Is technology a symptom or the cause?

After hearing his TED talk, I became very interested in what Tristan Harris was doing at the Centre for Humane Technology. Essentially, he is one of a growing number of tech experts who are concerned about the impact technology – particularly social media – is having on us both as individuals, and society as a whole.

With research showing that ‘pull to refresh’ features activate the same part of our brains as fruit machines, it’s easy to see where there might be a problem. If you knew a child who spent three or four hours a day playing fruit machines, you’d probably be concerned – and rightly so.

There’s no doubt that the objective of most tech companies is to get us to engage more and more with their products – which they are undoubtedly succeeding at. On average, young people are spending five hours a day on their smartphones, and this number is rising. As a result, the easy thing to do is point the finger at the technology, and demand that it changes. Demand that they make their products less addictive.

The tech companies definitely have a role to play in this, and when you look at recent comments from people like Mark Zuckerburg, and the latest announcements from Apple, it does seem that they are looking at these issues and are taking some of the responsibility.

But – is technology the cause of these problems, or is our behaviour actually a symptom of a deeper, underlying problem? Do we have to take some of the responsibility too?

“Technology is exposing our truths, not changing our behaviours.” Gary Vaynerchuk

Gary Vaynerchuk is one of the few people arguing that yes, we do have to take some of the blame. He says that because we in the West have grown up with such a sense of entitlement, it leaves us ill-equipped to deal with even the slightest knock back – like not getting as many likes for our latest Instagram post as we would have liked.

It’s a thought-provoking observation … that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to just lay all the blame at the feet of the technology. Maybe some of it lies with the users, too?



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