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Your Undivided Attention

Author: Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin, The Center for Humane Technology

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In this podcast from the Center for Humane Technology, co-hosts Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin expose how social media’s race for attention manipulates our choices, breaks down truth, and destabilizes our real-world communities.

Tristan and Aza also explore solutions: what it means to become sophisticated about human nature by interviewing anthropologists, researchers, cultural and faith-based leaders, activists, and experts on everything from conspiracy theories to existential global threats.
40 Episodes
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Can hypnosis be a tool to help us see how our minds are being shaped and manipulated more than we realize? Guest Anthony Jacquin is a hypnotist and hypnotherapist of over 20 years, author of Reality is Plastic, and he co-runs the Jacquin Hypnosis Academy. He uses his practice to help his clients change their behavior and improve their lives. In this episode, he breaks down the misconceptions of hypnosis and reveals that despite the influence of hypnotizing forces like social media, we all still have the ability to get in touch with our subconscious selves. “What can I say with certainty is true about me — what is good, true and real about me?” Anthony asks. “Much of what we’ve invested in is actually transient. It will change. What is unchanging?” Anthony draws connections between hypnosis and technology and the impacts of both on our subconscious minds but identifies a key difference — technology is exploiting us. But maybe a little more insight into one more dimension of how our minds work underneath the hood can help us build better, more humane and conscious technology.
[This episode originally aired May 21, 2020] Internationally-recognized global leader on climate change Christiana Figueres argues that the battle against global threats like climate change begins in our own heads. She became the United Nations’ top climate official, after she had watched the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit collapse “in blood, in screams, in tears.” In the wake of that debacle, Christiana began performing an act of emotional Aikido on herself, her team, and eventually delegates from 196 nations. She called it “stubborn optimism.” It requires a clear and alluring vision of a future that can supplant the dystopian and discouraging vision of what will happen if the world fails to act. It was stubborn optimism, she says, that convinced those nations to sign the first global climate framework, the Paris Agreement. In this episode, we explore how a similar shift in Silicon Valley’s vision could lead 3 billion people to take action for the planet.
Mind the (Perception) Gap

Mind the (Perception) Gap

2021-04-1501:02:134

What do you think the other side thinks? Guest Dan Vallone is the Director of More in Common U.S.A., an organization that’s been asking Democrats and Republicans that critical question. Their work has uncovered countless “perception gaps” in our understanding of each other. For example, Democrats think that about 30 percent of Republicans support "reasonable gun control," but in reality, it’s about 70 percent. Both Republicans and Democrats think that about 50 percent of the other side would feel that physical violence is justified in some situations, but the actual number for each is only about five percent. “Both sides are convinced that the majority of their political opponents are extremists,” says Dan. “And yet, that's just not true.” Social media encourages the most extreme views to speak the loudest and rise to the top—and it’s hard to start a conversation and work together when we’re all arguing with mirages. But Dan’s insights and the work of More in Common provide a hopeful guide to unraveling the distortions we’ve come to accept and correcting our foggy vision.
Coded Bias

Coded Bias

2021-04-0823:563

The film Coded Bias follows MIT Media Lab researcher Joy Buolamwini through her investigation of algorithmic discrimination, after she accidentally discovers that facial recognition technologies do not detect darker-skinned faces. Joy is joined on screen by experts in the field, researchers, activists, and involuntary victims of algorithmic injustice. Coded Bias was released on Netflix April 5, 2021, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and has been called “‘An Inconvenient Truth’ for Big Tech algorithms” by Fast Company magazine. We talk to director Shalini Kantayya about the impetus for the film and how to tackle the threats these challenges pose to civil rights while working towards more humane technology for all.
Come Together Right Now

