A Former Google Design Ethicist on Tech Taking Over Minds
“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them they’ve been fooled.” This is how Tristan Harris begins an epic look at all the ways technology manipulates our minds. Harris speaks from experience: he is the former Design Ethicist and Product Philosopher at Google. Harris is also a former magician, meaning he is used to getting people to “see” things that aren’t there. He writes:
“Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano…. And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention.”
How do they achieve this goal? One essential technique is by giving you an opportunity to pick an option. That choice, however, does not come with control. Harris explains:
“They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can’t emphasize enough how deep this insight is…. When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:
‘what’s not on the menu?’
‘why am I being given these options and not others?’
‘do I know the menu provider’s goals?’
‘is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?'”
In short: It’s easy to assume that tech enables us to have all the information. (After all, you can Google something and get so many search results!) Learn why you’ve been seeing a very tiny piece of the overall picture.
To read the entire article by the former philosopher for Google, click here. And if you want to continue to delve into the issue, watch Harris give a TED Talk below.