It’s Time to Redesign the Attention Economy (Part I)
Tristan Harris
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Great stuff here Tristan. You should read “The Attention Merchants” by Tim Wu if you haven’t. He makes a good case that “grabbing our attention” has been one of the biggest industries for centuries, starting with penny newspapers in the 1800s. Google makes much of its money this way (as you well know). While we we all want to focus on things that use our time “well,” the business models for most internet businesses is to addict us to their content/systems and drive “engagement.” Nearly every internet company measures success by “user engagement,” not “user value.”

As I think about your thesis, I think designers will be challenged until consumers truly “stop using” products that waste our time. Things that are truly useful tend to get used a lot, but then we have to pay for them instead of getting them for free. How well would Google operate if we shut off all the distracting ads? How well would Facebook operate if we didn’t see a steady stream of ads and silly videos? It’s the business model at play here, so I think the ultimate issue is when we, as consumers, will just “stop going to slot machines.”

Its a challenging problem to fix, but over time I hope great designers like you really can find ways to get us “hooked” to things that give us meaningful value, not just emotional gratification. Look forward to talking with you and discussing this much more.

(I talk about this with HR departments in big companies all the time as we look for ways to improve productivity in teams and business.)