“I’M Worried That One Day My Son Will Want A Social Network Account. We’Re Going To Talk About It. “
2021-02-01 | by CusiGO
James Williams worked at Google for ten years, until 2016, then earned his doctorate at Oxford University, and began to analyze how his industry changed the world. Since trump was elected, there have been more and more narratives about the negative impact of the Internet on our lives. One of the most popular cases is the Netflix documentary social dilemma, in which Williams’ ex girlfriend Tristan Harris appears. “He’s more committed to evangelism, and I’m more committed to writing and scholarship,” he said
Williams, 39, is now a researcher at the Uehiro Center for practical ethics at Oxford University, but he lives in Russia because of his partner’s work. From there, he talked about zoom’s relationship with the state: “when we use zoom, we don’t notice. Most people look at themselves. Or a black spot, a camera, “he explained.
In 2017, he published out of our light, now translated into Spanish, with the title “click against humanity.”. Williams is most concerned about our attention. He wants us to change the name of “information age” to “attention age”. When information is abundant, scarcity is concerned, and the Internet wants to steal something from us that is crucial to our development, even though we know little about its impact on our species.
Williams doesn’t think the problems technology brings us are guilty. There is no one particularly evil to lead the human plan. “It’s a systemic issue,” he said
Questions. You hate your former Google partner?
answer. On the contrary. When you talk about these things, people will tell you that you have escaped from a terrible place. But I still keep in touch with a lot of people. A lot of people agree with me. The problem is not people, but structure, business model.
P. Silicon Valley is not evil.
A. The story of giving up our fight with monsters would be interesting. The designers and engineers of these companies don’t want to make our lives worse.
Q. You often hear such a famous saying: “the best talents of our generation strive to advertise in front of you.”
A. In fact, we should hope that more intelligent people will enter the industry to change it. The problem, though, may be worse: Silicon Valley may be full of people like tobacco companies. They may want to exploit others, they can.
Q: why can’t Silicon Valley understand this better?
A. It’s a mixture of over optimism and ignorance. In Silicon Valley, many people don’t really understand what they create. One is isolated criticism, the other is optimistic and the other is incomprehensible. It’s a philosophical question: what they want to do for the world. The Facebook case is interesting. There is a strange choice. Every year, Zuckerberg takes a new look at what they want to do for the world and talks big. The best way is to get a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy in order to further study and clarify problems.
What’s wrong with our attention?
A. We have a certain amount of time on earth. We want to write a story about ourselves, for which attention is essential. If we can control our attention, we can write stories as we like. Now our control of attention is greatly reduced.
Q. From digital divide to attention gap: do poor people suffer more from attention?
A. If a poor man walks into a supermarket, he has to consider whether he has enough money to buy anything. He has to make many choices. If you don’t need to think about it, you can be more Zen, hang out in the shops, buy anything. Or people with kids who have to focus on a thousand things at the end of the day, they’re exhausted, so when you’re free, you’re more likely to fall into a black hole on reddit or YouTube for two hours. It happened to me.
Q. Does being tired of constant decisions make us less alert?
A. There is a more rigorous cognitive environment. There is a good example in the story. A woman lost her way on a desert island. A wolf chased her and wanted to kill her. She had to build a house and get food, but the wolf wouldn’t leave her alone. She had to focus on the wolf: her autonomy and ability to take care of the wolf were weakened by this tireless wolf. There are a lot of wolves in our lives: relationships, economic issues. The moral of the story is that the more technology tries to capture and attract our attention, the less we have the ability to enter this space and think about who we are and what we want to do.
But technology also helps.
A. Obviously, technology can improve our health: when I lived in Moscow, for example, I could have a video chat with my family in Seattle. We don’t always do it perfectly, but there are environments that have evolved for us. We are now living in an environment of optimization rather than utilization. At our feet, the whole landscape has changed very quickly: in the early technology, we have decades or more to adapt.
A. Behind it is the printing house. At the end of the 19th century, the director of cable Canada talked about the best media. “Nothing can compete with immediacy,” he said. This is reflected in our present anxiety: we design our lives to compete with the moment, which is impossible. We used to know what the problem was before us. It’s like we’re playing with Martians, and all of a sudden the size and number of spaceships have multiplied. We can’t answer.
