • De Blo

    I follow a few basic tips – A) do not join or use any social media platforms, B) always delete all cookies with every user session, C) do not install mobile apps, D) use a strong ad blocker, and E) do not check personal e-mail more than once per day.

  • Robert Thomas

    I actually know several tech executives. None would be disturbed by their kid messing around with a 2N3904 or 2N2222, or a 1N914 or an SN7474. Or with a 6DJ8 or a 12AX7A, for that matter (for older kids).

  • geraldfnord

    As an autist ‘blue monkey’ thrown into the monkey-house at five years of age, I was taught to notice social signalling via violence to my person and vandalism of my stuff, at which point I learned to care about the mockery because it was to those former as an aura is to an epileptic fit…but I still have to do that kind of stuff ‘manually’.

    As such, though I don’t make the mistake of thinking I am immune to this stuff, I seem to notice it more than I’m meant to, and I’m here to tell you that your best defences are noticing and saying ‘No.’. At least here and now, noöne is officially allowed to do violence to you if you refrain, and you can survive without these things.

    It’s as easy as losing weight by just eating very little and increasing or maintaining your level of activity.

    • William – SF

      Define ‘blue monkey’, please.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    This discussion reminds me of the quotation from Simone Weil: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” In an era of unhealthy concentrations of power in the economic and political realms, we now add human habits and attention itself. So…thanks for the important attention on attention!

    Meditation and specifically Transcendental Meditation (which really works to facilitate transcendence) is a counterbalancing intervention that is used to good effect by both individuals and increasingly, institutions such as public schools. A few minutes of “unplugging” all the way twice a day can work wonders.

  • red_slider

    I’m happy to report, I don’t own a smart-phone or other mobile device. Even so I am still alive, breathing and reasonably informed. Just never seemed to me I needed some damn machine following me around 24/7. Anyway, it doesn’t do anything for me I can’t do in some other convenient way or, in most cases, don’t really need to do at all. Works for me.

    • Robert Thomas

      Unhappily, pay phones stopped operating reliably twenty years ago and have now disappeared. I have reluctantly succumbed to carrying a cell phone. I look at it less than once a day; I find that its chief utility is for snapping photos.

  • Milt Latta

    I have a rudimentary, mundane question: I heard part of this program while in my car. Now I want to hear the rest. How do I do that?

  • bruno_mirakuru_

    Not a one way direction bc for me autoplay diludes the experience in the negative. If that adds up then a new clean product comes to best the old product. Like myspace. It was so bloated it degraded the exp. Then came facebook.

  • red_slider

    There is only one attempt that I know of to actually head off e-addiction in our children at an early age. Frances Kakugawa’s ‘Wordsworth, It’s in your pocket’ ( https://www.amazon.com/Wordsworth-Your-Pocket-Frances-Kakugawa/dp/1935690779 ) follows a mouse-poet as he tries to disengage his friends from the mess of e-gadgets, cell phones and wires that have ensnared them. Intended for kids(4-11), and younger ones via bedtime stories, it might just help vaccinate our them from the too early seduction that spells the end of face-to-face reality for too many of them. Could be. Charming kids book anyway, I recommend it.

  • Scott Whittaker

    Tightey whiteys

    Two white guys should decide
    Whether the rules of other white guys
    The world’s others should abide,
    Belonging to corporations that teach
    That disagreeing with them is hate speech?

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