Come Together Right Now

2021-04-0101:16:502

How many technologists have traveled to Niger, or the Balkans, or Rwanda, to learn the lessons of peacebuilding? Technology and social media are creating patterns and pathways of conflict that few people anticipated or even imagined just a decade ago. And we need to act quickly to contain the effects, but we don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are people, such as this episode’s guest, Shamil Idriss, CEO of the organization Search for Common Ground, who have been training for years to understand human beings and learn how to help them connect and begin healing processes. These experts can share their insights and help us figure out how to apply them to our new digital habitats. “Peace moves at the speed of trust, and trust can’t be fast-tracked,” says Shamil. Real change is possible, but as he explains, it takes patience, care, and creativity to get there.
Disinformation researchers have been fighting two battles over the last decade: one to combat and contain harmful information, and one to convince the world that these manipulations have an offline impact that requires complex, nuanced solutions. Camille François, Chief Information Officer at the cybersecurity company Graphika and an affiliate of the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, believes that our common understanding of the problem has recently reached a new level. In this interview, she catalogues the key changes she observed between studying Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and helping convene and operate the Election Integrity Partnership watchdog group before, during and after the 2020 election. “I'm optimistic, because I think that things that have taken quite a long time to land are finally landing, and because I think that we do have a diverse set of expertise at the table,” she says. Camille and Tristan Harris dissect the challenges and talk about the path forward to a healthy information ecosystem.
The Courage to Connect

The Courage to Connect

2021-03-0401:00:015

Yuval Noah Harari is one of the rare historians who can give us a two-million-year perspective on today’s headlines. In this wide-ranging conversation, Yuval explains how technology and democracy have evolved together over the course of human history, from paleolithic tribes to city states to kingdoms to nation states. So where do we go from here? “In almost all the conversations I have,” Yuval says, “we get stuck in dystopia and we never explore the no less problematic questions of what happens when we avoid dystopia.” We push beyond dystopia and consider the nearly unimaginable alternatives in this special episode of Your Undivided Attention.
You’ve heard us talk before on this podcast about the pitfalls of trying to moderate a “global public square.” Our guest today, Eli Pariser, co-director of Civic Signals, co-founder of Avaaz, and author of "The Filter Bubble," has been thinking for years about how to create more functional online spaces and is bringing people together to solve that problem. He believes the answer lies in creating spaces and groups intentionally, with the same kinds of skilled support and infrastructure that we would enlist in the physical world. It’s not enough to expect the big revenue-oriented tech companies to transform their tools into something less harmful; Eli is encouraging us to proactively gather in our own spaces, optimized for togetherness and cooperation.
Are the Kids Alright?

Are the Kids Alright?

2020-10-2740:3521

We are in the midst of a teen mental health crisis. Since 2011, the rate of U.S. hospitalizations for preteen girls who have self-harmed is up 189 percent, and with older teen girls, it’s up 62 percent. Tragically, the numbers on suicides are similar — 151 percent higher for preteen girls, and 70 percent higher for older teen girls. NYU social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has spent the last few years trying to figure out why, working with fellow psychologist Jean Twenge, and he believes social media is to blame. Jonathan and Jean found that the mental health data show a stark contrast between Generation Z and Millennials, unlike any demographic divide researchers have seen since World War II, and the division tracks with a sharp rise in social media use. As Jonathan explains in this interview, disentangling correlation and causation is a persistent research challenge, and the debate on this topic is still in full swing. But as TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and the next big thing fine-tune the manipulative and addictive features that pull teens in, we cannot afford to ignore this problem while we sit back and wait for conclusive results. When it comes to children, our standards need to be higher, and our burden of proof lower.
Today’s extremists don’t need highly produced videos like ISIS. They don’t need deep pockets like Russia. With the right message, a fringe organization can reach the majority of a nation’s Facebook users for the price of a used car. Our guest, Zahed Amanullah, knows this firsthand. He’s a counter-terrorism expert at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, and when his organization received $10,000 in ad credits from Facebook for an anti-extremism campaign, they were able to reach about two-thirds of Kenya’s Facebook users. It was a surprising win for Zahed, but it means nefarious groups all over the African continent have exactly the same broadcasting power. Last year, Facebook took down 66 accounts, 83 pages, 11 groups and 12 Instagram accounts related to Russian campaigns in African countries, and Russian networks spent more than $77,000 on Facebook ads in Africa. Today on the show, Zahed will explain how the very tools that extremists use to broadcast messages of hate can also be used to stop them in their tracks, and he’ll tell us what tech and government must do to systematically counter the problem. “If we don’t get in front of this,” he says, “this phenomenon is going to amplify beyond our reach.“
The Social Dilemma

The Social Dilemma

2020-09-0904:266

A new documentary called The Social Dilemma comes out on Netflix today, September 9, 2020. We hope that this film, full of interviews with tech insiders, will be a catalyst and tool for exposing how technology has been distorting our perception of the world, and will help us reach the shared ground we need to solve big problems together.
Facebook Goes '2Africa'

