Monday, 13 January 2020


My life is enriched with delight by innovation and curious developments. Every visit to a supermarket or department store has my despairing wife saying “no!” as I pick up new pickles, digital radios, fitness watches and, a “NEW” Peruvian Ready Meal…she’s rather like Mrs Thatcher:-
 “No! No! No!”

Let me be clear. I think our world today is in so many ways better than it was in the so-called “good old days”.  Overall we are wealthier, healthier, cleverer and less protective of knowledge. Whilst we used to believe that knowledge was power,  we now think data is the new oil. The more data the richer we’ll be.

I watch my grandsons smart, lovely, affectionate people becoming transfixed by their phones and games. I find myself justifying the educational benefits of Fortnite and FIFA 20. But I know there’s something not quite right here. As I myself find the urge to check my own phone on the train when I see someone else check theirs, I realise the helpless need of the addict as I stare at my screen. How has it come to this?

It’s when senior executives from Diageo (as if they would) start saying “for goodness sake don’t drink alcohol” that you know there’s big problem. Which is why so many of the senior executives in Silicon Valley are denying their children the joys (sic) of their technology.

Enter Tristan Harris, ex-disillusioned, senior Google executive aged 35.

We are experiencing what he calls, a ‘systemic catastrophe’. He talks of the perils of the giant techno-companies realising our attention is worth money; that gaining it is their goal. He calls this “Attention Capitalism” – and claims it’s “making us nastier, stupider and less likely to find common ground”

What’s happening? He says our brains are being rewired and this is pulling us apart as a society. The nastier we are in our tweets, the more violent words we include, the more we’ll get re-tweeted….so bloody well bang you snot-gobbling-tossers! (Watch that one go viral.)

He claims that fake news spreads six times faster than accurate news. Actually satire discovered this ages ago but now our phones seem to be destroying our sense of humour. What was fake and regarded as such, is now taken (too often) literally. That’s why I love ‘Onion’ – the American satirical site.

Tristan tells us to keep our phones away from our bedrooms, remove social media from them, talk rather than text, type apps thus un-branding icons, go greyscale – it’s less seductive – turn off all notifications apart from those from people and regain control of our calendar by looking at our phone only occasionally.  His services are in high demand by corporate America.

This story is about – and I’m sorry to borrow this Brexit theme – taking back control. The emergence of “attention capitalism” makes this hard. But we can do it if we stand up to the silicon bullies.

I’m not a Luddite but let’s question how we use technology.



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