An ex-Google product manager has said the huge tech firms dominating the world, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, are ‘downgrading humanity’.
Tristan Harris, 34, said apps are inadvertently raising a generation of people with short attention spans, outrage-fuelled speech, smartphone addiction and vanity.
Mr Harris established the Center for Humane Technology after leaving Google, set up to push his ‘time well spent’ mantra.
The technology expert is urging people to use devices with care, not to drop using them completely.
Mr Harris is now pushing for safeguards to be put in place to limit the reach of tech firms.
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Tristan Harris (pictured) said the manifestation of once convenient apps into all-consuming behemoths has inadvertently raised a generation of people with shortened attention spans, outrage-fuelled dialogue, smartphone addiction and vanity
‘This is really serious. We are not fooling around,’ Mr Harris said on stage at a San Francisco event, The Times reports.
‘Technology is holding the pen of history right now.’
Mr Harris went on to say the root of many of society’s problematic issues, including mental health and an obsession with likes and views, are exacerbated by the widening reach of tech.
The ability to scroll through content endlessly and auto-play features of video platforms like Facebook and YouTube makes it harder for people to put down their devices, he says
‘This is overwhelming who we are and our identities,’ Mr Harris said. ‘While we have been upgrading machines, we have been downgrading our humanity.’
Evidence is mounting to support his claims, but the ex-Googler did not propose a clear-cut solution to the issues he raised.
But he did promise three things from the Center for Humane Technology to try and help.
These are a dedicated guide for companies to use to promote healthier use, a podcast about these issues and a conference dedicated to the issue for next year.
He said: ‘This is a civilisational moment in a way I’m not sure we’re all reckoning with,’ Harris said on stage.
‘It’s a historical moment when a species that is intelligent builds technology that … can simulate a puppet version of its creator, and the puppet can control the master.
‘That’s an unprecedented situation to be in. That could be the end of human agency, when you can perfectly simulate not just the strengths of people but their weaknesses.’
Reaction to his speech was mixed, with some unnamed experts in the field resenting the statements.
An unnamed executive at the event told Wired: ‘Tristan sees humans as pawns incapable of managing their own lives.
‘He thinks designers are infinitely powerful and can coerce people to do whatever they want.
‘It is a pure farce. ‘I like to imagine Tristan reviewing the latest restaurant.
‘They have clearly intentionally added flavor to this dish to make me want to come back and visit this business again. What scoundrels!’
A study by communications regulator Ofcom found teenagers are spending too much time on devices (pictured). The World Health Organization issued new guidelines on how much activity children should do. It warned children should not spend any time looking at phones, tablets or TVs until they are at least two years old
The warning comes as the World Health Organization issued new guidelines on how much activity children should do.
It recommends children should not spend any time looking at phones, tablets or TVs until they are at least two years old.
Screen time may lead to children being obese, having slower brain and physical development, and worse mental health, the WHO report suggested.
Instead, it recommended children spend time reading or being read to, doing puzzles, drawing or singing in order to improve their brain development.
The advice will be unwelcome to many British parents – more than half of three to four-year-olds use the internet every week and one in five have their own tablet.
Experts in the UK have not readily accepted the WHO’s warnings, being sceptical about the dangers of screen-time and criticising the quality of scientific evidence.
‘The benefits of less screen-based sedentary behaviour (TV viewing, watching videos, playing computer games) include reduced [obesity], improved motor and cognitive development and psychosocial health,’ the report said.
Experts at the WHO issued the new advice as scientific evidence continues to build of the potential harms of children using screens too often.
HOW COULD TOO MUCH TIME STARING AT SCREENS AFFECT CHILDREN?
Research has shown spending too much time looking at screens – smartphones, tablets, computers and televisions, for example – can be damaging to children’s intelligence, sleep, mental health and vision.
A 2018 study by the CHEO Research Institute in Ottawa found eight to 11-year-olds performed five per cent worse on brain power tests than their peers if they spent two hours per day looking at screens.
This, they suggested, may be because looking at screens isn’t as stimulating as reading, and could interfere with vital sleep.
Disturbed sleep was also the focus of a warning from the UK’s Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health earlier this year, when it recommended children don’t use screens before bed.
The RCPCH said high levels of screen time are linked to a less healthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and poorer mental health.
Dr Max Davie, a health officer said: ‘Parents need to get control of their own screen time if they are going to get control of the family’s screen time. It’s much easier to be authoritative if you practise what you preach.’
Dr Langis Michaud, a professor of optometry at the University of Montreal, wrote in The Conversation in February: ‘A rapid increase in visual problems has been noted since the introduction of the smartphone in 2007.
‘While the device itself does not emit harmful radiation, it requires the user to read its screen at a distance of 20 cm rather than the normal distance of 45cm to 50cm.
‘It has been suggested that this close distance boosts the risk of developing myopia by eight times, especially if both parents are myopic.’