Business Digest N°281 (November 2017)
Do you feel like sometimes you waste a crazy amount of time on your smartphone or computer? That you surf without any real sense of direction from app to app, from one web site to the next? Well, rest assured, you are not alone! The most popular apps and sites have been deliberately designed to encourage you to spend as much time as possible on them. With their frequent notifications, links that trap you in never-ending loops, and videos that launch automatically, our smartphones have been made to be as addictive as slot machines: every time you click, it triggers a rush of adrenaline and an expectation of reward. This, at any rate, is the conclusion reached by Tristan Harris, a former engineer at Google who was in charge of the company’s so-called “product philosophy”. In an article Harris wrote in 2016, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind” , he criticized the way the Silicon Valley giants “steal millions of hours from people’s lives by exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities”. Harris argues that the most highly sought “commodity” among digital companies is our attention. Welcome, then, to the “attention economy”, the theme of our first feature.
Faced with the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple, are we fighting a losing battle? No! You can regain control of your attention by, for example, agreeing to let your mind wander freely rather than constantly trying to distract it, a technique explained in our second feature on personal efficiency.
1. “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind – from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist”, by Tristan Harris (Medium, May 2016).