(Update 10-26-17: Skeptech is tonight, Thursday! Livestream video is on this page starting 7pm Eastern / 4pm Pacific.)

- - -

I recently had an unusual encounter on the New York City subway. I was riding the A train, reading a bestselling book about how to create addictive apps. (It’s the one with the yellow cover. I’m not giving the title, but you may know it anyway.)

Somewhere around 34th Street, a young woman boarded the train and sat down next to me. Her eyes lit up. “I love that book,” she said, catching my eye and gesturing to the book.

“Do you build apps?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she said, “I’m in a startup and everyone on the team has read that book. We all love it.”

She was nice enough to strike up a conversation, so I didn’t want to come right out and say that I find the book objectionable. It presents addiction as an aspirational goal for app design, even pointing to slot machines in Las Vegas as a positive case study. (The very next example cited is Twitter.)

“That’s cool,” I said, “but – well – what do you think about the ethical considerations of trying to addict your users?”

She blinked. Then all of a sudden she looked sheepish. Finally, she shrugged. “Well,” she said, “I have to eat.”

It’s disappointing to see the tech industry lose its capacity to empathize with users as human beings. Tech has been leaning in this direction for some time - I wrote a column back in January about the changes I’ve seen across 20 years - but the incident on the subway, to me, signalled a new moment. My new acquaintance was from a startup, not one of the Big Four; located in New York, not the bowels of Silicon Valley; and the whole team, not just a growth-hacking CEO, was enthusiastic about addictive design. And throughout all of it, she could give no justification for an ethical compromise.

Just this: “I have to eat.” In other words, “I’ll use any means necessary – dark patterns, slot machine-style payouts, false promises – anything to hook users on my product.” 

I know this doesn’t represent everyone in the tech industry. I’ve met plenty of individuals, usually on a product team in a larger organization, who are trying to change how the company relates to users. Sometimes they invite me in to talk to the team about my book Customers Included, which shows how treating customers with respect actually makes more money in the long run. But my book isn’t the bestseller. The addictive design book is.

Still, there are those of us left who believe in the promise of technology to respect, serve, even elevate its users. And that’s why I’m convening Skeptech, one week from today, to organize a conversation about tech. (Back in May I ran the first Skeptech event as a mini-Gel spring event; this is the 2nd Skeptech in the series: a fall mini-Gel!)

Here’s the deal...

Skeptech: Tales from the Dark Side of Tech
Thursday, October 26, one evening only
WFMU’s Monty Hall, 43 Montgomery St, Jersey City, NJ (see map)
Doors open 6:30pm, show goes 7pm to 9pm
Sign up here.

Speakers:
• JON RONSON (author of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Men Who Stare at Goats, and host of the new Butterfly Effect podcast)
• NANCY LUBLIN, Crisis Text Line founder and CEO
• comedians APARNA NANCHERLA and JO FIRESTONE
• ...and yours truly hosting, as usual.

It’s up to us to start a conversation that will lead to more positive outcomes.

If you’re in the New York area, I want to see you at Skeptech. By attending, you’ll join the community of people who want to make tech better. (We’ll also have a livestream, for those of you out town: I’ll post a link to it, evening-of, on my Twitter feed.)

Sign up here for Skeptech: coming up one week from today – Thursday, October 26. 

- - -

P.S. You can also help by sharing this post on social media. just copy and paste this, below, into your favorite social media account:

Tech has a disturbing new direction. @markhurst is running Skeptech to turn it around:
http://creativegood.com/blog/tech-has-a-disturbing-new-direction-im-running-skeptech/

Apple’s launch of the iPhone X last week was notably different from its original iPhone launch in 2007, as I said in the intro to my Techtonic radio show on Monday evening.

Here’s how I put it on Twitter:

• Was the home button irritating users?
• Did users hate the kind of metal Apple was using?
• Did users want their faces scanned?
• Is this for users?

In other words, the features Apple touted about the iPhone X – face-scanning through FaceID, the edge-to-edge screen without a home button, and (my favorite) “surgical-grade stainless steel” – are all impressive technology, but I’m not sure they solve users’ primary pain points or unmet needs.

Compare this with the original iPhone launch from 2007, in which Steve Jobs demonstrated a complete revolution in how people would use smartphones. The iPhone solved chronic problems in smartphones of the time – managing contacts, three-way calling, accessing voice mail – while adding a number of other benefits. There simply was nothing else like the iPhone when it launched.

Going further back, compare last week with twenty years ago, in 1997, in which Jobs made the famous statement about Apple’s new strategy:

You’ve gotta start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology. You can’t start with the technology and try to figure out where you’re going to sell it.

