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How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds (medium.com)
1612 points by prostoalex on May 20, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 427 comments



Wow, I'm glad this was posted.

I think the way we use technology today will be looked back on the same way we look back at naive cigarette smoking in the 1950s.

Modern app design isn't about creating things that are good for the user, but about creating want in the user. This is a problem.

For example, there are several studies showing that using Facebook in general makes people less happy. User happiness just happens to not be be necessary for Facebook to be a successful business.

Go to a developer conference by one of the big tech companies, and speakers generally aren't talking about doing good things for the user. They'll use euphemisms like "increasing engagement". There's concepts like "permission priming", psychological tricks to get the user to do what you want. There's books written about how to maximize app addictiveness. It's stuff that mildly screws over the user, and it guides the product designs that affect the lives of billions of people. It's not good.


I think the more apt metaphor is lead in Roman pipes. They knew lead exposure made you crazy but they still used it in their pipes, on their plates - and it drove them mad.

After the planet has warmed beyond a point of no return, after antibiotic resistant bacteria make routine surgery a life-or-death decision, after we have squandered away our resources and used what little we had left to wage futile wars, we will find ourselves looking back at these Bernaysian psychological tricks of mass consumerism...and I wonder if we will use the same excuse then as we do today:

"But it was good for GDP!"


My favorite New Yorker cartoon ever: http://www.condenaststore.com/-sp/Yes-the-planet-got-destroy...

"Yes, the planet was destroyed. But for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders."


Besides actual lead concentration in water being disputed (per comments in the parallel subthreads), I think this analogy isn't good for another reason - Roman aqueducts were meant to solve a problem, to get fresh water into towns, improving comfort as well as sanitation. Most apps made today are not about solving problems, they're about bundling a minimum amount of features that would trick the users into doing something (paying with money, paying with daya) that profits the app creators.


I think the majority of app developers still, at least nominally, believe that they are providing something of value.


The lead hypothesis for Roman decline is disputed.

http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/2014/04/lead-pipes-pollute...

The demise of antibiotics is much overwrought. It won't happen, since researchers have basically solved the problem of cost-effectively finding an unlimited supply of new ones.

https://www.edge.org/response-detail/26701

In general people like seeing doom everywhere. To the extent this motivates some of them to do something about it, this is probably good. But it is very irritating when the doomsayers don't adjust their doomsaying based upon current scientific work.


> But it is very irritating when the doomsayers don't adjust their doomsaying based upon current scientific work.

I love this line. It's like somebody just submitted doomsaying homework, and you are not taking issue with their premise per se, but taking off points for the sources they used.


Heh, yeah. It's like talking to climate "skeptics" - people who believe climate change is real but disagree on the level of human agency. You can show them graph after graph of greenhouse gas emissions being pumped into the atmosphere at alarming rates and they'll say "I'm not that alarmed, we don't know how much of an impact it will have." Meanwhile, coral reefs are bleaching, Florida is flooding, and we are experiencing record heatwaves AND snowfall. At the very least, it doesn't take much to make clear that we should still DO SOMETHING.


But what? The problem with the constant doom is that we get exhausted. At least in the US all we truly care about is war and old people (looking at where the money goes; http://whatwepayfor.com/). The problem with the doom sayers is they have no solutions or actionable items that we can say yes or no to. Its just lions and tigers and bears 24/7.


I'll give you an example. I live in Ithaca, NY, not far from some of the richest shale gas deposits in the United States. This town is also ground zero for fracking hatred. Post something awful about fracking, and people will eat that shit up whether it's true or not. I know, because I was one of them.

Then I started dating a hydrogeologist. As luck would have it, her very MS thesis was on fracking. She dispelled rumors left and right: "fracking causes earthquakes!" - actually it's poorly built injection wells and wastewater storage that causes earthquakes; "fracking injects radioactives and other poisons into our groundwater!" - nope, the fluid itself is relatively benign (except for a single phase of high-concentration HF/HCL) and the radioactives are actually pumped UP from the crust, not the other way around. And as much as we hippies like to believe - the 60s/70s never really ended in Ithaca - our town is powered by dirty, dirty coal, not magical fairy dust; natural gas would hugely reduce our CO2 emissions.

Point is, it's fair to be scared. Improper fracking CAN cause earthquakes, it CAN poison groundwater, but it is very obvious where and how it happens, and it can be regulated and prevented.

The only real problems arise when people refuse to reconsider their opinions in the face of facts.


Just looking at your first point, She dispelled rumors left and right: "fracking causes earthquakes!" - actually it's poorly built injection wells and wastewater storage that causes earthquakes

In your mind fracking is separate from building injection wells and wastewater storage? All of your examples are the reasons why fracking is dangerous. Just because people get confused about whats being pumped in, doesn't make them wrong that 'radioactives' are appearing.

I think you have been duped by the power of the p . . .


Dangerous doesn't mean too dangerous. Nuclear energy is dangerous but any projection of energy use that accommodates growing population and energy usage AND expects carbon reductions AND doesn't include growing nuclear use is simply impossible.

EDIT: Also worth noting that there is a clear correlation between the increase of electronics/battery recycling in the West and lead poisoning cases in Kenyan children where the recycling is done. America cleaned up its sooty and smoggy cities by exporting the freedom to pollute to China and Mexico. No such thing as a free lunch.

Burning fossil fuels in perpetuity is dangerous too.

The point is, fracking can be done safe, it can be done properly. The only reason we see these hyperbolic results in places like Oklahoma is that states that tend to allow fracking just so happen to be the ones that couldn't give a rat's ass about effective and proper regulation.

We've come a long way from rope seat belts, haven't we?


Nuclear power can be done safe, but we also have many examples of it not being done safe. Saying, "well it will be different this time. We will build systems to make corruption, laziness, and dangerous actions impossible!" is believing in a pipe dream.


We have come a long way from Chernobyl. Most of the people posting here probably weren't even alive when it happened. Nuclear power is so well-controlled (unless you build reactors on earthquake hotspots or tsunami zones, I mean c'mon Japan) that you can't even use regular statistical models because the only probable risks are human. Reactors are really, really well-designed these days to seal themselves off in the (super-rare) case of a critical malfunction. The real risk with nuclear right now is the boogeyman fears of a meltdown keeping us from updating our ancient reactors.

So I ask: how do we provide energy to a rapidly growing global population without surging carbon emissions using readily deployable technology? Renewables might work - if people stopped having kids for a while - but aside from truly revolutionary advances in energy efficiency, generation, and storage, we are left with an unfortunate but undeniable fact: we need nuke.


One thing that really ought to be stressed about Chernobyl is that it was a really shitty reactor design (probably just about the most unsafe reactor design ever) manned by poorly-trained and incompetent people.

With the outlier of Chernobyl, nuclear energy has a very good safety record. Shoddy and dangerous Soviet engineering has a very bad safety record. The operative variable here is shoddy and dangerous Soviet engineering.

You wouldn't say that because Eastern Bloc cars would have ludicrously awful[0] results in a crash test, therefore it's unsafe to travel by car. You wouldn't say that the safety record of the Ilyushin Il-62[1] proves all passenger planes are unsafe. You wouldn't say the combat record of the T-72 means the Army should immediately retire that useless deathtrap M1 Abrams.

[0] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oF4phDLfGF4

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ilyushin_Il-62#Incidents_and_a...

There are inherent dangers to nuclear power, as with cars, passenger planes and combat vehicles. However, these dangers are all well-understood and easily mitigable. In the Soviet Union safety was not a priority or oftentimes even a consideration, in America it is.