Facebook Goes '2Africa'

2020-09-0235:434

This summer, Facebook unveiled “2Africa,” a subsea cable project that will encircle nearly the entire continent of Africa — much to the surprise of Julie Owono. As Executive Director of Internet Without Borders, she’s seen how quickly projects like this can become enmeshed in local politics, as private companies dig through territorial waters, negotiate with local officials and gradually assume responsibility over vital pieces of national infrastructure. “It’s critical, now, that communities have a seat at the table,” Julie says. We ask her about the risks of tech companies leading us into an age of “digital colonialism,” and what she hopes to achieve as a newly appointed member of Facebook’s Oversight Board.
In 1940, a group of 60 American intellectuals formed the Committee for National Morale. “They’ve largely been forgotten,” says Fred Turner, a professor of communications at Stanford University, but their work had a profound impact on public opinion. They produced groundbreaking films and art exhibitions. They urged viewers to stop, reflect and think for themselves, and in so doing, they developed a set of design principles that reimagined how media could make us feel more calm, reflective, empathetic; in short, more democratic.
Imagine a world where every country has a digital minister and technologically-enabled legislative bodies. Votes are completely transparent and audio and video of all conversations between lawmakers and lobbyists are available to the public immediately. Conspiracy theories are acted upon within two hours and replaced by humorous videos that clarify the truth. Imagine that expressing outrage about your local political environment turned into a participatory process where you were invited to solve that problem and even entered into a face to face group workshop. Does that sound impossible? It’s ambitious and optimistic, but that's everything that our guest this episode, Audrey Tang, digital minister of Taiwan, has been working on in her own country for many years. Audrey’s path into public service began in 2014 with her participation in the Sunflower Movement, a student-led protest in Taiwan’s parliamentary building, and she’s been building on that experience ever since, leading her country into a future of truly participatory digital democracy.
Beyond the Boycott

Beyond the Boycott

2020-07-1009:202

#StopHateforProfit is an important first step, but we need to go much further.
The World According to Q

The World According to Q

2020-07-0859:134

What would inspire someone to singlehandedly initiate an armed standoff on the Hoover Dam, or lead the police on a 100-mile-an-hour car chase while calling for help from an anonymous internet source, or travel hundreds of miles alone to shoot up a pizza parlor? The people who did these things were all connected to the decentralized cult-like internet conspiracy theory group called QAnon. Our guest this episode, Travis View, is a researcher, writer and podcast host who has spent the last few years trying to understand the people who’ve become wrapped up in QAnon and the concerning consequences as Q followers increasingly leave their screens and take extreme actions in the real world. As many as six candidates who support QAnon are running for Congress and will be on the ballot for the 2020 elections, threatening to upend long-held Republican establishment seats. This just happened to a five-term Republican congressman in Colorado. Travis warns that QAnon is an extremism problem, not a disinformation or political problem, and dismissing QAnon as a fringe threat underestimates how quickly their views can leapfrog into mainstream debates on the left and the right.
The Bully’s Pulpit

The Bully’s Pulpit

2020-06-2255:583

The sound of bullies on social media can be deafening, but what about their victims? “They're just sitting there being pummeled and pummeled and pummeled,” says Fadi Quran. As the campaign director of Avaaz, a platform for 62 million activists worldwide, Fadi and his team go to great lengths to figure out exactly how social media is being weaponized against vulnerable communities, including those who have no voice online at all. “They can't report it. They’re not online.” Fadi says. “They can't even have a conversation about it.” But by bringing these voices of survivors to Silicon Valley, Fadi says, tech companies can not just hear the lethal consequences of algorithmic abuse, they can start hacking away at a system that Fadi argues was “designed for bullies.”
[This episode originally aired on November 5, 2019] Maria Ressa is arguably one of the bravest journalists working in the Philippines today. As co-founder and CEO of the media site Rappler, she has withstood death threats, multiple arrests and a rising tide of populist fury that she first saw on Facebook, in the form of a strange and jarring personal attack. Through her story, she reveals, play by play, how an aspiring strongman can use social media to spread falsehoods, sow confusion, intimidate critics and subvert democratic institutions. Nonetheless, she argues Silicon Valley can reverse these trends, and fast. First, tech companies must "wake up," she says, to the threats they've unleashed throughout the Global South. Second, they must recognize that social media is intrinsically designed to favor the strongman over the lone dissident and the propagandist over the truth-teller, which is why it has become the central tool in every aspiring dictator's playbook.
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Comments (40)

ncooty

She habitually drags out the final word or syllable of each clause, as though she thinks it accentuates her point. Don't inflect EVERYTHING.

