Tristan Harris wants to undo technology—the harmful parts, that is. The former Google employee believes companies make products addictive on purpose. Finally, after years of pushing for change, Harris sees progress . . . and hope.
Harris’ gripe with technology isn’t addiction or even time wasting—though they are real problems. (Americans spend an average of 11 hours a day staring at screens!) Rather, he’s fighting a process he calls “human downgrading.”
Human downgrading is the idea that technology harms humanity. Some experts say downgrading from technology has shortened attention spans, pushed people toward extreme views, and made them angrier and more self-focused. Trends like constant selfie snapping, cyberbullying, and fake news—all outgrowths of technology—alarm Harris. He wants to help.
The human desire to solve problems reflects God’s character. God sent His Son to solve two of the world’s biggest ills: sin and death. (John 3:16) But with or without technology, humans will still make wrong choices. Martin Luther wrote, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” Christians must lean on a loving, almighty God, for “He must win the battle.”
After leaving Google, Harris founded a group called Time Well Spent. He pressured companies to build screen time usage tools into their devices. Today, these tools allow users to schedule screen downtime, set app time limits, and block sites. But they must be willing to do so.
Harris wants to do more. He believes people should be aware that tech designers purposefully make devices addictive. He calls these tactics a race “to scoop attention out of your brain.” Harris’ Center for Humane Technology works to reveal what technology is doing and how users can fight back.
When you head to Facebook, Harris says, Facebook calls up “all the clicks you’ve ever made, all the likes you’ve ever done, all the things you’ve ever watched.” Then the company bombards you with everything it knows you have trouble resisting. Creepy, huh?
Once people understand what’s happening, Harris thinks they might even pay for a version of Facebook “that didn’t have any interest in manipulating your brain, basically making you as vulnerable as possible to advertisers.” Harris says it’s the advertisers—and not the users—who are the real tech giant customers.
After years of effort, Harris is seeing change. “I just want to give you hope,” he says to tech consumers. “I would have never expected so much to start changing.” People are pressuring companies to stop picking their brains. He adds, “We just need that pressure to continue.”