Not only that, but nuclear power is not remotely even the most potentially dangerous form of power generation. That easily, easily belongs to hydropower. The Banqiao Dam disaster[2] killed 171,000 people.

But I'm not worried about hydropower and neither should you, if you live in the first world. Dams are, inherently, incredibly dangerous. But we understand the dangers, and we know how to make dams so that the danger is reduced to near-zero. That a dam built in Mao-era China was unsafe doesn't mean that it's impossible to make a safe dam.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam


FINALLY! Someone who understands the reality of the situation and backs it up with FACTS!

If people weren't so terrified of nuclear energy by movies like Silkwood or TV shows like The Simpsons they might actually look past their own emotional hinderances and do some trivial comparisons, like, say, the extraction-to-power-generation death rates of nuclear energy versus coal and oil (not to mention air pollution) of the last 50 years and come to a simple conclusion: nuclear energy is perfectly safe if you do it right.


One way to look at media like Silkwood is that one of the differences that lets nuclear power be safe in the U.S. even if it wasn't safe in the U.S.S.R. is a well-functioning nuclear regulatory, press, and legal system that lets people act on knowledge of problems and defects, and allows Feynman's hope that "reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled" to be better borne out in practice.

These media strongly questioned those institutions based on stories of cases in which they seem to have failed.

If operators of nuclear power plants manage to reduce the effectiveness and autonomy of the institutions that are working to guarantee safety, the situation gets more like the Soviet Union. One way of thinking about this is that the most useful lesson of the 1970s anxiety about the nuclear industry is less "nuclear power is dangerous!" and more "how effective and independent are our institutions, and how do we know?".


So what do we do with the waste that takes 10,000+ years to become safe, given that the average corporation has a lifespan of less than a hundred years?


Modern LFTR reactors produce almost no waste and low grade at that. Current stockpiles of nuclear "waste" are in fact immensely valuable resources as fuel stock to modern reactors.


Burn the waste in breeder reactors.


With the outlier of Chernobyl, nuclear energy has a very good safety record.

Fukushima is another example showing that fission power is dangerous and expensive - because of the safety precautions, insurance, disaster recovery and cleanup costs, and worse it shifts those costs and dangers from the power plant to the host country and surrounding countries. It's far more expensive in those terms than most other ways of generating power save coal (which has worse problems), maybe it should be part of the mix but only if there are no simpler alternatives like hydro, wind, wave and solar.

Fusion will be far better when we work out how to contain it. It's amazing to think of the progress we could make if energy was almost free.


Come one, way more people died in the earthquake. Its not great what happened at Fukushima, but it was hardly a disaster.


Accidental deaths is a very poor measure of cost to society. For example coal kills far more with pollution than with accidents, and fission disasters render huge swathes of land uninhabitable for decades.


> unless you build reactors on earthquake hotspots or tsunami zones, I mean c'mon Japan

Prior to the Fukushima disaster, how many proponents of nuclear power considered it to be an example of a nuclear plant that was too dangerous to operate, and how many treated it as an example of modern, safe nuclear power and dismissed criticism as anti-nuclear fearmongering?


What about leaks (almost common in old plants) and the nuclear waste storage problem?

There is plenty of energy out there. Recent advances in solar and wind technology make it within reach.

Nuclear is simply not an economical solution.


Exactly as you said: old plants. We don't update them as we should to make them as safe as they can be. That's not an engineering problem, that's a political problem.

Waste storage? Same story. We have plenty of useless desert in the US, but people don't want to be anywhere remotely near them.

Recent advances in solar and wind technology might make it within reach...if we were dealing with 1-2 billion people, not close to 10 billion people in our lifetimes. All of these people want to live like we do: they want to eat meat, they want light at the flick of a switch, they want heat at the turn of a dial. Assuming prices will go down and efficiency will go up to match skyrocketing demand is greatly misguided.

Not to mention, extracting and refining the rare earths necessary for a lot of these devices is unfathomably ruinous to the environment, and recycling is just as bad (see my other comment about lead poisoning in Kenyan kids).

You have brought up 2 political problems and 1 technological fantasy. Nothing about economics. Nuclear is fine.


I don't understand the nuclear waste "problem". Anything that is radioactive for thousands of years is also not very radioactive because it has such a long half-life.

More concerning would be the chemical toxicity hazard, but that is void because nuclear waste is vitrified (turned in to glass), which makes it extremely chemically inert.

Then there's the possibility of recycling the spent fuel (waste?) in fast spectrum reactors, if we can work out how to do that reliably / economically.


It's radioactive for that long because it /is/ waste. We haven't finished extracting the valuable energy from it yet. (that's what 'waste reduction' (breeder) reactors are supposed to do; concentrate up the useful stuff and leave most of it clean enough to either decay really quickly, or so slowly that it's not harmful.)


> It's radioactive for that long because it /is/ waste.

I'm not sure what you're saying here? How does being waste make it radioactive?

If it still contains valuable energy it isn't waste. By virtue of the fact that nobody wants it I'm assuming that energy can't be extracted economically at this time?


Nuclear capacity globally 386 GW in 2016 up from 375.5 GW at the end of 2010.

"By the end of this year, cumulative global installed solar photovoltaic capacity will surpass 310 GW, compared with just 40 GW at the end of 2010"

Which of those looks like it's producing the futures capacity?


> how do we provide energy ...? Renewables might work - if people stopped having kids for a while

It seems like you haven't done the math. I have. You're ridiculously wrong.

US marketed energy consumption per capita is 9.5 kW (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_energy_co...). That's 9.5 square meters of sunlight. If we pessimistically assume that we can only site solar panels on land (29% of Earth's surface) and only 10% of that, and that we're only using the currently common 16%-efficient polysilicon photovoltaic panels (rather than, say, solar thermal collectors or multijunction cells), then we receive enough solar energy for 60 billion people at current US levels of consumption, according to units(1):

    You have: circlearea(earthradius) * 1000 W/m^2 * 29% * 10% * 16% / 9.5 kW
    You want: billion
	* 62.281752
	/ 0.016056067
That's about eight times Earth's current human population.

Is it too costly? Currently, photovoltaic modules cost about US$0.50 per watt (see http://www.solarserver.com/service/pvx-spot-market-price-ind...), so, for everyone to consume as much marketed energy as USAns, we're talking about an investment of about US$4800 per person, or about US$160 per person per year, assuming a 30-year lifespan for the panels, even if costs didn't drop further. That's only about 1.6% of the nominal world GDP of about US$10k per year per person (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nomi...).

And that's just solar photovoltaic. EGS (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_geothermal_system) and oceanic lithium (see https://www.withouthotair.com/c24/page_172.shtml) are two other energy resources of similar magnitude to solar photovoltaic, but they're being developed more slowly — photovoltaic is practical today.

Your comment would have been reasonable ten years ago, when solar PV was still expensive. The facts have changed. When the facts change, I change my opinion. When are you going to change yours?


Erratum: that's US$0.50 per peak watt. Although capacity factors vary by latitude and mounting (electronics are now cheap enough that some new utility-scale solar PV boosts its capacity factor with heliostats), a typical capacity factor is 20%, which means:

- US$24000 of panels per person, or

- US$800 per person per year, assuming 30-year lifespan, which is

- 8% of nominal world GDP of US$10k per year per person.

