Is Your Phone Controlling You? Are 50 People in Silicon Valley Impacting the Decisions of 1 Billion People? PBS Discussion with Former Google Employee, Tristan Harris

LISTEN NOW! WATCH FULL PROGRAM! It’s no surprise to realize that technology is effecting our lives, even the very way that carry out our daily routines. But, what we may not know or realize is the psychological effects that technology has. When PBS sat down to discuss the inner workings and designs of technology that all of us may be aware of, our smartphones, with former Google employee, Tristan Harris, he shared some interesting realities regarding the processes that go into designing this technology.

He gets right to the point by expressing, “I noticed when I was at Stanford, uh, there was a class called ‘The Persuasive Technology Design Class’. There was a whole lab at Stanford that teaches students how to apply persuasive psychology principles into technology to persuade people to use products in a certain way”. He continues to share, “It’s not about giving you all this freedom, it’s about sucking you in to take your time.” What some may not be aware of, is that, companies like Google, make much of their revenue from advertising. So, companies who are using certain websites and apps to show their advertising, want you to stay on certain pages for as long as possible in order for you to see their product, and make more money.

Harris points out how technology is now offering a “reality” that is quite contrary to the true reality that is all around us. “I often say that [technology] puts a new choice on life’s menu that is sweeter than reality.” He continues, “So, we’re turning to it more and more often. We check our phones about 150 times per day.” What we may never consider is the effects of the “constant scrolling” that many can attest doing when their phones are in their hands. One that is all too familiar with the “constant scrolling”, Harris shares about the effects it has on him personally, “I feel like, I don’t feel very good after that. I feel like my anxiety goes up. I feel, uh, more concerned about what I’m missing, what I’m missing out on, who I haven’t gotten back to. People think that I’m bad at getting back to them; all of this, sort of psychology emerges, all because of this one thing in my pocket.”

We can clearly see the end of the production line as each of our phones rests so comfortably in the palms of our hands; but have we ever considered how this technology first took shape when it was in the design phase? As one who used to work at Google, he discusses how design teams tossed around this question regarding the design of the Gmail Inbox App; “Should we make it buzz your phone every single time you get an email?” He talks about how he foresaw this choice effecting such a diverse group of people. “The outcome of that one choice would be a billion people getting buzzed at dinners with their dates, with their friends, and with their family, all of these billions of phones by the product of this one choice.” As Harris soaked in the reality of this looming question, he came to an astonishing realization. “Never before in history have 50, mostly male, 20 – 35 year old designers, living in California, working at three tech companies, influenced how a billion people spend their time.”

It seems like it was generations ago when the news used to take up one channel when it came on. When it did, there appeared to be a “hush” that fell across all of those present so that each could intently listen and hear what was being said. Fast forward to present day and there is a continual stream of news and information that doesn’t seem to stop. It’s important that we do not submit to technology but that we use technology to submit to us. God has delivered many prophetic words about how social media and technology will be used for the Kingdom, but we also must have the wisdom to turn technology off so that we can be involved with the relationships of reality that are right next to us. See the full interview with Tristan Harris, see more of the inner workings of Harris’ own projects, how Harris uses his phone, and so much more. Also shared in this segment: Twitter, anticipation, notifications, paper planning, and anxiety. Greg and Steve shared in this segment. 
Shutterstock.com/ Syda Productions 

 

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