Listen: Former Googler Talks About How Close We Are to 'Brave New World'

Technology gives us constant distractions and lets us create our own content to distract others with Facebook posts, tweets and Snapchat exchanges. But will constant distraction be our undoing?

Tristan Harris, former design ethicist at Google, joined Tuesday’s “The Glenn Beck Radio Program” to talk about how technology is affecting our lives – possibly to our ruin.

He analyzed how distraction is affecting us. With only a finite amount of attention in the world, everyone is competing for it.

“It’s this race to the bottom of the brain stem for whatever works at getting attention,” Harris said.

He and Glenn discussed a potential way to rein in technology, with Harris posing a theory that the energy industry’s practice of decoupling could be helpful.

Glenn was concerned about the implications of government control in that idea.

“It starts to roll into the Big Brother, ‘Brave New World,’” he said. “We’re just in this weird place that I don’t know if mankind has ever been in before, that if we don’t do this right we’re really going to screw ourselves.”

Listen to the full segment for more on our “Brave New World” danger and why media theorist Neil Postman predicted the risk of today’s social media.

This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

GLENN: Tristan Harris, he is the founder of Time Well Spent. He is a former Google design ethicist. Gave a great -- a great talk on, how do we change this?

Tristan, how are you?

TRISTAN: Glenn, it's great to be here. I'm great. Thank you for having me.

GLENN: So I'm so happy to see that I'm not the only one feeling this way and not the only one trying to figure a way out. But it's almost impossible, at least at my level to -- to even talk to people who are even thinking this way. No, I want to design the website in a way that it gets people back to their own life, faster.

TRISTAN: Right. Yeah. Completely. Well, I have to say, Glenn, I was also really moved by your interview with Dave Reuben, talking about how the race for attention -- when you were on television, and the race for good ratings affected, you know, your own life. And I think this is the thing people miss about the tech industry is that no matter what good intentions, Facebook, Google, you know, Snapchat has, to improve people's lives, they're cut in this race for attention.

And as I said in the TED talk, and as you know so well, it's this race to the bottom of the brainstem, for whatever works at getting attention. And there's no escaping that. Because there's only so much attention. There's only so much time in people's lives, only so many hours in a day.

And it's not growing. So, you know, that the race is only going to get more competitive. And as it gets more competitive, it becomes this race for figuring out what pushes the buttons in people's brains. And so we have to get out of this race for attention.

And like you said, you can't ask anyone who is in the attention economy to not do what they're doing.

You can't tell YouTube, "Hey, stop getting so much of people's attention." You can't tell Facebook, "Hey, stop making your product so addictive." You can't tell Snapchat, "Hey, stop manipulating the minds of teenagers to get them sending messages back and forth and hooking them because they're all caught in this race for attention," which is why we need to reform the system one level up. You have to go outside the system. And I'd love to talk to you about that.

GLENN: So what does that even mean? How do you go one level up? What is one level up?

TRISTAN: Well, it's sort of like the tragedy of the common. So you can't ask any one of the actors to do something different than what they're doing. They need to be able to coordinate their rates for attention.

So, you know, one way to go one level up is to go to the government, which is not very pleasant of an idea. Another way to go one level up is to actually go to Apple. So Apple is kind of like the government of the attention economy. Because they create the device upon which everyone else is competing for attention.

And Google is also sort of a mini government of the attention economy. Because they create kind of the government of who gets the best results, when -- when you search for something.

And Facebook is kind of the government of the attention economy too because they choose who is at the top of your feed. And, currently, they're locked into their own race for attention.

So one of the things is we have to decouple profit from attention. Because as long as those two things are one to one connected, it becomes this race to the bottom. And we actually did this with energy, where there's only so much energy available to sell people. And energy companies used to have this incentive of, I make more money, the more energy you use. So I actually want you to leave the lights on. Leave the faucets on.

And, you know, that created a problem, where -- where, you know, we -- we waste more energy. We waste -- or we pollute the environment, the more money the companies make.

And in the US, we went through a change called decoupling, which decoupled through a little bit of self-regulation among the energy companies, where they basically capped how much money energy companies pocketed directly from the more energy people used. And then the remaining energy -- when you use a lot of energy, all that extra energy, they priced it higher to disincentivize it. And then they actually used that extra profit, not to capture it for themselves, but to collectively reinvest it into renewable energy infrastructure.

