Is this actually possible?
A: Not completely. There are two kinds of companies: 'Attention' companies like Facebook, Snapchat or Netflix that need to maximize attention to make money, and 'Platform' companies like Apple and Google that make the devices that sit between our mind and all the apps, websites and people who want our attention. Platform companies, like the urban planners of a city, are responsible for balancing what's best for people and what's best for businesses in the city. And we can demand for Apple and Google to design our devices to better defend the autonomy of our minds and support us better in how we want to spend our time.
A: Many people think our devices are neutral and it's up to us to choose how to use them. But that's not all true. Attention companies (like Snapchat, Facebook or Netflix) don't design their products to be neutral. They spend millions of dollars on specific engineering teams, called growth hackers, whose job is to invent new ways to hook us into spending more time (Read More on How Technology Hijacks Our Mind). Every time we try to maintain self-control, we forget that there are hundreds of people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break it down. But with Time Well Spent we can change what it means to win.
People often say that we used to worry about how TV or radio would ruin our minds, and say "see, it turned out fine!" But phones are different. We live by our phones and specific communication apps. Millions of people check their phone 150 times a day – when we wake up, when we go to sleep and moments of boredom. The average teenager sends 4,000 texts every month, once every 6 mins they are awake. Forget the brain implant, the phone is an implant. The more of our thoughts and choices they manipulate, the more carefully we need to design it to give us control.
Time Well Spent isn't about telling people how to spend their time, it is about giving people back their agency so they can focus on the relationships and things they care about, instead of being steered to spend as much time as possible with their device.
No, this isn't about productivity, it's about our lives. Time Well Spent adds up to lives well lived. Today companies compete for our attention, leaving us more and more distracted as they get better at taking more of our time. Time Well Spent is about changing the incentives–changing the game, so companies compete to respect our attention and help us with our goals.
Yes, people spend about 5 hours on TV and a 2.5 hours on the phone. But this isn't about how many minutes we spend on one screen vs. another, it's about how screen time changes the quality of our attention and our ability to focus on the things and people we care about. We check our phones 150 times per day. Every time we are interrupted, it takes up to 23 minutes to resume focus, fragmenting our attention and leaving us constantly distracted. It's harder and harder to focus our attention where we want to put it. Time Well Spent aims to set cleaner standards so as not to fragment our attention.
A: Absolutely not. We don't need more apps or technology, but we need to change the fundamental design for how devices orchestrate the interactions between us and the things that want our attention. Today the Attention Economy is like a city with lots of pollution and accidents. We don't fix the city by telling residents to leave (turn devices off). We also don't fix the city by extending the same structure of the city that led to the problems. We fix the city by adding bike lanes, blinker signals and crosswalks to restructure people's interactions so there's less pollution and fewer accidents. We can do that with Time Well Spent.