A handful of people working at a handful of tech companies are steering your teens’ thoughts. Could this be true? Or is it science fiction?
It’s true, says Tristan Harris. This handful of people are using the psychology of persuasion to grab teens’attention. And ours. Harris actually said that in the control rooms of the tech companies “a bunch of people, a hundred people, hunched over a desk with little dials . . . shape the thoughts and feelings of a billion people . . . right now, today.” They reach us below the level of consciousness, at the bottom of the brain stem, persuading us to think thoughts we never intended to think and do things we never intended to do (emphasis added).
The goal of these tech companies is to control our time, our attention, and our feelings. They have conditioned us to respond instantaneously to every notification and to check our devices before we do anything else and while we are doing everything else.
Harris used to be one of this handful of people. He studied persuasive technology at Stanford University and worked as a design ethicist at Google. He saw firsthand the manipulative tricks being used to control people’s time and attention. YouTube, for example, vies for attention by auto playing the next video. Netflix competes by auto playing the next episode, and Facebook auto plays all the videos in the newsfeed before waiting for you to click “Play.”
“Anyone who can pay,” says Harris in his TED talk, “can walk into the control room and say ‘That group over there, I want to schedule these thoughts into their minds.’ So you can target, you can precisely target a lie directly to the people who are most susceptible (emphasis added). And because this is profitable it’s only going to get worse. ”
This is not good!
“The costs are so obvious,” Harris says. “I don’t know a more urgent problem than this. It’s not just taking away our agency to spend our attention and live the lives that we want. It’s changing the way we have our conversations, it’s changing democracy, and it’s changing our ability to have the conversations and relationships we want to have with each other.”
If social media is monopolizing teens’ time and attention, diverting them from thoughts and activities that would be more beneficial for their social and spiritual development, and for their happiness and their general wellbeing, we need to help them realize this.
What can you do to help your teens to counteract the tugging of “the handful,” who have zero interest in their welfare?
To be continued . . .