And so I'm wondering whether or not something like that couldn't happen for attention, where companies could profit from some amount of attention were that relationship to exist. But then beyond a certain point, what if everyone was reinvestigating in the greater good of the attention company?

Because, you know, right now, 2 billion people's minds from the moment they wake up in the morning -- you know, they're jacked into this environment -- this digital environment that's controlled by three technology companies, like Apple, Google, and Facebook.

GLENN: Tristan. Go ahead. I'm sorry. Go ahead.

TRISTAN: No. Go ahead.

GLENN: Does it -- does it -- does it -- I mean, A, I'm really glad somebody is thinking about this. Because I think about this stuff all the time, and I don't hear anybody really talking about it.

TRISTAN: Yeah.

GLENN: And it's a little hair-raising because what you're even saying starts to roll into the, you know, big brother, Brave New World. I mean, it could so easily go into -- we're just in this weird place that I don't know if mankind has ever been in before, that if we don't do this right, we're really going to screw ourselves.

TRISTAN: No. You know, you're so dialed into this, Glenn. You're totally right. And, you know, I studied this for three or four years. I was a design ethicist at Google, where literally the way I spent every single day studying, what does it mean to ethically steer people's attention?

And it really, like you said, it's the Brave New World scenario combined with the Big Brother scenario. Because whether we want to admit it or not -- you know, again, 2 billion people from the moment they wake up to every bathroom break, to every coffee line, to going to bed, to every back of the Uber or public transportation, you know, people are glued to their phones. We check them 150 times a day.

And, again, because of this race for attention, these technology products are not neutral. Each one, in trying to do whatever it can to get attention.

So they deploy these different persuasive techniques, and it becomes this, you know, amusing ourselves to death, you know, Brave New World scenario.

If you've seen the movie WALL-E, it's like a race to put people with a screen in front of their eyes for as many hours as possible.

GLENN: Yes.

TRISTAN: Consuming for as much as possible, because that's what's most profitable. So it does start to resemble something like the Matrix.

I don't know if you know the book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, but in the beginning, he -- Neil Postman, the author contrasts Orwell's vision of the future, which we're all, you know, really ready to oppose. Because it's a form of tyranny. We don't want Big Brother. But then there's this subtler vision of Brave New World that people forget to oppose because there's no face of it. There's no Big Brother.

GLENN: Yes.

TRISTAN: And here's this great line that's -- you know, Orwell was worried about a world where we would ban books. And it says Huxley was worried about a world where no one would want to read a book.

You know, Orwell was worried about the world in which the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley was worried about a world where the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. And, you know, it goes on.

And the point is --

GLENN: We're there.

TRISTAN: Yeah.

GLENN: We are there.

STU: Tristan Harris is with us. Quickly, you had mentioned the manipulation that these companies do for your attention.

And you had a really great example with snap streaks. I don't know Snapchat very well, but can you kind of explain that?

TRISTAN: Absolutely, yeah.

So one thing that I think everybody who uses smart phone in a family is aware of is how this is affecting their kids, especially if they're teenagers.

So Snapchat is the number one way that teenagers in the United States communicate. This is very important. So if you're like me -- you know, I'm 33. You're an adult. You probably use text messaging as your number one way to communicate.

So you live in Texas. And you can imagine living in Snapchat. This is like your dominate way to communicate. And Snapchat figured out a way to hook kids called streaks.

And what that means is they show a number next to every single person that you chat with. And that number is number of days in a row that you continually sent a streak, a message back and forth.

So if you sent a message back and forth 150 days in a row, it shows the number 150 with a higher ball. And it might sound totally innocuous, but it actually causes kids to send all of these empty messages back and forth. They're literally sending photos.

GLENN: Just not to break the streak.

TRISTAN: Just not to break the streak.

GLENN: Wow.

TRISTAN: Just not to break the streak. And they give their password to five other friends when they go on vacation, just because they don't want to lose it.

And so it's like tying two kids -- you know, legs together on a treadmill, on two separate treadmills, and then hitting start. And watching them run like chickens with their heads cut off, passing the football back and forth, just so they don't drop the -- the streak.

And this is, by the way, you know, from a playbook of persuasive techniques that people in the industry know are good at getting people to do things. And you can use it for good.