Worse, though, is that this reduces the carrying capacity calculation to some 12 billion, which is a number we might actually reach, although not soon. We're projected to reach 10 billion in 2083 by the UNFPA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth

What's actually going to happen, though, is that PV prices will start dropping again; the majority of marketed energy consumption will be from photovoltaic cells starting sometime in the 2020s; energy prices will drop well below where they are now; we'll increase our per capita marketed energy consumption far above current rich-world usage, but much of that will be thermal, not electrical; and we'll use a lot more than 10% of the land area for solar energy gathering.


Despite the laziness and corruption, human fallibility and mistakes, the fast majority of nuclear power is safe now.

We don't have to do it differently in the future ("this time"), we just need to do it marginally better over time. Every new power plant built, whether goal or gas or nuclear, or solar / wind, is marginally better than the previous design because of what we've learned.


Nuclear power can be done safe, but we also have many examples of it not being done safe

You could replace "Nuclear power" with quite a lot of things we do these days. Such as "Driving" or "Home construction".


Coal has killed way more than nuclear energy so far. Please check data before having an opinion.


We made airliner travel safe, we can make nuke plants safe.


Coal power can be done safe, but we also have many examples of it not being done safe. Saying, "well it will be different this time. We will build systems to make corruption, laziness, and dangerous actions impossible!" is believing in a pipe dream.


Many things can be done safe, but safe is often a route that's not taken because it's much more expensive.


Relative to say, coal, Nuclear is anything but dangerous. The availability heuristic strikes again.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-de...

Nuclear is safe, affordable and the only alternative to non-renewables that doesn't require us to drastically reduce our energy usage. Because realistically, we all know that's just not going to happen.

Not to mention, throughout the 20th century, we in the first world reaped the benefits of readily available energy to drastically boost our living conditions. To deny that benefit to developing countries by restricting them to wind solar and hydro would be immoral.


Source for American recycling being done in Kenya leading to lead poisoning?

I live here and this is the first I'm hearing of it.


What about the absurd amount of water, an increasingly scarce resource, used by fracking?


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/09/150915135827.h...

250 B gallons in, 210 B gallons out. So net-net 40B gallons for the entire industry between 2005 and 2014. Call it 40,000 swimming pools worth.

The "out" is completely treatable.

"Large though those numbers seem, the study calculates that the water used in fracking makes up less than 1 percent of total industrial water use nationwide." - FTA.

"Gasland" is a bad movie.

Now, in some places, the available water is sufficiently short that it probably should not be used for industrial use at all.


The only real problems arise when people refuse to reconsider their opinions in the face of facts.

But your fact is just another one's opinion. We have had ample examples in the last fifty years where "science" has been abused with a for-profit motive (tobacco and nutrition are useful examples, as is this article).

It's not fair to blame "hippies" for ignoring "science", unless you're also willing to blame media, politics and business alike for overstating the "certainty" of scientific knowledge.


It is quite fair to blame hippies for ignoring science. Propaganda works on everyone. It is nobody's job but your own to do due diligence.

Yes, the media, politicians and so on has a tendency to proclaim falsehoods as facts - nutrition advice and policy being a great example - but our legal system requires a modicum of intent to assign liability, just as society accepts that requirement for blame. (Blah blah criminal negligence other exceptions I fucking hate how defensively I have to write on the internet these days just to get a point across without leaving a tiny detail open for someone to slam for karma).

>But your fact is just another one's opinion.

That is a very dangerous perspective. Our understanding of the universe is always changing. But eschewing accepted science without a compelling alternative because it could be wrong is a path to nowhere but President Trump.


> Our understanding of the universe is always changing. But eschewing accepted science without a compelling alternative because it could be wrong is a path to nowhere but President Trump.

Well. To be fair, it's a path also to President Hillary. Or President Cruz. Or President Sanders. It seems our politics is rife with science-ignorance and science-ignoring. I don't think it's particularly constructive to call out Trump as being different.


I say Trump in particular because of the tendency these days to see that name in uncomfortably close proximity with the words "post-truth era." And, to be fair to the man, I am less concerned with what he says than how his supporters react, and what that means for humanity's future.


> Point is, it's fair to be scared. Improper fracking CAN cause earthquakes, it CAN poison groundwater, but it is very obvious where and how it happens, and it can be regulated and prevented.

Everywhere I've seen fracking it's been almost completely unregulated. The US MMS (Minerals Management) has been called a "culture of corruption" by whistleblowers: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/14/oil.whistleblower/index.htm...

What makes you think fracking would be regulated in any reasonable manner, given our current bought and paid for government?


Aside from (impoverished) pockets in the Southern Tier, upstate-and-downstate New Yorkers generally approve of Gov. Cuomo's moratorium on fracking, not to mention the fact that some of the best shale gas deposits are underneath NYCs watersheds. There's no chance fracking will get a green light in this state without some pretty hardcore regulation.

Not to mention, the kinds of folks that tend to "buy and pay for" our government live and work in the tri-state area. Don't expect them to risk their health and property values anytime soon.

Equating fracking risk with poor regulation is like assuming moneyed resistance to fracking in NY will work everywhere.

Don't let the boogeyman scare you away from cold, hard, scientific fact: hydraulic fracturing, when done properly, is safe and cost-effective. The regulatory culture surrounding it has a huge effect - nobody's denying that - but the real risks are not scientific or engineering: they're political.


Nearly all frack sites involve two types of landowner - the people who own surface rights and the people who own mineral rights. This doesn't address injection wells but that triangular ( surface, mineral and fracker ) relationship "regulates" things pretty well.

Since the film "Gasland", all manner of untrue things are flung at fracking. IMO, a grain of salt is in order.

The stuff down the hole is much more dangerous than the fracking process - there is (maybe) HS gas, possibly radioisotopes, pressure, other stuff. Fracking is simply a part of the completion process of drilling.


That's a very strange form of argument. First, you are arguing that fracking doesn't cause these things, then you go on to list the specific constituents of fracking activity that cause them.

Then, you're saying that fracking doesn't have to cause these problems, but the fact is that it has. So, it's the fracking industry itself that has given fracking a bad name.

In general, it sounds like industry PR and misdirection.


Did you know that driving a car will result in your hurtling through the windshield at 70mph and wrapping your spine around a tree...

...if you drive very fast and don't wear a seatbelt?

As I have said exhaustively (because I am getting quite tired of repeating myself), the process of fracking - which has been done hundreds of times to no ill effect - is not inherently dangerous or error-prone. No more so than deep-sea drilling (anything but Deepwater Horizon come to mind? Also, another case of underregulation leading to calamity) or nuclear energy (which is extremely safe but evokes an emotional fear response; fun fact: almost 200,000 survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are still alive today![1]). It is the lack of effective regulation that results in pollution. I don't know how I'm particularly misdirected by PR given that I fully support NYS Gov. Cuomo's fracking moratorium, precisely because fracking companies don't want to deal with the very regulations that make fracking safe.

Side note: most of upstate NY's roads are pretty terrible. But just south of the border in PA - where fracking is ongoing - the roads are all new and well-built, because they are needed to truck the natural gas away safely, so everyone there has safer roads as a result. Can't just pick the pros and cons you like.

[1] http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2015/08/01/japan-hi...


>driving a car will result in your hurtling through the windshield

Specious.

>I am getting quite tired of repeating myself

You're missing my point. You're claiming that fracking can be done safely, but I'm not arguing that in the way that you think. What I'm saying is that there are frequently externalities brought about by the manner in which the fracking industry actually operates vs how you claim they could operate. Doubtless it's cheaper for them. Maybe the problem is that fracking can be done safely, but it's just not cost-desirable or even profitable to do so. I don't know. But you can't go jumping on people's heads for acknowledging the obvious: fracking can be dangerous.

