Harris at Collision Conf 2018 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans
He was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area by a single mother employed as an advocate for injured workers. Later on, he studied computer science at Stanford University while interning at Apple Inc., then embarked on a master's degree at Stanford, where he joined B. J. Fogg's Persuasive Technology Lab. Harris studied the psychology of behavior change. Tristan was classmates with one of Instagram’s founders, Kevin Systrom, and helped create a demo app with the other founder, Mike Krieger.
In 2007, Harris dropped out of the master's program at Stanford. He launched a startup called Apture, which was focused on bringing instantaneous search to content on the web. Google acquired Harris’ company Apture in 2011 and he ended up working on Google Inbox.
While working at Google in February 2013, Harris sent around a presentation to a handful of coworkers which was titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention”. In that presentation, Harris suggested that Google, Apple and Facebook should “feel an enormous responsibility” to make sure humanity doesn't spend its days buried in a smartphone. The 141-slide deck was eventually viewed by tens of thousands of Google employees and sparked conversations about the company's responsibilities long after he left the company. Harris holds several patents from his previous work at Apple, Wikia, Apture, and Google.
Harris left Google in December 2015 to focus on a nonprofit called Time Well Spent, which he co-founded. Through Time Well Spent, Harris hoped to mobilize support for an alternative built around core values at tech corporations, chief of which is helping us spend our time well, instead of demanding more of it. Harris is convinced that all human minds can be hijacked and the choices they make are not as free as they think they are. The Atlantic stated in their November 2016 issue that “Harris is the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.”
He coined the phrase "human downgrading" to describe the idea that computers are changing people's lives and minds for the worse.
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