As the second day of SXSW unravels, the first distinct lines start to show themselves. First, about all: this the most human SXSW that I am attending. Speakers, panelists, moderators and day hosts are beyond themselves to finally be able to interact with a live audience: real people, in real chairs, asking real questions in real microphones. Friends are throwing away all suggestions of social distancing, and dive into each other’s arms. For some -for most- it is the first time they see each other in three years.
The human connection
The human connection, the handshake, the bear-hug, the hesitant friend-zone kiss. You can feel the power and warmth of real ife connections sizzle and burn. While we all appreciate the convenience of distance this, distance that, the gathering in real life does good; physically and morally.
Secondly, a lot of filters are gone. SXSW was always a very “right in your face” congress, but now all devils are unchained: the things are being exposed, called out and thrown intoi the open. Nintendo calling Facebook a non-innovative company. Professor of marketing at NYU and outspoken provocateur Scott Galloway (‘Prof G’ for the aficionados) came out swinging and double punching with his signature vinegar marinated, bone-dry cynicism. Just short of calling Mark Zuckerberg an idiot he announced the inevitable death of The Zuckerverse. He could not help tearing apart the idiocy of space tourism.
Democratic nominee for governor, Beto O’Rourke slammed the Republican incumbent Greg Abbott in harsh terms: verbally punching two fingers in Abbotts eye sockets, and a not so gentle knee into the groin while calling Abbott a thug and an authoritarian. “ I mean, he’s got his own oligarchie here in the state of Texas.” Ouch.
Thirdly, the tech loving conference is giving big tech a cold shoulder this year. Especially Zuckerberg’s Meta is receiving a real battering. But the digital hang-over exceeds Facebook. It is more in-depth, more general. Summarized, the SXSW audience is a bit tired from “the tech because of the tech”. If tech is not helping us, is not elevating us, she has no reason to be. Period.
Tristan Harris is the thriving force behind the Center for Humane Technologies he is an Entrepreneur, a lightning fast design thinker, a techno-philosopher, a crytical -but optimistic- systems thinker and humane digital activist with a genuine and cantaguious passion for design and technology that amplifies human potential and shapes subtle qualities of the human spirit: “I enjoy working with people who deal in the arts of nuance and precision and who examine the subtle ways the map is never the territory.
I’m fascinated by hidden influences – invisible forces that shape human thought and action. Especially the intersection of belief systems, social situations, cognitive biases and cultural pressures that orchestrate people’s choices and beliefs outside conscious awareness.”
Kill the bias
Harris pointed out coldly how systemic bias and human laissez-faire, laissez-aller rocks us all asleep. He casted a compelling story on how we are convinced that we should give users and clients always what they wat, that every tech has good and bads, that we always had moral panics, that we should maximize personalization, that technology is neutral, that we should generate growth over all costs, that we should be obsessed over metrics, and that we should capture attention. Always.
These old paradigms are biased, untrue and dangerous. We should rather respect the human vulnerabilities, minimize the harmful externalities, create shared understanding, support fairness and justice, consciously center values, and help people thrive.
Tristan Harris : “Our species has made tremendous strides in reducing many aspects of human suffering. We have the most advanced technological capabilities in human history, expanded life spans, and unprecedented access to information. There’s much to celebrate.
But the forces driving these positive trends have also led to unprecedented risks. Many societies are reckoning with growing wealth inequality, declining mental health, catastrophic impacts of climate change, and entrenched systems driven by those with power exploiting those without, for example based on religion, age, race, gender, where we live (urban vs. rural), or physical ability. People increasingly distrust institutions associated with science, medicine, and law.
Meanwhile, we’re extracting from nature at massive scales, far faster than it can replenish. We are destroying the delicate ecological balance that allows humans to thrive. And the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how fragile our interconnected world has become.”
We need tech more than ever
Harris is convinced that we need now, more than ever, compelling technology that builds—rather than undermines—humankinds’ capacity to face complex threats. He hopes that we use our power with mindfulness of the consequences and accelerate catastrophic risks we might generate. “We are all masters of our trade, technologists… we are behind the steering wheel: we get to decide. Will we strengthen our users and society so humanity can face these challenges? Will we invent tech that assists us in working on global challenges?”
Harris, in his keynote and on his website, is convinced that we are at a civilizational crossroads. We’re at precarious moment that requires focused, coordinated, and wise action. It will take all of us, each serving in our best capacity, to meet the moment. We are unable to meet our biggest global challenges if our technology distracts us, divides us, and downgrades our collective ability to solve problems.
Technology -in his eyes- exists in a complex system of human vulnerabilities, economic and social mechanisms, and deeply held paradigms of thought. We desperately need a truly humane technology that enhances our potential for focus, shared understanding, and deep collaboration, and strengthens our capacity to tackle our biggest global challenges.
Humane technology protects our common good and our own well-being so we can be of service to each other.
Tristan Harris is my kind of guy…. The world might be all right after all..