>fracking is not inherently dangerous or error-prone.

What do you mean by "inherently"? If stringent regulations are required to constrain frackers from causing massive amounts of damage, then it seems to me that it is inherently dangerous by definition. This is where you seem to be mixing things up, as with your nuclear example. None of these things are "inherently safe". They are inherently dangerous if not conducted in a carefully prescribed manner, which is why the stringent regulation you advocate is required. So, you're really saying two different things here and trying to figure out why you're not getting your point across.

Anyway, therein lies the danger that people fear: even with the required regulation, mistakes can have and have had dire consequences. It's not unreasonable for people to have concerns.

So, It just comes off as a little disingenuous to exclaim that everyone has it wrong on fracking when the current reality is that they don't.


It is both cost-effective and desirable to have it done safely. There's risk of EPA, of the well owner and of the surface landowner. The whole process is extremely technical and among its practitioners, safety is a key consideration.


Then why are we having this discussion?


To the limit of my ability to tell, there's what amounts to a horror campaign about the evils of fracking going on out there. There's this film, "Gasland' that slings a bunch of ... inadequate information.


So, there have been no fracking accidents, no legitimate evidence of increased seismic activity, no contaminated water, no added expense for frackers to take extra precaution, contain runoff, etc.?

There's no technical reason that fracking can be dangerous or has been?


It's actually sort of unclear what the status is. The problem is that "Gasland" has muddied the water, so you spend so much time vetting sources that it's slow going.

There is a movie from .. 1940? titled "Tulsa" where Robert Preston's character "invents" fracking - a column of water and dynamite. It got safer :)

I'm sure there are incidents. But it's not like an incident goes without recourse. I think there's one case where a formation in Wyoming is physically entangled with the water table. That operation should never have been approved ( and yes, these things have to be approved ). After a decade of reading, that's the only remotely credible one I know of. Generally, water is at, say 400 feet and oil/gas/shale is at 10,000 feet.

Even then, while it's not easy to clean it up, it's doable.

J. Larry Nichols is a founder of and on the board of Devon Energy, one of the companies that pioneered fracking for shale. He's on record saying "show me one case where fracking caused environmental damage."

But, of course, he's not considered reliable by people interested in environmentalism, usually. And I haven't found a demonstration (other than the one) that proves him wrong yet. I'm a lot more concerned that oil in general will get the USA v. RJR treatment which sets off some sort of scarcity cascade that could destabilize the Third World.

IMO, gas at the pump ougtha be $10 a gallon and $5 of that should go to alts research but I doubt that's possible.

IMO, and this is also just IMO, the whole thing is a proxy for AGW fear because nat. gas is a bridge technology while we wait for Elon Musk to save us from fossil fuels. But that's psychlogizing, really.

Fracking is a pretty high-energy activity. But most of the fuss seems at least to be mostly confirmation bias by both sides.


The car analogy isn't very solid because most drivers are invested in their own safety as opposed to the fracking industry which only cares about environmental damage insomuch as it represents a financial liability. You claim that fracking can be done safely with good regulations, and I appreciate the nuance in your response, but for the most part, fracking proponents tend to be categorically opposed to regulation because additional expense is inherent to the nature of regulation (it's always cheaper to do nothing instead of adding extra steps for safety, clean up and proper disposal)


Then I would argue the biggest threat to safe and effective fracking is Saudi Arabia. As long as fuel prices are low, people are more willing to cut corners to make a profit. If prices are high, the added costs of effective regulation are an easier sell.

Otherwise, you make a great point.


Active fracking projects in the US have dwindled to low levels thanks to low oil prices driven by Saudi Arabia maintaining production at current rates. This is a well-established fact.[0]

Your claim on the other hand is just an opinion at this point as I have seen nothing that indicates low oil prices lead to worse practices and procedures among domestic fracking firms.

[0]https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/07/opec-plan-k...


Are you referring to the kinds of "regulations" that led to the entire Gulf of Mexico becoming contaminated with oil?

It doesn't matter that it CAN be done safely. No one in their right minds trusts either the companies or the government not to eventually cut corners and make severe mistakes.


FWIW, the entire oil industry knew that BP was a ticking time bomb. They were (in)famous in Houston for flouting every safety regulation and best practice the industry had ever come up with.

This is why, post-Deepwater, BP wasn't allowed into the club of Gulf producers pooling mutual aid and research efforts toward safer deepwater drilling. Everyone knew they were reckless.

Had Deepwater Horizon been a Shell or Exxon operation, there never would have been a crisis.


Not surprised by misinformation; people rarely fact-check posts that support their political position.

On the other hand it's hard to get responsible regulation when the dispute is so polarized. Unbiased information can be harder to find. You get one extreme or the other. So a delay doesn't seem so bad.


> no solutions or actionable items

Well that's not true, they have no palatable solutions or actionable items. No new toy to buy that will fix things, no low effort/high status ritual to perform. Just a bunch of changes that involve sacrifice on our parts, and involve organizing large groups of people and trying to get them to plan for the future and then act in accordance with this plan. Also some of these choices will result in immediate harm to some people for the sake of future harm prevention, so these are quite easy to argue against using the inherent uncertainty of preventing future harm.

tldr; The problem with the doom sayers is that they have no solutions or actionable items that allow me to consume more things, so we say "fuck that"


The greatest impediment to attaining fully renewable energy generation and ending climate change is that our biggest opponents in this conflict are ourselves and our insatiable desires.


The problem with doomsayers is that they are under the influence of a common, but powerful, pattern of thinking that heavily biases their perception and reasons about reality to be highly negative.

I think of it as "chicken little-ism" and, as parables so often do, it illustrates that nuanced knowledge of the psychological pitfalls has been well understood for centuries.

Yet, somehow even highly educated, professional, scientists seem to be just as susceptible to its lure as the rubes who attend Donald Trump rallies, who are convinced not "the world is going to hell in a hand basket" but that e journey has been completed.

Paul Erlich could be the poster boy for this group. He's still at work, announcing doomsday scenarios to this day.

https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/19/mass-extinction-ehrlich...

Which illustrates the cost of giving in to this psychological bias. Should we believe him this time? Wasn't there some other parable about this kind of thing, with a wolf and a young male of our species?


Reduce our emissions. This has one potential and one actual effect.

1) Potential: If climate change is significantly affected by human output, then we may curb or counter the current climate trends.

2) Actual: Healthier environment for life on this planet. We won't have cities like Los Angeles used to be, or Beijing is now where people can barely go outside without taking a year off their life. This is, without a doubt, a good thing unless you explicitly want poorer health to be the norm.


Reminds me of a comic I see floated around Facebook from time to time of an auditorium of scientists seated beneath a banner reading "Climate Change Conference," and someone raises their hand and says something to the effect of "But what if we're wrong about climate change and we make a better world for nothing?"


What happens if we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on reducing CO2 emissions and it turns out it was all for naught?

That money has to come from somewhere. It could be spent on healthcare, getting people clean water, etc.

To me that would be a tragedy.


The reduced pollution would probably reduce at least some of the health care costs. Plus we spend way too much on wars and killing people ("defense"). Use some of that money first.


Yes. It would be tragic to cut out polluting forms of energy production that destroy rivers and lives.


That's not first and foremost CO2, though. Many other forms of pollution tend to be far worse to local environment. Addressing those might involve things like catalytic converters on ships and the like.