Apr 8th
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James Weatherby

This podcast changed my life. Ive felt 'wrong' about social media for some time and since disconnecting have found myself justifying 'why not' to my family and friends, and finding my 'why so?' to be wholly ineffective. Even to myself, it was hard yo educate and explain internally. I can now explain myself more clearly. I wont change my family's mind but i am now more informed (on both sides) and can more considered decisions. Ive shared this podcast with some colleagues and friends who are more open minded and already i see a change, and thats what matters. Its about awareness. I dont want to proselytise. Thank you for the passion, accessibility and transparency of a podcast like this. I truly hope we will look back on podcasts like this decades from now and see them as prophetic. I hope... The alternative doesn't bare thinking about.

Apr 4th
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ncooty

The snaps get old.

Apr 2nd
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ncooty

@18:32: "True for them" is such an intellectually broken phrase that it contributes to the very problem being discussed. The violence of Jan. 6th was fueled by lies conveyed through a misappropriation of English. Muddled language has a reciprocal relationship with muddled thinking. How can we have accountability when words no longer have meaning? This is Trump's own defense, and that of Sidney Powell, and Rudy Giuliani, and Fox, and every depraved Reupblican attempting to hide their bigotry and malice in a fog of nonsense. Stop contributing to the problem. Start using words as if they have actual meanings.

Apr 2nd
Reply

ncooty

Another well intentioned person holding forth about "truth" because it seems right to her, yet many of her strung-together conjectures are factually wrong. It reminds me of anti-scientific Socratic precepts. So little of what she said is empirically falsifiable, and many of her little factoids are in fact false. It undermines her credibility, and therefore her efficacy in promoting what might be useful approaches.

Mar 31st
Reply

ncooty

@8:58: A great point I'm very glad to hear someone make regarding the over-use of military terminology and metaphors.

Mar 31st
Reply

ncooty

"Clock rate" is an ambiguous, incomplete term Aza seems compelled to say. Use a better term. Neologisms don't make you sound smart, just pseudo-intellectual.

Mar 31st
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ncooty

I could do without Aza's breathy, overly empathic, constant "Yeah."

Mar 31st
Reply

ncooty

This format for introducing the guest seems awkward and contrived... and a bit effusive or inflated. Also, Aza should pull the mic out of his mouth.

Mar 31st
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ncooty

Speaking of distractions, I find Aza's growly vocal fry distracting--and annoying, since it sounds like an affectation.

Mar 30th
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Michael Brodie

Fascinating podcast. I've been working developing a community network - www.ournet.online - which addresses all the issues you wonderful people raised in this podcast. it is possible. Inspired by Marshall McLuhan "the medium is the message". I'd love to have you people onboard. Can we talk? Loved the thing about monopoly.

Feb 15th
Reply (1)

Steven

It would be great if you stopped perpetuating the negative connotation surrounding the phrase "conspiracy theories". Some conspiracies are real and legitimate, and the current connotation dismisses concerns over them.

Nov 24th
Reply

Ajo Mathew

Bias becomes behavior over time

Nov 21st
Reply

Kutacrusader

God shut the fuck up and let the lady fucking speak! The interruption makes this unlistenable and she has so much to impart.

Nov 10th
Reply

Kutacrusader

Jesus fucking Christ, stop interrupting and listen a little more.

Nov 10th
Reply

Julia Vant-Hull Foree

How about just periodic goal popups? REM ending you you actually HAVE goals?

Nov 8th
Reply

Ajo Mathew

serendipity HALT ask yourself are you hungry hungry lonely and tired before making in a drastic decision

Oct 24th
Reply (1)

Ajo Mathew

No news room should compete when it comes to false information. journalism never has to deal with falsity

Oct 16th
Reply

Ajo Mathew

immediate that our brains are wired to react

Sep 30th
Reply

Ajo Mathew

It must be the best time to adopt a rescue animal because pets are the few things gives you unconditional love and just look at you with love.

Sep 30th
Reply
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