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Give me my time back ! I’m a digital slave.

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It happens again and again and there is nothing I can do. The temptation is too big. I can’t resist staring at my screen and losing my time watching and doing things that I don’t really want to do. Rather than doing things that would enrich me, I can’t resist the temptation of browsing my Facebook feed, looking at the latest notifications, watching poor videos on YouTube. Social medias are my grave. I want to get out of it and live again.

Time well spent

Last week I stumbled upon an article by Tristan Harris entitled “How Technology is hijacking our mind“, an article that I’m sure many of you had already read. Despite its length I read it passionately and looked into the references cited at its end. Joe Edelman’s video on how to change design to liberate our minds was particulary inspiring (see below). It echoed conversations I had had a few days before at a meeting The Netherlands with fellow scholars and practictioners from the public service media world. We were discussing the role of recommender systems on media websites and Johanna “José” Van Dijck, the president of the Dutch Academy of Science, mentionned the Time Well Spent movement, that aims at liberating humans from digital slavery.

 

Empowering Design; (Ending the Attention Economy, Talk #1) from Joe Edelman on Vimeo.

Edelman and Harris are damned right: digital technology is here to help liberate our potential, not enslave us. Yet, this is exactly what it does. Our attention has gone down 33% a Canadian survey revealed. We are so distracted by notifications and other types of visual cues on our smartphones, tablets and computers, that we are unable to focus. Yet it takes only little steps to gain your freedom back. Despite my discipline I must admit I had difficulties to write in the last weeks; probably the combination of boredom and tiredness. Even in the morning, when I’m usually the most efficient (see this article explaining on how to structure your day), I got distracted.

Today I want to get my valuable time back. Life is too short to lose time on facebook liking posts and maintaining digital connections that don’t matter; life is too short to spend evenings on YouTube watching the next recommended video. There is a way out and it starts by disabling Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, YouTube notifications on your smartphone. It can even go one step further as I did this weekend: disinstalling Facebook from your smartphone.

We aren’t in a filter bubble : we are in a time bubble

My work in the Big Data business convinced me that technology has to empower people; in particular I was convinced that recommendation algorithms had to be reinvented. What I’m discovering today is that I was right : recommendation algorithms must be rethought with new aims in mind. But it won’t be possible without the right design. When Eli Pariser wrote about filter bubbles back in 2011 he woke us up. Yet, pointing at algorithms as the source of all sins was perhaps false. Studies tend to show that recommendation algorithms increase discovery and serendipity. But recommendation algorithms combined with biased design do lead to a bubble indeed : a time bubble. Our decisions on how to use our time are being manipulated by design, forced into a bubble that represents our options (the red and blue pill example in Joe Edelman’s video). Our world is shrinking without our even noticing it.

 

99% of people don’t care

Unfortunately I believe that 99% of the population doesn’t care. We are lazzy humans that want to be entertained. This is our weakness. Like proletarians were enslaved by Big Brother in Orwell’s 1984 book, those 99% are being entertained and deluded by a handful people (“The Party” in Orwell’s book) who exploit their weaknesses to capture their attention.
On a more positive note, it only takes a serendipitious encounter (with this article for instance) to realize the situation and start the change. Like Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” I think this quote had never applied better than today. Let’s start 2018 with good resolutions like desabling notifications.

Happy new year to all of you !

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Pierre-Nicolas est Docteur en Marketing et dirige l'agence d'études de marché IntoTheMinds. Ses domaines de prédilection sont le BigData l'e-commerce, le commerce de proximité, l'HoReCa et la logistique. Il est également chercheur en marketing à l'Université Libre de Bruxelles et sert de coach et formateur à plusieurs organisations et institutions publiques. Il peut être contacté par email, Linkedin ou par téléphone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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