What’s a Design Ethicist
What’s a tech design ethicist? And why does it matter?
During his 3 years at Google (2013-2016) Tristan Harris was the first person to officially hold the title of design ethicist. This meant that he was in charge of making sure that products were designed in such a way that they wouldn’t hijack the users mind. Conscious of the reach that tech giants have, his job was to make sure that their products would “ethically” steer the thoughts and actions of their users.
A pacifist in the great eyeball war
He recognised that, what started as a race for monetisation slowly turned into an addiction eating away at the core of our society and in order to push back against this “digital attention crisis” the former Mountain View employee co-founded the movement Time Well Spent. The aim of this non-profit is to replace the “time spent” economy, where apps and websites compete for your attention, by an ecosystem in which technology companies compete for your well-being.
To prove that tech products are not neutral, but rather far deeper reaching problems, the organisation gives us 4 examples:
- Snapchat turns conversations into streaks, redefining how our children measure friendship.
- Instagram glorifies the picture-perfect life, eroding our self worth.
- Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities.
- YouTube autoplays the next video within seconds, even if it eats into our sleep.
In fine, this means replacing the current question of “how to capture as much attention as possible?” with “what’s best for humanity’s interest”.