Resource: Tristan Harris on the attention economy

This is a good interview on the Tim Ferriss show, covering the Attention Economy and extractive economics more generally.


The fundamental place that went wrong was when we attached financial success directly to the capturing of human behaviour, the controlling and shaping of human behaviour. Because that’s where the persuasive technology stuff comes in. Because those principles became applied to “How do I keep you engaged?”

With the follow button, instead of just adding someone as a friend, which is the Facebook model, the bidirectional connection model, followers and the follow button and model created a reason why you would always get new email.

And so that was this beautiful invention that got people coming back, and ultimately to become addicted to getting attention from other people. And the same thing with the like button.

Instead of persuading to capture your attention, it was much cheaper to get people hooked to seeing how much attention they got from other people. Because I don’t have to do anything to you, you are now autonomously going back to see, “How many views did I get…? How many likes did I get?”

And I think that’s where went wrong, is when we tied business success and billions of dollars to the amount that we captured attention.
And we have to go through a mass decoupling between business success and capturing human beings. And that’s going to be an uncomfortable transition. It’s a big transition, I think, that’s of the scale of going from an extractive energy economy of fossil fuels to a regenerative energy economy.

The metaphor that we make is there are only so many environmental resources, and drilling for oil worked great for generating a whole energy economy that gave us all this prosperity but now, unless we want to deal with climate catastrophe we’ve got to switch to a regenerative energy economy that doesn’t directly couple profit with extraction.

The same thing is here, except that the finite substrate that we’re extracting from is our own brains…
and we have to decouple this relationship that profit is directly coupled with the extraction and move it to a more regenerative model where we’re not the cow, or the product, but we’re the customer.

Tristan HarrisThe Tim Ferriss Show #387

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