The distraction economy has been bad for humanity.
This isn’t news to most of us. We know how the ad-driven internet has led to the proliferation of software that preys on our neural reward pathways in the name of “stickiness” and user engagement. Social media is the most obvious culprit, but the dopamine-mining is pervasive – even finding its way into workplace tools like Slack. The psycho-emotional cost of this to individuals is well-documented; the geopolitical impact is increasingly obvious as well.
We were surprised to discover a third layer to this: cognitive overload. We spent a lot of time talking to Millennial knowledge workers – across varied disciplines, industries, and backgrounds – about how they spend their time and energy throughout the day. It was stunning to see almost every person interviewed describe the same feelings of being stretched too thin: asked to do too much, distracted, pressed for time, and zipping from one personal or professional obligation to the next – the experience of brittleness was almost unanimous. Beyond the obvious emotional discomfort, this lack of elasticity meant that although each person wanted to, no one felt they had the spaciousness anymore to regularly engage in things like deep work, creative thought, or proactive action.
Most of us recognize that we’re at our best when we are fully engaged with what we’re doing. Conversely, when human attention is overburdened, autopilot takes over and cognitive bias fills the gap.
No human is at their best when they operate on their biases. And none of the problems that confront us as a species will be solved without easier access to deep and creative thinking. If, en masse, a culture of distraction means we each have less access to these states – that imposes a low ceiling on human potential.
This is not the future we were promised.
The Promise of Tech
I’m a Millennial. I grew up in multicultural Toronto in the 80’s and 90’s, watching Picard’s Star Trek and NASA’s space shuttle launches. There was a pervasive optimism that we implicitly subscribed to then – that through science and engineering, we would improve the lot for all of humanity together. Many of us chose academic and career paths in technology on account of this belief.
Fast-forward to 2023, and it feels like we got the dystopian B-movie plot instead. A tech company promising to not “be evil” feels tantamount to gaslighting.
I believe it’s still possible to nudge us back in a better direction, and startups that align their motivation with human values – and that can critically evaluate technology, economic incentives, and human cognition – are the very best tools for the job.
Reclaiming Control of our Time and Attention
The volume of digital information we now produce is mind-numbing. As a civilization, we create a couple quintillion bytes of data per day. But human thinking is still limited by our biological hardware’s capabilities: our capacity for attention. When we exceed that capacity, our thinking fails. That means knowledge work has gotten harder – there’s more information to consider, and more information that must be actively ignored in order for us to maintain our ability to be creative, thoughtful, and effective.
Aloe exists to help eliminate this overload. We’re developing on and with the best building blocks available – from breakthroughs in semantic and generative AI, to expertise in cognitive science, novel user experiences, and even new cultural practices – to create a context-aware environment that makes it easier to engage with this overflowing world of information and obligation. A tool to amplify your own capabilities for deep and creative work. And an assistant to handle tasks on your behalf when possible, so you can stay focused.
We don’t believe the future of AI tools is to automate humans out of the picture – it’s to free us to concentrate on the parts of work and life that fulfill us. Problem solving. Building relationships. Creativity. Empathy. Aloe makes it easier to stake out the time and space for the things that matter. We’re excited to show you what we’ve been working on in the coming months.
At Aloe, we think the future is bright.
(And if you want to help make it so, we're hiring.)