Ethical design of technology is a hot topic right now, and Tristan Harris has been catalyzing a lot of broader discussion about the perils of persuasive technologies. He quit his job as a design ethicist at Google after feeling limited in his ability to bring about meaningful change, and he started the Time Well Spent movement that got a lot of features integrated into the iPhone and Android operating systems to help people more mindfully use technology. He recently launched a non-profit called The Center for Humane Technology that is bringing to light the interconnected harms of technology that are mutually self-reinforcing tat include the reduction of attention spans, distraction, information overload, polarization, outragification of politics, filter bubbles, breakdown of trust, narcissism, influencer culture, quantification of attention from others, impacts on teenage mental health, social isolation, deep fakes, and lower intimacy


I had a chance to catch up with Harris at the Decentralized Web Summit to talk about his journey into looking at the harms of technology, and his holistic approach of looking at potential policy changes, educating the culture, and looking at different ethical design principles for technologists and designers. He says that we need more sophisticated design frameworks that include a more introspective and phenomenological understanding of human nature, and that include how to design for trust, for participation, for empathy, and for understanding. All technology designers are facing a number of fundamental design challenges within our current cultural context, and before we continue to design the future of immersive systems, then it’s worth taking a moment to reflect upon some of the broader issues and challenges that we’re facing with our current technological infrastructure and economic business practices of surveillance capitalism.


Here’s a video of the testimony that Harris provided at the The Senate Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet on June 25 in a session titled “Optimizing for Engagement: Understanding the Use of Persuasive Technology on Internet Platforms:” His full written statement can be found here.

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Music: Fatality

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