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← How better tech could protect us from distraction

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Showing Revision 14 created 06/18/2016 by Brian Greene.

  1. What does it mean to spend our time well?
  2. I spend a lot of my time
  3. thinking about how to spend my time.
  4. Probably too much --
    I probably obsess over it.
  5. My friends think I do.
  6. But I feel like I kind of have to,
    because these days,
  7. it feels like little bits of my time
    kind of slip away from me,
  8. and when that happens, it feels like
    parts of my life are slipping away.
  9. Specifically,

  10. it feels like little bits
    of my time get slipped away
  11. to various things like this,
  12. like technology -- I check things.
  13. I'll give you an example.
  14. If this email shows up --
  15. how many of you have gotten
    an email like this, right?
  16. I've been tagged in a photo.
  17. When this appears,
  18. I can't help but click on it right now.
  19. Right? Because, like,
    what if it's a bad photo?
  20. So I have to click it right now.
  21. But I'm not just going
    to click "See photo,"
  22. what I'm actually going to do
    is spend the next 20 minutes.
  23. (Laughter)

  24. But the worst part is that I know
    this is what's going to happen,

  25. and even knowing
    that's what's going to happen
  26. doesn't stop me
    from doing it again the next time.
  27. Or I find myself in a situation like this,
  28. where I check my email
    and I pull down to refresh,
  29. But the thing is that 60 seconds later,
  30. I'll pull down to refresh again.
  31. Why am I doing this?
  32. This doesn't make any sense.
  33. But I'll give you a hint
    why this is happening.

  34. What do you think makes
    more money in the United States
  35. than movies, game parks
    and baseball combined?
  36. Slot machines.
  37. How can slot machines make all this money
  38. when we play with such small
    amounts of money?
  39. We play with coins.
  40. How is this possible?
  41. Well, the thing is ...
  42. my phone is a slot machine.
  43. Every time I check my phone,
  44. I'm playing the slot machine to see,
  45. what am I going to get?
  46. What am I going to get?
  47. Every time I check my email,
  48. I'm playing the slot machine,
  49. saying, "What am I going to get?"
  50. Every time I scroll a news feed,
  51. I'm playing the slot machine to see,
  52. what am I going to get next?
  53. And the thing is that,
  54. again, knowing exactly
    how this works -- and I'm a designer,
  55. I know exactly how
    the psychology of this works,
  56. I know exactly what's going on --
  57. but it doesn't leave me with any choice,
  58. I still just get sucked into it.
  59. So what are we going to do?

  60. Because it leaves us
    with this all-or-nothing relationship
  61. with technology, right?
  62. You're either on,
  63. and you're connected
    and distracted all the time,
  64. or you're off,
  65. but then you're wondering,
  66. am I missing something important?
  67. In other words, you're either distracted
  68. or you have fear of missing out.
  69. Right?
  70. So we need to restore choice.

  71. We want to have
    a relationship with technology
  72. that gives us back choice
    about how we spend time with it,
  73. and we're going to need
    help from designers,
  74. because knowing this stuff doesn't help.
  75. We're going to need design help.
  76. So what would that look like?
  77. So let's take an example that we all face:

  78. chat -- text messaging.
  79. So let's say there's two people.
  80. Nancy's on the left
    and she's working on a document,
  81. and John's on the right.
  82. And John suddenly remembers,
  83. "I need to ask Nancy
    for that document before I forget."
  84. So when he sends her that message,
  85. it blows away her attention.
  86. That's what we're doing all the time,
    bulldozing each other's attention,

  87. left and right.
  88. And there's serious cost to this,
  89. because every time
    we interrupt each other,
  90. it takes us about 23 minutes, on average,
  91. to refocus our attention.
  92. We actually cycle through
    two different projects
  93. before we come back
    to the original thing we were doing.
  94. This is Gloria Mark's research
    combined with Microsoft research,
  95. that showed this.
  96. And her research also shows
    that it actually trains bad habits.
  97. The more interruptions we get externally,
  98. it's conditioning and training us
    to interrupt ourselves.
  99. We actually self-interrupt
    every three-and-a-half minutes.
  100. This is crazy.

