Center For Humane Technology

I often find myself trying to set an alarm just to immediately open twitter or reddit. I will usually browse unconsciously until I remember the only reason I picked up my phone was to set an alarm. This has happened so much that I’ve tried deleting Twitter so that this stops. I sometimes delete all social media apps for the same reason but, soon after, I get annoyed that I can't communicate with friends. I then download all the apps again, and again, and again.

Fortunately, others have had concerns over consumer’s relationships with their technology. Former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris, is advancing his policy of bettering humans relationship with technology by pushing the Time Well Spent movement. He’s leading this movement via the Center For Humane Technology, a foundation focused on popularizing the widespread effects that technology has on our society.

A portion of the problem they have identified is that social media platforms are engineered to promote certain feelings within their users.

They believe identifying the problems are necessary to moving forward. The Center for Humane Technology has noted how social media platforms are engineered to promote certain feelings within their users. "Snapchat turns conversations into streaks, redefining how our children measure friendship. Instagram glorifies the picture-perfect life, eroding our self worth. Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities. YouTube autoplays the next video within seconds, even if it eats into our sleep." Even if these systems are solely engineered to increase business revenue, they still undoubtedly have negative effects on their users.

Technology ethicists believe device manufactures such as Samsung, Apple and Microsoft have the power to curtail this problem because manufactures’ profits are independent of how much their customers actually use their devices. These companies have the ability to reduce constant distractions, minimize screen time, and create incentives for 3rd party developers to make programs that increase productivity rather than waste time.

It is exciting to see Android and Apple announcing tools to reduce phone usage within their upcoming software releases Android P and iOS 12. These updates prove the Time Well Spent movement is having an effect on silicon valley and is making real societal progress. I do believe this is only the beginning of this fight as we are now fully immersed in the technological era.

Immersive technologies such as Augmented and Virtual Reality are still in their infancy, and I anticipate a similar struggle during their mass adoption. As we move forward in time, our relationships with technology will continue to grow closer than ever with Virtual and Augmented Reality bridging that gap. It is important that developers use their positions to create programs that are inherently good for their users. Similar to the Center for Humane Tech's sentiment, their programs should focus on increasing the standard of living for our society. I am looking forward to seeing how the Time Well Spent movement plays out as our relationship with technology matures.

Robert Coomber