Like, you can set up a streak for the number of days to the gym that -- the numbers of days you read five pages in a book, that you wanted to make sure you do that habit. So you keep up a streak. It's a powerful motivator.

But what they did is they took this powerful technique, and then they applied it to a vulnerable population. And they applied it to children's sense of belonging with each other. Because now kids define the terms of their friendship, based on whether or not they have a streak or not. It becomes the currency of their friendship.

And so that's what's new about this. People often say -- you know, back in the 1970s, we used to gossip on the telephone all the time. And now if I look at my teenage kids, they're just gossiping on the telephone a different way with Snapchat. There's nothing new or alarming here.

And what's different about this is that your phone in the 1970s didn't have thousands of engineers on the other side of the screen who knew how to -- how to strategically tap two people on the shoulder and make them feel like they're missing out on each other's lives. And to show you -- you know, to have a phone light up and appear in your life exactly when you're most vulnerable.

I mean, for example, it's never been easier to find out that you're missing out on what your friends are doing if you're a teenager.

You know, Snapchat or Instagram benefit if they put that at the top of the feed, not at the bottom, in the same way that Facebook benefits by putting outrageous news at the top of the newsfeed because it's better at getting attention. And so -- go ahead.

GLENN: No. Please, finish.

TRISTAN: Well, so as you said, I don't want to be here dwelling on the problem. I first want to do this because it's important people understand the problem.

And it's honestly one of the biggest problems of our time because it's infrastructure for solving every other problem.

You know, every other problem, health care, climate change, all these things require us to be able to sustain attention and talk about a complex topic.

And if we're just running around distracted all the time and if the entire next generation is hooked and addicted to their devices and we can't -- you know, we don't develop the capacity for patience or complexity or sitting with each other -- sometimes that's uncomfortable, you know -- you know, it's a delicate thing to be a human being.

Would Glenn make a better bounty hunter or a Jedi? You'll have to find out in a new episode of the Beltway Banthas Podcast, where Glenn goes deep on Star Wars with host Stephen Kent. In this 45 minute discussion, Stephen and Glenn explore the political themes of the Star Wars franchise, Darth Vader's redemption from Return of the Jedi, Glenn's earliest memories of seeing the films and even debate elements of the latest Star Wars films.

If you enjoy the pop culture and nerdy discussions that Glenn, Pat and Stu get into on the radio show, you'll love this! After you're through, you can also check out Stu Burguiere's appearance on Beltway Banthas to talk Star Wars. You can find that here.


It's never too early to start your Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa shopping. Or even birthday gift shopping. Especially if that special someone in your life is a Democrat. Because at last count, pretty much all the Democrats are now running for president. And that means there has never been a wider selection of official candidate merchandise to choose from. Whether you're into environmentalism, feminism, classism, socialism, or just plain love, there is a smorgasbord of classy items that you and yours will treasure forever... or at least until the next presidential election.

We have browsed each of the candidates' online stores, so you don't have to (it only took us three months). We have curated only the finest items from each of the Democrats running for president of the United States of America. Without further ado, here is your handy progressive gift guide – or maybe your what-not-to-gift guide.

First, the bargain basement options. Hurry! Time is running out to grab your Beto bandana, or your Delaney pack of golf balls, because at this point Stu has as much of a chance as these guys of getting the nomination.

Tom Steyer, for example – is he still in the race?


https://shop.tomsteyer.com/collections/frontpage/products/tom-2020-pattern-tee


There's way too much Tom here. That shirt's got more Toms than a Caucasian dentists' convention.

For the slightly more moderate Democrat in your life, perhaps they'd like to join the "Yang Gang"…

https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/bumper-stickers/products/yanggang-decal


Andrew Yang is a lock for Math Club president…


https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/apparel/products/math-hat


But for actual president? Well, I wouldn't make plans for how you're going to spend your $1,000-per-month Yang allowance just yet.

If you happen to be shopping for your dog, may I suggest this lovely "Dogs for Delaney" dog collar…


https://store.johndelaney.com/products/dogs-for-delaney-collar


John Delaney's definitely going to secure the canine vote with this kind of outreach. As for any human votes, that's another question entirely.