  101. So how do we fix this?
  102. Because Nancy and John are in this
    all-or-nothing relationship.
  103. Nancy might want to disconnect,
  104. but then she'd be worried:
  105. What if I'm missing something important?
  106. Design can fix this problem.

  107. Let's say you have
    Nancy again on the left,
  108. John on the right.
  109. And John remembers,
    "I need to send Nancy that document."
  110. Except this time,
  111. Nancy can mark that she's focused.
  112. Let's say she drags a slider and says,
  113. "I want to be focused for 30 minutes,"
  114. so -- bam -- she's focused.
  115. Now when John wants to message her,
  116. he can get the thought off of his mind --
  117. because he has a need,
    he has this thought,
  118. and he needs to dump it out
    before he forgets.
  119. Except this time,
  120. it holds the messages
    so that Nancy can still focus,
  121. but John can get the thought
    off of his mind.
  122. But this only works
    if one last thing is true,

  123. which is that Nancy needs to know
    that if something is truly important,
  124. John can still interrupt.
  125. But instead of having constant
    accidental or mindless interruptions,
  126. we're now only creating
    conscious interruptions,
  127. So we're doing two things here.

  128. We're creating a new choice
    for both Nancy and John,
  129. But there's a second, subtle thing
    we're doing here, too.
  130. And it's that we're changing
    the question we're answering.
  131. Instead of the goal of chat being:
  132. "Let's design it so it's easy
    to send a message" --
  133. that's the goal of chat,
  134. it should be really easy to send
    a message to someone --
  135. we change the goal to something
    deeper and a human value,
  136. which is: "Let's create the highest
    possible quality communication
  137. in a relationship between two people.
  138. So we upgraded the goal.
  139. Now, do designers
    actually care about this?

  140. Do we want to have conversations
    about what these deeper human goals are?
  141. Well, I'll tell you one story.
  142. A little over a year ago,
  143. I got to help organize a meeting
  144. between some of technology's leading
    designers and Thich Nhat Hanh.
  145. Thich Nhat Hanh is an international
    spokesperson for mindfulness meditation.
  146. And it was the most amazing meeting.
  147. You have to imagine -- picture a room --
  148. on one side of the room,
    you have a bunch of tech geeks;
  149. on the other side of the room,
  150. you have a bunch of long brown robes,
    shaved heads, Buddhist monks.
  151. And the questions were about
    the deepest human values,
  152. like what does the future
    of technology look like
  153. when you're designing
    for the deepest questions
  154. and the deepest human values?
  155. And our conversation centered
    on listening more deeply
  156. to what those values might be.
  157. He joked in our conversation
  158. that what if, instead of a spell check,
  159. you had a compassion check,
  160. meaning, you might highlight a word
    that might be accidentally abrasive --
  161. perceived as abrasive by someone else.
  162. So does this kind of conversation
    happen in the real world,

  163. not just in these design meetings?
  164. Well, the answer is yes,
  165. and one of my favorites is Couchsurfing.
  166. If you didn't know,
    Couchsurfing is a website
  167. that matches people
    who are looking for a place to stay
  168. with a free couch, from someone
    who's trying to offer it.
  169. So, great service --

  170. what would their design goal be?
  171. What are you designing
    for if you work at Couchsurfing?
  172. Well, you would think
    it's to match guests with hosts.
  173. Right?
  174. That's a pretty good goal.
  175. But that would kind of be like
    our goal with messaging before,
  176. where we're just trying
    to deliver a message.
  177. So what's the deeper, human goal?

  178. Well, they set their goal
  179. as the need to create lasting,
    positive experiences and relationships
  180. between people who've never met before.
  181. And the most amazing thing
    about this was in 2007,
  182. they introduced a way to measure this,
  183. which is incredible.
  184. I'll tell you how it works.
  185. For every design goal you have,
  186. you have to have
    a corresponding measurement
  187. to know how you're doing --
  188. a way of measuring success.
  189. So what they do is,
  190. let's say you take two people who meet up,
  191. and they take the number of days
    those two people spent together,
  192. and then they estimate how many
    hours were in those days --
  193. how many hours did
    those two people spend together?
  194. And then after they spend
    that time together,
  195. they ask both of them:
  196. How positive was your experience?
  197. Did you have a good experience
    with this person that you met?
  198. And they subtract
    from those positive hours
  199. the amount of time
    people spent on the website,
  200. because that's a cost to people's lives.
  201. Why should we value that as success?
  202. And what you were left with
  203. is something they refer to as "net
    orchestrated conviviality,"
  204. or, really, just a net
    "Good Times" created.
  205. The net hours that would have never
    existed, had Couchsurfing not existed.
  206. Can you imagine how inspiring it would be
    to come to work every day