I found Bret Victor's "What can a technologist do about climate change" (http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/) a refreshingly action-oriented exploration of your question ("but what?"). Its interactivity and richness of presentation are icing on the cake.

Incidentally, one can imagine a parallel message of informed empowerment to address the dark sides of OP's UI "mind hijacks."


Thanks. There is a lot more that could be done in that style of action oriented discussion.


Transfer payments to old people aren't mentally exhausting.

What's interesting is what those old people spend the money on. macroscopically, what matters is what money motivates people to do, who handles the money is just a means.


Adjust our economy to a resource based economy. The Zeitgeist movie a few years back came up with some decent proposals. Sure they might not be perfect, but they seem to be looking in the right direction.


Well, no, don't look at the warnings as entertainment one might tire of (although I appreciate that news is typically presented that way); more as a warning one should heed.


Sure we do. Cap and trade. Boom.


Switch to nuclear energy


Yea, climate change is ultimately a problem of risk and risk management. And the "climate skeptic" position that we can't assess the risks well is just amazing, as if we shouldn't worry because we can't tell how bad it could be, or how likely the worst effects are.


Most climate skeptic people I talk to worry but claim that we shouldn't actively suppress and cut funding to research that could contradict the man made global warming hypothesis. I agree with them.


I'm worried about bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant. So I was excited to read the article you cited.

> Don’t get me wrong—there is certainly no case for complacency at this stage.

Oh. Okay. So unwarranted optimism is... unwarranted.


Actually, the Roman pipe store is a bit of an urban legend.

According to this PNAS [0] paper: "Lead pollution of “tap water” in Roman times is clearly measurable, but unlikely to have been truly harmful."

[0] http://www.pnas.org/content/111/18/6594.full


More problematic may have been using sugar of lead to sweeten wine. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/sugar-of-lead-a-d...


I was about to post that myself: the dangers of lead acetate. IIRC, that sweetener is what deafened Beethoven as well, and I'd call it a good argument for minimally-processed/natural food...


Sounds more like a good argument to avoid sugar of lead.


There are plenty of natural poisonous berries. Doesn't mean we should start using them as sweeteners instead.


That's certainly true, but that doesn't mean I trust sucralose and stevia extract (or food-grade aluminum, or long-term storage in BPA-bearing plastic).

Nor do I trust certain natural additives or physical processing methods; chemical is full of unknowns, but natural can be harmful too. I try to avoid white flour and added sugar, for example, and I have my doubts about how good of an idea it was to breed all this sweetness into modern fruit...


>chemical is full of unknowns, but natural

Nature is chemicals. What you are saying is that you trust the chemical outputs of the chaotic natural environment more than the ones produces by scientists.


I'm way too late responding to this, but yes, I do; the chemicals of nature (except for recent extracts like sugar and white flour) are things we co-evolved with.


I don't know if that shows what you suggest it does. Using lead tainted water for irrigation is also harmful because plants will transmit that lead to people though their diet. Further, lead sticks around in contaminated soils and accumulates over time.

In that context, every lead source ends up becoming increasingly important.


If plants transmit the lead to those who eat them how can it also accumulate in the soil? The plants would bioremediate the soil.


It's not 100%. Suppose a plant absorbs 5% of the lead. Well in the first year you get 5% of the lead in all water used for irrigation. But, 95% is left in the soil. Next year you get 5% of 195%. Until, the soil has 20 years worth of lead and all new lead added in a year ends up in the plant. Drop that to 1% and it would take ~100 years to get the same effect.

Note, you would really get a differential equation with several terms, but more or less the same idea just after more time and balanced with water that overflows the field etc.


Ah, yes, of course. I guess at some point you're supposed to develop soil testing and stop putting the toxins in to the soil. And the air. And the water. It's not looking too good is it.


I'm so glad you mentioned Edward Bernays. It's interesting how he was very helpful in promoting his uncle's book in the US, bringing Freud some much needed cash. At the same time, Sigmund hated Bernays, and Anna, for using a lot of his psychological work to change the face of advertising into what it is today.

Bernays created the very first _Public Relations_ office (he made up the term because "Propaganda" was a bad word). He helped get more women smoking (torches for freedom!). I'm sure if it wasn't him and Anna, someone else would have come along and made these discoveries anyway.

Capitalism, Consumerism and Planed Obsolescence will be what brings down the current world.


Well yeah, that was basically his argument: propaganda is too effective to be left in the "wrong" hands, so the "right" people better get on it, and quick.

I'm sure it dawned on him that it wouldn't take long until everyone was using it and there would be no discernible difference between the good or bad.

"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."


And the usual reference to Adam Curtis' history of consumerism, based around Edward Bernays: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJ3RzGoQC4s


Lead pipes work just fine for most water chemistries. It was the salts of lead used as sweeteners that were much more of a problem. As they say, "the dose is the poison".

If our behavior renders us extinct, then we had a good run.


What a beautiful comment, thanks.


By definition, profit is the only thing that matters to corporations. A moral corporation is a profitable one, and vice versa. Everything else is a lower priority than profit and growth.

Thus, we turn everything that exists into what we measure as profit.

We are the indigenous people selling our lives and attention and time and land/planet for shiny trinkets without value.


The problem is that there are good profits and bad profits. "Good profits" create consumer surplus. "Bad profits" are rents.

I don't know if you've looked lately, but corporations do a lot of things differently than simply maximizing short terms profits now. Besides, that's mostly an artifact of mutual fund style public stock financing. In addition to going private, there is emphasis on dividends, stock buybacks, that sort of thing.

At its simplest, a thing is profitable if it can be done efficiently and people want it. That's not a bad thing.


Have you a source on that avoid the Romans?


How is incorrect antibiotic usage related to anyone claiming it's good for GDP? Seems like a pretty weak strawman.


I agree with you and the article and further... Many companies are trying to take search, for example, to the next level by brining predictability through your history as well as your graph. It takes decisionmaking out of people's minds.

"You show a history of reading this and that book, have watched these movies and your circle of meaningful people have influenced you thus, so we have this book on its way to you now."

It looks like it's really intelligent and offers convenience, time-savings, "efficiency". You don't even have to think of what you want, it knows already. You have an appointment in LA in 3hrs, don't forget your [whatever] and the mother of the person you are about to meet is in the hospital, take something appropriate for the occasion, we also suggest the following lamentation "...".

This kind of thing is taking the humanity out of being human. People are reduced to a basic animal framework and the machine is adding humanity for you, so you don't have to bother. In taking the "tedium" out of daily living, people are reduced to a sort of best on a pedestal.


You can look at it as removing our humanity, or you can look at it as supplementing our humanity.

Prior to the written word, we had to devote time and effort to passing down information through the spoken word. By offloading this task to an external device (wall, tablet, parchment, paper, book, screen), we've been able to use that time and brainpower to focus on other items, while also increasing the fidelity of our history and what we can learn from it. People lament the loss of an oral storytelling culture. It is a loss, but we've gained as well, so mathematics, literature, philosophy. We are able to build on the past in a way we weren't before.

Prior to the plow and domesticated animals to pull them, we used to have to plant manually or practice a more hunter & gatherer lifestyle. By offloading these tasks we are able to secure our future needs, and live a life less of subsistence, and more of security in our health and future. Some people lament the loss of connection to the land, the feeling of oneness with the seasons. It is a loss, but again, we've gained as well. This free time has allowed us to study what we've written, and build upon the past.