How 'bout this tastefully understated "Natural Canvas" Michael Bennet tote to remind you he's also still here?...


https://store.michaelbennet.com/michael-bennet-for-america-natural-canvas-tote/


Then again, it's a tote. So, it'll end up on the floor of your closet and you won't have it with you until that one random moment when you're out somewhere and you really need a tote bag. Just like Democrats will really wish they had a moderate when we're in the middle of the socialist nightmare of their creation.

Captain Planet himself, Jay Inslee recently dropped out of the race, but don't let that stop you from picking up what may be the greatest single item sold by anyone in this race…


https://store.jayinslee.com/elvis-the-elves-the-mystery-of-the-melting-snow-by-jay-inslee/


A children's book called Elvis & the Elves: the Mystery of the Melting Snow. Written and illustrated by Governor Jay Inslee. Talk about a whodunnit – how could that snow possibly be melting? Spoiler alert: it's because of evil, white, patriarchal capitalism. And Donald Trump.

Then there's the candidate who thinks you're a moron that can't pronounce his last name: Steve Bullock...


https://shop.stevebullock.com/collections/apparel/products/emoji-t-shirt


Get it? Bull. Lock. Oh, so that's how you say the name that sounds exactly how it's spelled.

There's another candidate who also thinks you need help pronouncing his last name…


https://store.peteforamerica.com/collections/apparel/products/boot-edge-edge-t-shirt


And he is definitely right about that. So, thank you, Pete "Boot Edge Edge." That helps.

Just outside the bargain bin section, but just barely, are candidates like Julian Castro and his "El Presidente" t-shirt…


https://store.julianforthefuture.com/julian-castro-loteria-card-white-tee/


When your last name's Castro, do you really want to go with a weird drawing of yourself as if you're a classic Latin American dictator on a postage stamp?

If you prefer a little "dark psychic forces" battling in your candidates, you'll love Marianne Williamson's "Turn Love Into a Political Force" rally sign…


https://store.marianne2020.com/collections/signs/products/love-rally-sign


"Turn Love Into a Political Force" would be an even better title for a Marianne Williamson album of 80s cover songs. And if you think I'm joking, then you haven't heard Bernie Sanders' classic 1987 folk album, We Shall Overcome. That's not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but it's also a very real thing.

Now, just a quick pause to consider the peculiar baby-wear that way too many candidates are selling…

…including Elizabeth Warren's trans-pride flag onesie. Let me get this straight – we can't force any gender on a child, because that's just cruel. But we can force a political advertisement on a baby? How do we know that baby is actually a Biden or Warren fan? The child may not even be a Democrat or a Socialist at all. That baby might self-identify as a Libertarian, or Republican, or even worse – a moderate Democrat.

Now to the premium items from the premium candidates. Elizabeth Warren – the candidate with the most honesty in her advertising…


https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/apparel/products/impolite-arrogant-women-make-history-unisex-t-shirt

-AND-

https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/drinkware/products/strong-american-unions-mug


Warren's merchandise reflects the woman herself – cold and humorless (watch her "This isn't funny" clip from the last debate here at the 4:27 mark). I'm sure she's really fun once you get to know her. Then again, maybe not.

Speaking of serious women, Kamala Harris wants to be president very badly for you, the people, as you can tell from her "For the People" poster…


https://store.kamalaharris.org/poster-for-the-people/


At $29.99 though, she's sure not charging "people's" prices. Of course, she might be having to pay royalties to a certain someone for riffing on their poster. Just saying.

For the race's number one socialist, there's a whole lot of capitalism going on in Bernie Sanders' campaign. He sells so many delightful items that it's hard to choose. But we did anyway. The most random item is this hundred-dollar, black, "Art of a Political Revolution – Artists for Bernie Sanders Coaches Jacket"…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/artists-for-bernie-coaches-jacket


Coaches across the land will be clamoring for this one. You know, since coaches are such a strong Bernie-socialist demographic.

If that's a little over your budget you might consider a "Feel the Bern" fanny pack, to help store all those government freebies you'll get from Bernie…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/feel-the-bern-fanny-pack


This is the only context in which you'll ever want to hear "feel the burn" and "fanny" in the same sentence.

And finally, from front-runner Joe Biden, we have this fine "Women's Fitted Biden Polo." Which is just about the best polo description ever…


https://store.joebiden.com/collections/apparel/products/biden-polo-womens-fit


It promises the kind of snug approach that Biden loves to provide women. Even when they don't ask.

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.