New Group Hopes to Take on Tech’s Addictive Tendencies

The Center for Humane Technology, launched this week, counts people once associated with Google and Facebook among its cofounders. (They’ve emerged as critics of what the companies are doing.) The group is getting its footing by launching an awareness campaign with Common Sense Media.

Some of the people who helped Silicon Valley build the technology that we use every day are raising fundamental questions about its impact. To underline the point, they launched a new group this week to push back against the worst elements of that technology.

The Center for Humane Technology counts an array of former technologists and executives associated with firms such as Facebook, Google, Mozilla, and NVIDIA as its cofounders. And the group wants to rebuff the abuses of modern technology—abuses which largely appear in the form of the theft of attention and in the addictive nature of the devices.

Tristan Harris, a former Google employee also known for founding the startup Apture, will head the new group as its executive director. Other cofounders include former Mozilla designer Aza Raskin, whose father, Jef, helped create the Apple Macintosh; early Facebook investor Roger McNamee, who has emerged as a critic of the company he financially supported; and Randy Fernando, who both worked at NVIDIA and ran a nonprofit focused on mindfulness issues.

To start, the group is collaborating closely with already-established Common Sense Media, which advocates for the safe use of technology and media and recently criticized Facebook’s decision to create a messenger app targeted at children. The two groups are teaming on a campaign called Truth About Tech, which aims to pressure technology companies to make less addictive products.

(Harris will also serve as a senior fellow with Common Sense.)

In a news release, Harris criticized the work of technology companies that “are now engaged in a full-blown arms race to capture and retain human attention, including the attention of kids.” He recommended that tech experts take a step back and reconsider what they’re building.

“Technologists, engineers, and designers have the power and responsibility to hold themselves accountable and build products that create a better world,” he emphasized. “Plenty of smart engineers and designers in the industry want to create apps that provide us with the information we need to improve our lives as quickly as possible, instead of just sucking us in for as long as possible.”

McNamee, speaking at a launch event for the group this week, raised concerns that Facebook’s design incentivized a decline in discourse.

“Facebook created a business model that essentially made people who believe [conspiracy theories] more valuable,” he said, according to Mashable. “It was in [Facebook’s] interest to appeal to fear and anger.”

And James Steyer, the founder of Common Sense Media, added in an interview with Harris on CBS This Morning that the technology was reshaping human interaction—and as a result, there’s a need to push back.

“What the studies really show is, parents and kids, all of us, need help. We really need to take this on. This is changing everything,” he said in the interview.

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Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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