You could make a case that using these tools (and hundreds more in our history) takes the humanity out of you, and relies on the tool for it. I would make the case that using these tools is what makes you human, as without them, what's really the distinguishing feature that separates you from the apes? To me, nothing defines humanity more than the constant improvement of our race, our reach, and our capabilities.

That I carry around a small computer in my pocket that connects to a much larger network and allows me near instantaneous connection to my family, friends, coworkers, and the largest accumulation of knowledge the human race has ever seen might seem like I'm trading away what you think makes us human, but since I use this to keep in touch with friends, be more mindful of important things to them, learn about what I'm doing to be more safe, secure and healthy, and share with myriad sub-cultures, I strongly disagree.


I'm aware of all that. We have come a long way since being "savage". My issue is we're getting to the last mile problem where we begin to undermine what we are.


My point is that I don't think "what we are" is changed by the tools we use. So what if a tool suggests we take time out for our friend? It's still our choice. It's no different than your mother, father, significant other, or random person on the street offering a suggestion if you explained the situation to them. Ultimately it's your choice what to do.

If you're unhappy with how people treat some things as worthy of their attention and others as something they can delegate to others, that's not a technology problem, that's a problem you have with cultural norms. Culture is the original hijacker of our minds, and all we're seeing is people is people acting in a way that's slightly different than what you think is acceptable based on your culture, and fighting back against it. Not because it's inherently wrong, or worse, but because it's different, and culture resists large change.


>> My point is that I don't think "what we are" is changed by the tools we use

No way. Just look at language, a tool we use for communication. It changes us radically. Listen to the RadioLab episode on on : http://www.radiolab.org/story/91725-words/.

Another example is writing. Before widespread writing and printing, many people used the 'Mind Palace' to remember things (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci), hijacking the place-cells in the hippocampus to vastly increase memory. With writing, that all evaporated, much to chagrin of the old monks that taught and used the technique. But then look at us now as a species.

Another example is money. The tool that is currency and a method of exchange has changed some people a lot. Greed is not a good thing. Most religions have bans on usury and intreset because of the warping effects it has on society. I may or may not agree with those bans, I mean, hey, I live better than any king from 200 years ago. Still, we are feeling those effects today in our politics after Citizens United. Money, the good tool that it is, does change people.

I'm sure others can think of many more examples. But your tools change you just as much as you use tools to change the world.


"What we are" is meant in the context of "To me, nothing defines humanity more than the constant improvement of our race, our reach, and our capabilities." which I outlined in my original comment. In that respect, the tools are just stepping stones to let us be us. Sure, we might have less specialized cells in the hippocampus because we aren't exercising a specific (conceptual) tool, but I don't see that as any different than peasants with muscles developed to make it easier to spend the day tilling the land, or a knight with muscles developed for fighting in armor, or a modern day basebal player, with eyes developed to track fast moving object and lots of high speed twitch muscle fiber.

These tools change our jobs and behavior, but they don't change our core physical being much in a way that persists (evolutionary aspects of course apply), much less change philosophically what makes us "human" (in the sense of our "humanity", not homo sapiens).

Another way to look at this, what is it to reduce someone's humanity?


Listen to that radiolab broadcast. I'm pretty sure that is the one that goes into detail about a man that grew up deaf (in El Salvador, I think) and without any access to sign language. The broadcast has a woman that went there as a grad student and, I think, ended up teaching the guy sign language. A translator for the guy describes when he finally 'got' language and from what I remember, it was life and soul changing for him. He mentions that his friends that were also without the tool of language would try to communicate through charades and it would take hours to 'talk'. I can't do this justice, but the tale is very powerful. I also can't verify that the linked broadcast is about what I just said fyi (in a coffee shop, no headphones, sorry)

Still, I disagree. The tools that we use shape our souls as much as our brains. It's that repetitive daily use that mostly does this. We come to see the world and then believe things in the way we experience it, and our tools heavily shape this view.

To reduce someone's humanity is an incredibly deep question and i don't have the space here, nor the access to beer, to do it justice. However, I like that you turned the question on it's head. Most of the time we ask what it would take to make something human. The way you pose this question: "what would it take to rob a person of their humanity?" is MUCH more interesting and very provocative.


> Listen to that radiolab broadcast.

I'll definitely do so. I don't recall off-hand if I've heard that one, but I've heard a lot of them (I've been an on-and-off listener for a decade).

> Still, I disagree. The tools that we use shape our souls as much as our brains. It's that repetitive daily use that mostly does this. We come to see the world and then believe things in the way we experience it, and our tools heavily shape this view.

I don't disagree with your assertion, I just do't think the way "see the world and then believe things in the way we experience it" is actually humanity.

> To reduce someone's humanity is an incredibly deep question and i don't have the space here, nor the access to beer, to do it justice.

It is, but my use here is fairly simplistic. Basically, I think most people use "humanity" as a stand in for the values of the day. Obviously, if something is so affected by the current culture and attitude, it's can't be the defining trait of our race, can it? Thus, most of my comments here have been along the lines of both calling out what I see as a bogus definition, and proposing my own one, base don what I see as defining traits of our race. Innovation, advancement, etc.


> "what would it take to rob a person of their humanity?"

It really is a big question, but this bit by Hannah Arendt in "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (a book I highly recommend, it's as timely as ever sadly) really struck me.. it's on page 667 in the German version, this is my crappy translation:

> Humans, in so far as they are more than a completion of functions able to react, whose lowest and therefore most central are the purely animal like reactions, are simply superfluous for totalitarian systems. Their goal is not to erect a despotic regime over humans, but a system by which humans are made superfluous. Total power can only be achieved and guaranteed when nothing else matters except the absolutely controllable willingness to react, marionettes robbed of all spontaneity. Humans, precisely because they are so powerful, can only be completely controlled when they have become examples of the animal like species human.

So I would say at least part of the answer might be: taking away the ability to act instead of just react, and the the ability to start a logical chain of thinking from new premises (which is also something she mentions, though of course in contrast with totalitarianism, which forces a certain flow of logic based on some premises set in stone; she's not writing about what it means to be human).


Great question, and I won't do it justice in this attempt. I think at the point where people are more or less extricated from decision-making, small they may be. When people are essentially just organs plugged into a network, like cows to a milking station.

All you have to do is be, you no longer have to think, slowly things are done for you and decided for you -- with best intentions, of course.

We're not there yet. But we're getting there.


See, I don't think we are. Some decisions are being automated, but that's not reducing our own choices, just freeing us to focus on other ones. It becomes less of "should I go and then what flower should I buy" and more just "should I go" and we've freed our time and attention for some other decision. Then again, there will always be those that go above and beyond for someone they care for. Maybe you remember that your mother particularly liked the flowers at the house you lived in when you were younger, so you track down the current owners and ask for a favor, whether you can have a few flowers from the front yard. Letting your mother know of the source might yield a distinctly different impression from the present. There's still room to provide attention where it matters, apps and reminders aren't taking that away.


If you look beyond reminder apps, I think things look a little different. There are good aspects to automation and some shortcomings as well.

I'm not saying people need to maintain survivalist skills. But I think there is a danger in relinquishing your will and control to data. How will people, in the future, be able to adjust to catastrophe? I have no pocket computer, what should I do? Can I eat now? What can I eat? It's so bewildering...

It's akin to an overly protective parents who one day has to face the world on their own, it can take years for them to recalibrate and readjust to their new reality.


