Recently, at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, founders from Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Zynga, and PayPal, along with executives and managers from companies like Google, Microsoft, and Cisco discussed whether technology firms had a responsibility to consider their collective power in luring consumers to games or activities that waste time or distract them.
In a New York Times article about the conference, Stuart Crabb, an executive who oversees learning and development at Facebook, used the following analogy:
“If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll boil to death…People need to notice the effect that time online has on your performance and relationships.”
The core of these discussions revolved around whether the industry is responsible for protecting people from the addictive use of technology and how much people should be responsible for their own actions. Some executives compared their technology with fast food, stating that just because they make something tasty and good (though unhealthy in large quantities) doesn’t mean that corporations are responsible for making people fat.
Scott Kriens, Chairman of Juniper Networks, saw it this way:
“The responsibility we have is to put the most powerful capability into the world. We do it with eyes wide open that some harm will be done. Someone might say, ‘Why not do so in a way that causes no harm?’ That’s naïve… The alternative is to put less powerful capability in people’s hands and that’s a bad trade-off,” he added.
All of this talk makes we wonder if there really is a balance between allowing people to have the freedom to make their own decisions with trying to regulate human behavior and making a profit.
In reality, there isn’t.
In the real world, companies are designed to make a profit, which means selling their products and services — first and foremost. There is a certain amount of responsibility that corporations have to ensure that their technology products do what they say they will do, while meeting industry standards for quality and safety. Beyond that, the responsibility falls directly into the consumer’s lap.
It’s up to us to take that “eyes wide open” approach towards the purchase and use of technology. We are responsible for our own behaviors — not big corporations. The key is in maintaining an awareness of any signs that point to addictive or obsessive behaviors toward our use of technology. Sometimes this requires ignoring or tuning out the marketing blitz for the latest and greatest technological marvels.
So, if you feel like the water is getting too hot around you, you’re probably right — you’d better get out of the pot for a while.