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Tristan Harris: How Tech Could Protect Us From Distraction


How often does tech distract us from what we should really be working on? Tristan Harris, previously a design ethicist at Google, believes that it’s far too often. Harris argues that the notifications, pings, and buzzes we so often crave are stealing away our most precious resource – time. Quick checks of email and Facebook very quickly turn into minutes, and then hours of scattered focus and distraction. And unfortunately, even when we know we’re being distracted, it’s not enough to combat our brain’s instinctive response to seek novelty and reward. We click and get sucked into wasting more of our time.

Too often this leaves us with an all-or-nothing choice with our technology. We can either remain connected, distracted, and unproductive, or log-off, sign-out, and let the fear that we’re missing something important set in.

Harris believes that this imbalance calls for a change in design – one that restores choice, choice over our relationship with technology and how we spend our time with it. However, to do this we need tech companies to make a more conscious decision about the goal of the product they’re creating. He argues that instead of simply answering to metrics of efficiency, matches, likes, shares, users, etc., companies should seek to measure success by more meaningful human metrics – metrics that seek to measure net positive contribution to human life.

For example, what if a professional social network measured its success based on the number of job offers people received that they were really excited about, over the more typical metrics of the number of connections made and messages sent. 

It’s with conversations and concerns such as these, that Harris believes we can begin to build a world of technology that truly works for us instead of the other way around. A change that could create a world, where our time isn’t just spent, but rather spent well.


To learn more about Tristan Harris, his movement Time Well Spent, or how you can help start this conversation, visit or