While using technology, we take it for granted that the technology is working for us. It is for this purpose only that we develop a technology. Actually most of the times, the technology works for us like a friend, guides us, helps us in our day to day activities and serves us to accomplish our tasks. So man is the master and machine is the servant.
Unfortunately, this is not true all the time. As Tristan Harris, a former Product Manager at Google explains, there are situations when it becomes just the opposite. Technology becomes the master and influences us to perceive or behave as per its wishes, even without our realizing it.
Harris in an interview with Nicholas Thompson, the Editor in Chief of “Wired” magazine discussed at length how smart phones that we think as our companions to make our lives so easy, are actually tools to usurp our thinking process. He says that almost 2 billion people in the world are using smart phones and we are spending a lot of time on it. Wherever you go, in markets, in malls, in offices, in colleges, at homes, everywhere you will find people busy with their smart phones. This is exactly the technology companies want us to do. He argues that more we spend our time with smart phones; more it is beneficial for them. He alleges that there are three groups of technology companies who benefit from our unusual addiction to phone.
- Firstly, companies like Google, Apple etc who design the operating systems.
- Next one is the companies who make smart phones and their software.
- Lastly, Face book, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat etc companies who keep people glued to them.
He criticizes that the technology has more influence on the people nowadays than anything else. This helps the technology people to manipulate your thought processes with the information, ideas, views, discussions, notifications, advertisements, apps etc they provide. You get actually sucked into an endless chain of their products that it becomes very difficult to come out. Many times you might have observed that your own thoughts on a subject get tilted, modified or completely changed under its influence. This is what he terms “as the mass hijacking of minds” where the technology takes a considerable control of your own thought process.
This is a serious matter. How do we come out of this drastic situation? Harris goes on to suggest the following.
- Transform our self-awareness – To have the understanding and control what we choose to take, what not and where to stop at the endless chain of provided information.
- Transform the design – You get a notification or a message, you read it, many thoughts come to your mind, you get persuaded to react and you are dragged into a long chain reaction losing your precious time. The technology design must be transformed such that you can preserve that time and take the notification activity to a different timeline. The technology should address what is good for you.
- Transform business accountability – Harris says this especially pertains to the advertising business. You look at your smart phone and you find many advertisements not relevant to you but they are there. All the time you are bombarded with many unwanted ones. Though yet to be developed, there must be a technology whereby you can choose what advertisement should come to your phone as per your requirement and not as per advertisers’ requirement.
The business model of these technology companies is different from what is good for mankind. There are two ways the transformation can take place to align them. Either the companies themselves jointly develop ways to make transformation possible or the government intervenes. The important point is sooner the better.