Post Oct. 30, 2016
In the November issue of The Atlantic I found an article entitled The Binge Breaker, that I hope signals a long overdue reaction against the amount of our lives we spend on digital communication. It is here. It features a man named Tristan Harris, who although he has traditional Silicon Valley credentials (dropped out of computer science graduate school at Stanford to found a start-up), is now the co-founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group (consisting mainly of him) that is trying to get people to become more sensible about the amount of time they spend on such things as their smart phone.
The article points out the obvious about digital communication—there are hundreds, if not thousands of highly trained and very intelligent people attempting to get us to spend ever more time interacting on our digital devices. And they are successful. I witnessed the ultimate yesterday on the Stanford campus, where students typically have their smart phone in one hand, and are often talking into it. While riding my bicycle to my office, I passed a girl riding her bicycle, talking with her phone in one hand, and using the other to simultaneously control the bicycle and hold a cup of coffee (four fingers for the cup, and a whole thumb for the handlebar). Miss Contemporary College Student. But this worship of constant interconnection does not stop when one leaves college.
Time Well Spent is simply attempting people to think about how much of their lives they are spending on the professionally designed seductiveness of their digital devices, rather than on other activities that might be more memorable, more important in the future, and yes—more fun.
I have never followed the sometimes-considered politeness of rapidly acknowledging the receipt of messages, especially by being seduced into a conversation or some kind of “snap” activity. I am guilty of not answering most of my e-mail messages, and in fact not even reading them, and even though I write posts for this blog, I read few blog posts, comment on almost none, and definitely do not take up invitations to become friends, contact, or whatever to many people. Am I a bad guy? I think I would be worse if I tried to keep up with all the people who want to communicate with me (I am a retired engineering professor and therefore highly visible to people who are engaged with activities such as Linked-In). Although incredibly entertaining, I try to limit my time on You Tube and never surf the web. I am not going to live forever, and there are many things I want to do more than be fastened to the internet.
Old fashioned? On the contrary, I think I reflect the future. Tristan Harris is attracting a large amount of attention from companies, venture capitalists, and the world in general. I went to a party the other night and ran into an old friend and computer person. I asked him what he was doing. Of all things, he recently started a small company that intends to help individuals, groups, and organizations increase their productivity, creativity, and the quality of their lives, by not being controlled by their digital devices. Coincidence? He knew of Harris. Maybe we are starting to wake up. A few people (Sherry Turkle as an example) have been awake for quite a while—read Alone Together (Basic Books)