Q. His book was published in 2017. It’s 2021. Are we worse?
A. It’s a bittersweet feeling, because it magnifies what I’m talking about. Things are not getting better. I wrote this book after 2016. The trend still exists, and there are some problems in other areas: the ethical problems of artificial intelligence, and the impact of devices on children.
Q. But we don’t know what happened to the children yet.
A. Yes. I have a son who just turned three. I can tell you what I did to my son, but it’s not a rule. We improvised: we swam and built canoes.
What do you do?
A. I use the projector because it removes the TV from the center of the living room. Projectors are also used to observe reflected light rather than projected light. We let him use mobile devices, but focus on audio. Sometimes it’s video, but there’s never something to choose an algorithm for. We should also do something unusual and special with him. I’m really worried that one day his friend will start opening an account on social media and he wants one. I hope we can talk.
Q. One of your main complaints is our lack of language on this issue.
A. Yes, even “social media” seems to have a social purpose when they become the focus of our attention. We don’t have the vocabulary of these categories, because even email is a social network. The other concept we lack is talking about impact. One of the great aspirations of young people today is to exert influence without any specific goals. Since I finished writing this book, my job is to find language. During the pandemic, for example, there was the “doomsday roll.”. It’s fascinating.
P. Insisting that it’s not our fault, it’s impossible to defend ourselves. We’re like soldiers in the tank army.
A. There is a space for self-control. But that’s not enough. Besides, it’s frustrating because you don’t have enough willpower and you tell yourself you need more willpower. Just like climate change, they are systemic issues. We look at them as a whole, and you want to know if you are doing well enough. Or we’re yelling across generations, “baby boomers are ruining everything.” Our psychology wants to find scapegoats for our problems. It’s psychologically gratifying to think that we have found the culprit, that only we can lower his status, and everything will be fine. This is the purpose of the US Congress hearing: the main lesson of Zuckerberg’s microblogging in the Senate is to see him there, weak and helpless. It’s not the result, it’s lowering someone’s standards. But the solution to all this is not to allocate responsibility, which does not mean that no one is responsible. The solution is not to leave the Internet, but to solve systemic problems.
Q. He doesn’t like to talk about addiction, either.
A. Some people can describe it this way, but there is a clinical standard to talk about addiction, which is different from when we complain in spoken language that we use too many things. It’s not whether you’re addicted or not, but there are many levels: compulsion, habituation, loss of control, manipulation.
Q. Moral outrage on the Internet doesn’t help either.
A. Separate anger from moral anger. There are good reasons to be angry. The problem is that when anger turns into revenge, it’s not for justice and solving problems, but for belittling someone and symbolically destroying someone, such as firing someone, which is now called “canceling” someone. If the problem of black life causes people to pay attention to social injustice or inequality to improve it, it is reasonable. The challenge is how we deal with it. What we’re doing on social media is bringing things into the spotlight and arousing people’s anger, but they don’t give us a thoughtful distance to achieve justice. It happened in the Arab Spring: they overthrew the dictator, but these developments didn’t help later construction. On the Internet, people choose symbolic victory over real victory.
P. What about trump?
A. Populism and the rise of trump are rooted in real concerns about falling wages, and when your parents buy a house, they see their quality of life. Now this media system teaches you, in an intimate way, the most successful people in the world, that you compare yourself to them, not to your people. In all this, we have put down the global bomb of social networks and digital media. He magnified it to the limit.
Q. Does the Internet make it more difficult to formulate balanced public policies?
A. They put emotion first. Politicians do things so they don’t tweet at people they don’t know, not the best.
P. Several solutions are proposed in the book: better measurement.
A. This would be one of the best solutions. Now, they maximize through interaction, but what if they optimize through benefits rather than data collection?
P. He also thinks that the ad blocker is positive.
A. They are one of the people who have made the most progress on how to reform advertising. It’s one of the few levers people have, and it’s a shield for their attention.
It gives people a sense that the Internet is a great advertising technology.
A. Large platforms are advertising companies. If you want to know why you have something in front of you, the final answer may be something related to advertising.
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