Adam Adam Alter, author of ‘‘Irresistible,” thinks we should focus on companies rather than consumers to curve tech addiction. Alter mentions how German car manufacturer Daimler automatically deletes emails sent to employees while they’re on vacation. So that they can come back to work rejuvenated. Alter also believes governments should tax tech companies like Facebook for making us less productive. Following is a transcript of the video. There’s a lot we can do as individual consumers, but also I think the major solutions should reside with the companies that push us to use email for example, and with governments which have a power to intervene to some extent. Different countries are much more tuned in to this than others.
Western Europe seems to be especially attuned to these issues. In Germany for example, the car company Daimler has a wonderful email vacation policy. If you work at Daimler and you’re on vacation, there’s an automatic vacation notification message, if I email you while you’re on vacation, I get a response saying, “Thank you for your email, this person is on vacation. Your email has been deleted.” Instead of the email being delivered to this person, we are happy to deliver it to this other person who will take over instead, or you can wait until this original person comes back from vacation and resend it.
Now that sounds extreme, and it sounds, from the business perspective like it’s a bad business decision. But it turns out to be very wise, because if you have employees who are going on vacation, you want them to come back recharged. Most employees who have to keep checking email while they’re away don’t feel recharged when they come back. But if you speak to people who work at Daimler, however their email inbox looks the day they go on vacation it looks identical the day they return, and they therefore are given an enforced vacation. So when they come back to work they do feel recharged, reenergized, and they’re ready to work again at maximum productivity, which is not true of people who go on vacation and feel tethered to work.
There are great benefits here I think, if you exert these kinds of top-down influences within a company or by legislation. Now, if you’re Facebook, and you’re making a decision that could affect 2 billion people it’s probably worth understanding how those 2 billion people will respond, and what’s the worst-case scenario. If you’re going to take up 10 minutes every day from those 2 billion people that’s a lot of collective minutes, and that should be factored in to any decisions you’re making, and perhaps the government could introduce legislation that takes that into account.
So one possibility is, if you know from research that a particular decision that a company’s making will rob people of a certain amount of time, or wellbeing every day, you could put a monetary charge attached to that, and you could say, well Facebook you’ve just done this thing, it’s going to cost people 10 minutes a day, in productivity terms and in well-being terms, this is worth say $US15, you have 2 billion users, so you should pay a tax that’s equal to that, or perhaps slightly more, $US15 times 2 billion people, that is the tax you pay for introducing this new feature. Now that is a massively extreme measure, but I think it’s the sort of thing we could start to consider because we tax other companies. If you’re going to pollute the environment you should be taxed because you’re compromising the well-being of the population of the world, of animals, of all sorts of other entities, you should pay a penalty for that, it makes you wealthier, you’re enriched, but you’re affecting other people negatively, and that’s really how I think we should start thinking about tech companies.
Really the best case scenario is that companies themselves, that produce the content that we engage with change how they behave. They start to be more mindful of their consumers, they start to care about our wellbeing. I don’t think that’s going to happen naturally, I think they need to be pressured into it, either by top-down influences like government, or bottom-up influences like consumers who band together to say, you need to behave differently towards us. We’re starting to see that happening, Facebook, for example, has had to, at least appear to be more mindful about privacy issues because consumers are starting to demand that, and you know that’s really how a lot of industries evolved.
If you think about primary resource production, a lot of those companies were dumping pollutants into the air, and the waterways with impunity for many years, until the government, lead in part by consumers who became more conscious of environmental issues said, that’s not ok, you need to pay a tax, you need to pay a penalty, and we’re going to outright outlaw some of your practices. I think that sort of thing is going to start to happen more and more in the tech industry. It may not be there yet, but I think it’s around the corner, and I think if that happens as it should over time, perhaps there will be enough regulation, maybe internal regulation within these companies, that we’ll all be able to get the best of these products without a lot of the worst of them. That’s my hope for where we go from here.
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