I think that ignores that there is always a spectrum of people who want differing levels of control. Even if there apps to suggest all our actions, there will be people that use them sparingly or not at all, because they want to feel in control. This is acceptable and normal, and also leads to situations where some people do maintain survivalist skills. Our population is homogeneous in almost nothing, which is one of our strengths.

What happens in a catastrophe? People probably die. Depending on the scale, possibly a lot. Will everyone die? Probably not, but there are cases where it could happen. The ways to mitigate that have nothing to do with less automation of simple decisions in my mind, and possibly quite the opposite.


Well, like I said earlier it's not about automating simple tasks and giving us reminders, etc. --but rather, ultimately we'll take people out of the equation in most matters of import.

We'll be relegated to a state where there are a few "important people" and the rest are basically just vegged out (with a few pockets of 'natural people' here and there). People will not even notice this happen as they will slide into this state willingly and happily. Just as we slid in to a sugary diet without complaint.

It's hard to make the case for "inconvenience" in life, it's harder, it takes more energy, it's not efficient, and so on. But I think if we are to remain a useful species (not just a few useful people), we have to contrary to our inclination.


Thank God for teenagers then, little jerks will do whatever the 'wrong' thing is just to piss you off and for no other reason.


Our population is homogenous in many things, particularly in our adoption of tools.


If everyone has apps that remind them to take time for a friend automatically (as it determined they needed it), the intention loses some of its meaning. That friend wont know if it was you that remembered because you cared and took notice, but simply the app reminded you. It's about the motivation behind your actions, its what can give a deeper meaning to them. The fact that you or another friend cared or noticed enough and remembered, gives it significance.

With too much automation of our social lives and relationships, many actions may simply become meaningless. Maybe they would even be done away with after a while, making human interaction colder, less personal. My app will talk with your app and setup a time to do something we enjoy, without either of us thinking of it ourselves, or discussing it. We would just have to show up, as directed by our apps. These apps remind us what we should discuss or mention, given our friends likes/dislikes. Sure we might have a great time, but the app might have prioritised meeting this friend over another, as your more compatible (measured via some series of metrics). You rely on the algorithm. Your not actually thinking about who you want to spend time with and why. Would you be able to make friends without the app?


That life. As in, that's life as it has always been. There's always been people that remind others, and there are always those that remember things easier than others. What difference is there whether it's an application or your mother reminding you? You still need to make a choice whether it's worth it to you,the app isn't forcing you to do anything. It can alter the influence we apply to certain actions when deciding how much someone cares, but it doesn't take away our ability to show we care. So what if more people will remember birthdays or illnesses, the people that really care will make an effort to show that in some manner. If just remembering is no longer a bit deal, they'll do something else.

> With too much automation of our social lives and relationships, many actions may simply become meaningless.

So we stop doing those actions. We'll find new actions, or reinterpret old ones to mean something more.

> Your not actually thinking about who you want to spend time with and why.

Then you must not care about the people involved. You devote time to what you care about. Reminders aren't going to change that.

These reminders are really just alleviating cultural busywork, which is really only needed because these cultural norms developed when we lived in much smaller communities. Rememdering birthdays and meeting in celebration of all your friends was much easier when we lived in villages of 100 people. Now we have cultural baggage from different economic developmental stages, and it creates a lot of extra work just to do what's culturally expected, as it doesn't fit the environment so many of us find ourselves in. In the end, that's just busy-work, we'll find ways to make those that matter to us know it.


So you don't think "what we are" is changed by the tools we use but it is changed by changes in cultural norms? Which are clearly influenced by the tools we use?


No, I think neither the tools we use nor our cultural norms really define what we are, just what we do, philosophically speaking. I think we're a a race of culture creating tool users that strive to advance. The tools we currently use and the cultures we find ourselves currently creating at most stages in a progression, and possibly not even that, but just fleeting memes in the story of our species (if we don't dead-end ourselves).


Ah! That makes sense. Didn't see you were making a what we are/what we do distinction. Philosophically I think that distinction is faulty, same for attributing a direction to advancement/progress/evolution, so I had trouble parsing what you meant.


Whilst i somewhat agree with the sentiment, the difference now is in the amount of efficiencies or benefits gained. The gains/benefits from tools, farming, writing etc, are quite large. The gains from an app suggesting a movie or book, or reminding you to do various things in your life, are quite small in comparison. It might be merely a matter of a few minutes.

It begs the question, is it worth gaining a few minutes here and there each day for the price of dependence on apps and a degree of disconnection from what makes us human?


That assumes the suggestion is directly comparable to an action you would have chosen yourself. What about suggestions for things where you would have taken no action, or suggestions to not take an action you would have taken? What about suggestions that include information you would not have been likely to come across yourself?

Imagine your friend is in the hospital, but you've been busy, and haven't checked your normal sources of information about your friends for a few days. You get a suggestion to send them best wishes or flowers, because they are in the hospital. This both suggests a course of action you wouldn't have considered, because you didn't know it was a candidate as well as imparts useful high priority information that you want to know that was hidden behind a feed you classified as low priority lately.

Sure, many suggestions may be minimal and not help much, but do we always classify systems based only on their average use? Sometimes it's important to look at the distribution of use, and whether there are other positive (or negative) externalities.


Currently, if you didn't know about a circumstance, people forgive you and generally understand. But, if you took the time to find out this information personally, this would have meaning, showing that you cared enough to spend the time to check. When you send flowers, the act can often have much more meaning. However, if everyone has apps that remind them of such things, you would no longer appear thoughtful, there is no longer as much meaning. We are already seeing this to a certain extent with social media.

This is the point. Is it worth the small gain in time, for the loss of some aspects of meaningful human connection/interaction?


"Meaning" always exists relative to a background. If the average person doesn't remember but you do, you stand out, and your actions have extra meaning. Just because the background decreases doesn't mean you can't stand out. You can always go beyond what the app suggests; for example, in additional to sending flower you could appear in person and sing to them.


Except it's dubious whether that device meaningfully connects you to others, or distracts you from making real personal connections with the people around you through constant distractions and intermittent rewards.


How much time did it take to post this long comment ? And how often do you engage here this same way ?


>supplementing our humanity..

This is exactly the problem. Supplementing x implies complete knowledge of what ideal x is. And what the "ideal" is nearly impossible to assess, since it require complete knowledge of future. I mean, what form of a "human being" will the most optimal through all of human existence? When you supplement without knowing the ideal, it has more chance to do harm than good.

>using these tools is what makes you human, as without them, what's really the distinguishing feature that separates you from the apes?..

Ok. But is it the only thing? What about creativity? We have language. We can create great stories and beautiful poems in them. We can look into the secrets on nature and create immensely powerful tools with that knowledge. Isn't that more of a hallmark of being a human, than mere dependency on our tools?

And is there no limit on how much we are dependent on them. Does it make sense to trade of our innate capabilities in the long term, for minor conveniences in the short?

I had a friend who could easily navigate any complex routes and had all the local routes and short cuts in his head. I respected him for that. Now he cannot find way around a supermarket without GPS. A part of him, that once I respected as a human being, is gone now.

>To me, nothing defines humanity more than the constant improvement of our race, our reach, and our capabilities.

You think our race is improving? Why? Because we have smartphones and have a massive and collective addiction to it?

>and the largest accumulation of knowledge the human race has ever seen..

It is also one of the biggest Ad/propaganda delivery channels.

Easy access to information does not make a difference is the people does not have the drive to consume it. If you give internet to 10 persons 9.5 of them will use it for social media and porn. How many of the addictive smartphone users have you seen consuming wikipedia? I have personally NEVER, not even once, seen someone reading wikipedia on a smartphone.


