Since I met Tristan Harris in 2005, he's always been a reasoned iconoclast who has stood for something. After college at Stanford, I recall seeing him with matted hair in downtown Palo Alto. He told me he'd been sleeping on floors in self-imposed hardship to keep himself focused on the most important thing at the time, which was launching his company, Apture. At Apture he sought to bring more depth and context to the web, ultimately signing up the who's who of the publishing world before selling the technology to Google in his early 20s. At Google he became a product philosopher, and began to consider the power that product designers and developers wield, and the responsibilities that come with it. "Never before in history have the decisions of a handful of designers (mostly men, white, living in SF, aged 25–35) working at 3 companies”—Google, Apple, and Facebook—“had so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention … We should feel an enormous responsibility to get this right,” he says in a fantastic new Atlantic article about the importance of more humanity in our technology.
We are at an inflection point where the ubiquity of our technology, and the speed with which it's impacting the far reaches of our society call for greater attention not just to how we build it, but why it matters, and how it extends and contributes to the achievement of human goals. Lest we refocus on these important issues, the habit-inducing bits of our technology in our attention economy are quickly leading to, as Tristan says, "a race to the bottom of the brain stem."