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article imageAre tech companies guilty of 'downgrading' our attention spans?

By Tim Sandle     Apr 24, 2019 in Technology
Are technology companies responsible for the 'downgrading' of humanity? Driving us towards a world of short attention spans and seeking the simplicity of the soundbite? This is the new thesis from Tristan Harris.
Has the digital revolution shifted from expanding our minds to hijacking them? This is the new argument put forward by Tristan Harris, based on his contention that the way social media encourages us to engage in likes, retweets and reshares, which can become an addiction, is simply serving to make us distracted and depressed.
Developing Humane Technology
Tristan Harris is a writer, presenter and former Google employee, who looks at the way humanity interacts with technology. Harris is director and a co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology. While acknowledging that technology has and will continue to deliver many benefits, Harris is concerned with the impact that technology is having in shaping our lives. His current concern with downgrading follows on from his previous proposition on time-wasting, around the idea that social media encourages us to waste too much time and that technology companies can take proactive steps to reduce this.
Time Well Spent
Harris founded the Time Well Spent movement, which originated from a campaign he launched within Google (and a presentation titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention"). With this, Harris attempted to influence technology companies to design systems that gave people time back, such as minimizing the frequency at which people receive and feel the need to check social media messages.
Downgrading
Downgrading is, according to Harris, the dark side of social media. The effect of social media, Harris tells Wired, is what "feels like a downgrading of humans, a downgrading of humanity, a downgrading of our relationships, a downgrading of our attention, a downgrading of democracy, a downgrading of our sense of decency.”
The culprits are not the users of social media, according to Harris, but the technology companies who have created the social effect of shortened attention spans, outrage-fueled dialogue, smartphone addiction, vanity and a polarized electorate. To counteract this, Harris tells The Verge, technology companies to trigger a new “race to the top.” This is a reimagining of social media centered on building tools that will help people focus, find common ground and promote healthy childhoods. It is also possible, Harris states, for social media to help bolster democracy rather than being a tool that disrupts it.
Harris criticizes recent innovations by technology companies in providing consumers tools to monitor how much they use their devices and apps for. In place of this he wants to see technology companies actively using devices and apps to encourage users to go and do other things that are more creative and fulfilling.
More about downgrading, attention span, time well spent, time wasted
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