  207. and measure your success
  208. in the actual net new contribution
    of hours in people's lives
  209. that are positive,
    that would have never existed
  210. if you didn't do what you were
    about to do at work today?
  211. Can you imagine a whole world
    that worked this way?
  212. Can you imagine a social network that --

  213. let's say you care about cooking,
  214. and it measured its success
    in terms of cooking nights organized
  215. and the cooking articles
    that you were glad you read,
  216. and subtracted from that the articles
    you weren't glad you read
  217. or the time you spent scrolling
    that you didn't like?
  218. Imagine a professional social network
  219. that, instead of measuring its success
    in terms of connections created
  220. or messages sent,
  221. instead measured its success in terms
    of the job offers that people got
  222. that they were excited to get.
  223. And subtracted the amount of time
    people spent on the website.
  224. Or imagine dating services,
  225. like maybe Tinder or something,
  226. where instead of measuring the number
    of swipes left and right people did,
  227. which is how they measure success today,
  228. instead measured the deep, romantic,
    fulfilling connections people created.
  229. Whatever that was for them, by the way.
  230. But can you imagine a whole world
    that worked this way,

  231. that was helping you spend your time well?
  232. Now to do this you also need a new system,
  233. because you're probably thinking,
  234. today's Internet economy --
  235. today's economy in general --
  236. is measured in time spent.
  237. The more users you have,
  238. the more usage you have,
  239. the more time people spend,
  240. that's how we measure success.
  241. But we've solved this problem before.

  242. We solved it with organic,
  243. when we said we need
    to value things a different way.
  244. We said this is a different kind of food.
  245. So we can't compare it
    just based on price;
  246. this is a different category of food.
  247. We solved it with Leed Certification,
  248. where we said this
    is a different kind of building
  249. that stood for different values
    of environmental sustainability.
  250. What if we had something
    like that for technology?

  251. What if we had something
    whose entire purpose and goal
  252. was to help create net new positive
    contributions to human life?
  253. And what if we could
    value it a different way,
  254. so it would actually work?
  255. Imagine you gave this different
    premium shelf space on app stores.
  256. Imagine you had web browsers
    that helped route you
  257. to these kinds of design products.
  258. Can you imagine how exciting it would be
    to live and create that world?
  259. We can create this world today.

  260. Company leaders, all you have to do --
  261. only you can prioritize a new metric,
  262. which is your metric for net positive
    contribution to human life.
  263. And have an honest
    conversation about that.
  264. Maybe you're not
    doing so well to start with,
  265. but let's start that conversation.
  266. Designers, you can redefine success;
    you can redefine design.

  267. Arguably, you have more power
    than many people in your organization
  268. to create the choices
    that all of us live by.
  269. Maybe like in medicine,
  270. where we have a Hippocratic oath
  271. to recognize the responsibility
    and this higher value
  272. that we have to treat patients.
  273. What if designers had something like that,
  274. in terms of this new kind of design?
  275. And users, for all of us --

  276. we can demand technology
    that works this way.
  277. Now it may seem hard,
  278. but McDonald's didn't have salads
    until the consumer demand was there.
  279. Walmart didn't have organic food
    until the consumer demand was there.
  280. We have to demand
    this new kind of technology.
  281. And we can do that.
  282. And doing that
  283. would amount to shifting
    from a world that's driven and run
  284. entirely on time spent,
  285. to world that's driven by time well spent.
  286. I want to live in this world,

  287. and I want this conversation to happen.
  288. Let's start that conversation now.
  289. Thank you.

  290. (Applause)