TechnologyThe Social Dilemma

The attention merchants: time for a new type of tech

By September 14, 2020 No Comments

Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix yet? If you haven’t you really should. It’s about how technology has developed in the past decade from good intentions to draining our attention, creating mental health problems and dividing society. It’s time for a change and we at i2i want to be part of that change. The documentary was driven by The Center for Humane Technology and you can see more about how it came in to being here.

The Center for Humane Technology was founded by Tristan Harris, Called the “closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience” by The Atlantic magazine, Tristan was the former Design Ethicist at Google. He is a world expert on how technology steers us all, leaving Google to engage the issue publicly. Tristan spent over a decade understanding subtle psychological forces, from his childhood as a magician to working with the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, to his role as CEO of Apture, which was acquired by Google. Tristan has been sounding the alarm about technology’s dark sides before most of the world caught on, according to Bloomberg, having been featured on 60 Minutes, TED, the PBS News Hour and more. He has worked with major technology CEOs and briefed Heads of State and other political leaders. He is the co-host of the podcast, “Your Undivided Attention.”

Tech culture needs an upgrade. To enter a world where all technology is humane, we need to replace old assumptions with a deeper understanding of how to add value to people’s lives. It is essential to design new tech products with human vulnerabilities in mind as the human brain is inherently vulnerable. While social networks claim to connect us, all too often they distract us from connecting with those directly in front of us, leaving many feeling both connected and socially isolated.

Social media companies whose business models based on ads are driving the so-called ‘attention economy’ which means aggressively optimising for engagement metrics at all costs, which is what has created the ‘ledger of harms’, including loneliness, lack of self-worth and decreased focus and cognition.

We believe at i2i you can be values-driven while still being informed by metrics. You can spend your time thinking about the specific values (e.g., health, well-being, connection, productivity, fun, creativity…) you intend to create with your product or feature. Under the right conditions, humans are highly capable of accomplishing goals, connecting with others, having fun, and doing many other things technology seeks to help with. Technology can give space for that brilliance to thrive, or it can displace and atrophy it. In each design choice, we aim to support the conditions in which brilliance naturally occurs.

We believe in asking our community for feedback and involving them in the ways we move forward. We will be fully launching in the autumn with the social bubble feature that came about via our research with students from the LSE. It was originally meant to be small groups of 1 organiser and 10 participants meeting around topics that they want to discuss or learn about. However, because of the Covid ‘Rule of 6’ restrictions, we have had to reduce the participants to 5, which means we will launch a but later.

We welcome your feedback about the app and ideas for future development. Please do contact us here.