I wonder what Jobs would have made of the surgical-grade stainless steel, the face-scanning, and the rest of the iPhone X features. Did this launch focus on the customer experience, or did Apple perhaps “start with the technology” and then try to sell it?

I’m excited to announce a new project I’m starting today, Monday, Sept 11 at 6pm Eastern: a new radio show! The show is called Techtonic, and I’ll host the show live on Mondays, 6pm to 7pm, from the studios at WFMU based in Jersey City, NJ. (The greatest radio station in the world. I ran Skeptech there in May.)

Techtonic will explore our shift to a digital future: that is, all the ways technology is affecting our society and day-to-day lives – both for good and not-so-good outcomes. The show will have a talk format, with interviews followed by live call-ins from listeners.

For today’s debut show, my guest is Scott Heiferman, founder and CEO of Meetup. He’ll describe his perspective on creating technology for community-building, and how he reacts to Facebook’s recent moves in that space. 

If you listen live to the show, please call in! I’ll take live on-air listener calls during the show. Call +1.201-209-9368.

The Techtonic podcast is available here. (Updated 9-24-17)

How to listen LIVE to Techtonic:

• Web: go to wfmu.org and click the big play button at 6pm on Monday (or before then, to hear Scott Williams’ excellent show, then the start of Techtonic at 6pm Eastern). 

• Mobile: download the WFMU mobile app and click the Play button there.

• FM Radio: 91.1 FM in the New York/New Jersey area.

How to comment on Techtonic: We’ll be having a livechat during the show on the comments board! Go to wfmu.org, click the “Playlist & Comments” link, then create an account in the lower-right and start chatting. See below:

Hope you’ll tune in, post a comment during the show, and maybe call in!

– – –

Share this post: Copy and paste this into your favorite social media account: 

Why you should listen to the new Techtonic show on @wfmu hosted by @markhurst – http://creativegood.com/blog/new-techtonic-radio-show-on-wfmu/

Here's the video of the first Skeptech event, which I hosted at WFMU in Jersey City, New Jersey on the evening of Wednesday, May 24.

Skeptech was the world's first event to question the tech industry, raise awareness about some of its problematic behavior, and describe positive ways of building, managing, and using technology to actually make the world better.

Summary of the talks:

• In my introductory remarks (minute 4 of the video), I listed four main problems posed by today's tech industry: Security, Privacy, Arrogance, and Manipulation. (If only it had a good acronym, right?)

Douglas Rushkoff (author, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus) argued for why we should join "team human." At roughly minute 31 of the video: "When I say, 'humans are special, we have awareness, we have consciousness,' my west-coast friends say, 'Oh, Doug, you only say that because you're human.'" (Douglas's podcast: Team Human)

Natasha Dow Schull (author, Addiction by Design) presented her concept of "ludic loops" - specifically, how apps and social networks employ design patterns from addictive Las Vegas slot machines in order to "hook" their users. At 1:04 (minute 64) of the video, Natasha describes the Snapchat Streaks feature, which tracks the number of consecutive days two friends have chatted: "The mechanism becomes the point. This becomes about maintaining the streak, not the friendship."

Vicki Boykis talked about life in Stalinist Russia and how there are some uncanny parallels to online life today, like conformity and self-censorship. Go to 1:12 (minute 72) of the video to watch her talk from the beginning.

Liz Berg, Assistant General Manager of WFMU, described how the station continues to create meaningful community with and among its listeners – and then Liz gave specific suggestions for how your team can do the same. Go to 1:38 (minute 98) of the video to watch Liz's talk, called "User Engagement Do-Over." 

Ken Freedman, Station Manager of WFMU, spoke about "The Fine Art of Troll-Whispering," pointing out that trolls pre-date the web – and he listed specific ways that any team can combat or neutralize trolls. Send this to any team that claims to build community online! 1:49 (minute 109) of the video. Watch it.

More Skeptech info, and all speaker bios, at skeptech.info.

And hey! Make a pledge to WFMU if you watched some of the video and enjoyed it. Skeptech was a benefit for WFMU, with 100% of the proceeds going to the station. Donate to WFMU here.

Next Skeptech event: Mark your calendar! On Thursday, October 26, we'll return to WFMU for the next Skeptech event – in person and via livestream.

The secret to creating online community - and defeating trolls - is surprisingly simple. Listen to my podcast interview with Ken Freedman and Liz Berg from WFMU, the free-form radio station that has created a worldwide fan base through its radically innovative approach to radio.

You're invited: I'll be hosting the first Skeptech at WFMU this Wednesday, May 24, in Jersey City:
Sign up to attend (tickets almost sold out!) ... or watch the livestream starting 7pm Eastern on May 24.
Skeptech speaker list, venue, and all event details
My column that launched Skeptech

Subscribe to the Creative Good podcast:
Subscribe in iTunes
RSS feed