The Ezra Klein Show – Tristan Harris


How technology is bringing out the worst in us.

“I think that social media’s deterioration in 2016 (and becoming addictive in the process) is amplifying the addiction that’s already in there, and people think they’re losing agency and realizing how much time they’re spending on their phones.”

Tristan Harris, a former Google employee, has been making the rounds talking about the need for ‘humane technology’ and ‘time well spent’ on our social media platforms. He sees the current state-of-things-online as an example of people waking up to some serious realities, and I couldn’t agree more.

“If you’re a teenager, the first thing that you see in the morning is your friends having fun without you. Just imagine 100-million human animals waking up and first thing they see is this. That would do something. It’s very powerful and persuasive.”

Certainly, features like Snapchat’s ‘streaks’ are systems meant to not only keep you as a user, but addict you in a very serious way. While I don’t think this is particularly shocking (did anyone not think this?), it’s worth considering when you think about what kind of impact this is having on society at large.

He uses an interesting analogy (magicians) to detail what kind of systems are being created to prey on human behavior:

“In magic, you can change people’s choices by rapidly pushing them to make an immediate choice because the impulsive choices are the ones you can predict most accurately.”

So much of what makes a technology addictive is indistinguishable from a magician’s push.

“I brought Thích Nhất Hạnh to Google, and he came because he was worried. This thing in our pocket, it’s never been easier to run away from ourselves. The moment you have anxiety, you can run away instantly.”

There are some instances where it’s easier to break a bad habit by recognizing why you picked it up isn’t he first place. Perhaps it would be good of us all to recognize these moments as what they are — moments of fear. Perhaps we’d be less inclined to enter into escapism if we knew exactly what we were doing.

“Win-lose games (where I win when you lose) combined with exponential tech becomes lose-lose. This is true for nuclear weapons, and it’s true with social media. This is why you need some kind of arbiter to protect it.”

Tristan Harris argues that regulation should be that arbiter. I’m not sure—but I believe that the lose-lose game we’re playing is definitely in need of an end.