> by brining predictability through your history as well as your graph

I wish they were better at it. For 15 years now, people have promised that relevant ads will be useful rather than annoying. So far, it seems like the pinnacle of that is to show me the last pair of shoes I looked at on Zappos every where I go.

Ad-tech seems laughably bad. Now I just run with uBlock Origin. Maybe I'll block ads for the next 15 years and see how things are looking in 2030.


I'm convinced we are going to reach a point where people trust what the computer tells them more than their own eyes.


I hope so. Eyes are awful at discerning truth in important microscopic phenomena, and brains are horrible at remembering what the eyes saw.


you're missing the point, i'm just talking about information


That's the goal.


the goal is for google to tell you what reality is ?


Not necessarily Google, but yes some amalgamation of technology.

Your senses are staggeringly limited and your brain is a mess when it comes to determining what is "real" or not.

We use technology to fill the gaps. That's what technology is for - to allow us "see", interact with and influence the world through discrete and explicit measurement in ways our biological systems can't.

How is that not the dream? Augmenting and eventually replacing our biological capabilities with robust, high precision systems is the ultimate goal.


> Your senses are staggeringly limited ... when it comes to determining what is "real" or not.We use technology to fill the gaps. That's what technology is for - to allow us "see", interact with and influence the world through discrete and explicit measurement in ways our biological systems can't.

Sense perception to understand reality or to seek pleasure ? When we pick the phone to play a game, is that interacting with reality or with pure imagination. Same with the round about action of liking each others or seeing what new experience you posted etc.

Sense perception can be used for survival and pleasure. In the game of evolution the latter will get phase out and former will evolve. However in short term, where there is a great economic incentive to game the "pleasure seeking senses" for creating wants and consumption, there would be short term pain and confusion in masses. The question to ask ourself is that whether i succumb to this enticement or just move and let it meet its eventual end.

Country, companies are higher order concepts that lasts over generation. This lets them experiment over many people life and adjust accordingly. But we as an individual we have limited time and space constraint. Its only our mind that can help distinguish the chaff from grain and live a meaningful life.

> Augmenting and eventually replacing our biological capabilities with robust, high precision systems is the ultimate goal.

This was also true when wheel was invented. The purpose of technology is to help in getting things done. The pleasure seeking, sensory perception is just a distraction. And for many of us, the ultimate goal is to live a better life by reducing these distractions.


Your point jumps over my broader argument to address the original thrust of the article however. In that context we aren't in disagreement on this point.

I was however addressing the question of "should technology guide our existence" - and I think you agree with my emphatic response of yes but don't realize it.

And for many of us, the ultimate goal is to live a better life by reducing these distractions.

My guess is you are compartmentalizing things like social networks etc... into those "distractions." I might also, but would also place in there "hunger", "pain", "confusion" etc... the things that distract us from understanding the fundamental nature of the universe.

Our goals likely align - but on different points along the scale of time.


are you a super villain?


Not yet. Great user name by the way - always up for a business hug.


Funny that you mention cigarette smoking. I was just ruminating last night in bed how hard it was to put down the phone and go to sleep. I had the same feeling of addiction that I hadn't felt since I quit smoking 15 years ago. It actually caused me to have a minor panic attack, and I'm now actively seeking methods to reduce my dependency on the phone and internet information feed.


+1 Smartphone is a universal addiction as opposed to cigarette smoking. If we do not do something about this, our future humans will walk around with stiff necks as this will be coded into our DNA and we will evolve accordingly.


For these reasons, I've started to log my smartphone usage. God knows everyone else is.

It should be fun to look at the data after a few weeks of logging via a free app.


Which app are you using to do this? I'm interested in trying this as well.


I've been running this for only the past week.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.a0soft.gph...

I noticed it has 'Export to csv' functionality, which is convenient. But I haven't yet verified that it works.


For a moment I laughed hard at this, thinking it was ironic humour. But now I'm scared it's not.


I'd like to start this as well, which app do you recommend?


That's not really how evolution works.. there would have to be selection pressure that would favor the smartphone addicted


Tinder


There would have to be selective pressure for people with the genetics for a naturally forward leaning head.

For most people, that's bad posture deviating from a more neutral head, so isn't genetic.


I used to think like you but after reading Sapiens I now understand how these things work.


I just uninstalled Facebook from my phone last night. I keep opening my phone to check it and remembering that it isn't there.

Overall I'm glad I did it. I can still get on the laptop when I want to check in on people and will hopefully be less distracted at work. Looking forward to reconnecting with people in real life as opposed to virtually.


If I find an app is pulling me in too often, I delete it. If I find a website is distracting me too much, I throw it on my hosts file (and redirect it to 127.0.0.1). If I find myself drinking too much beer, I stop. If I find myself craving anything in a way that feels intuitively bad, it's a good sign that I need to change something.

I feel like a lot of people respond to those impulses by going out of their way to make it normal—everyone has this problem—rather than deal with it before it becomes a monkey on your back. I have a lot of compassion for their predicament, but I also know that the answer is very, very simple: walk away and do something else.


As a personal prescription, this is great, but as a societal one it's like saying "just don't smoke, it's as easy as that!"

On a national or international scale, we don't get to deal with what ought to be, only what is. And it increasingly looks - Facebook averages 50 minutes of use per day - like the average person either doesn't know or doesn't manage to limit their consumption of these things. Super-satiation is a real problem, is in fact most of our problems from obesity to inaccurate news to dishonest politicians. There comes a point where we have to accept that this is going to take some solution larger than personal responsibility.


Yes, I completely agree. I have plenty of vices, and struggle with them all the time. I guess I was trying to convey my own current state of mind after thinking hard about this problem and where it leads...but you're right to characterize that as a personal viewpoint, and not something you can realistically prescribe for others. Everyone has to come to their own enlightenment, and I still have a long way to go.


It's not necessarily just a personal thing. We as a people haven't yet figured out how to value or not value this new deluge of distraction and information. Social rules are doing more to curb smoking now than any health warnings - everyone I know who's quit recently does so because it's seen as a bad thing to do by people. If overuse of media was treated the same way we tread people with any other addiction (social shame, professionals to help) it would be less of a problem. But a huuuge amount of people just spend their time tuning out and going down the information rabbit hole and not spending any time pursuing their goals (myself included)


The reason why such products still exists is exactly because the majority of consumers are not like you.


So no hobbies?


I think the key phrase in his post is "intuitively bad". If you enjoy programming, gardening, running, watching a bit of tv or whatever then good for you. But I think all of us have reached point with one thing or another (from too much computer Solitaire to overeating) where we realize it's not really making us much happier.


For me, the key is being honest as to when any hobbies or time / attention commitments become distractions i.e. detours. While it is possible a detour can become the shortcut, the likelihood of a "lightbulb moment" happen by refreshing X social media feed is less fertile than dedicated focus on Y.. be it a problem, project, etc.


Of course, everything doesn't need to be a lightbulb moment either. That is also part of this issue. We use all these apps to keep us constantly productive or more efficient in finding things that make us happy. The drive is to read reviews so we don't waste our money on a bad dinner or product or experience, or to follow the right people on twitter so we get lots of high quality content and less cruft. And by and large I actually think the modern consumer ecosystem is good at accomplishing this.

But we have to ask ourselves if that's a worthwhile end goal. Perhaps a bit of detour is actually what we need.


Getting people hooked/addicted is not new, it's been used in TV series and shows for decades. I'll explain it all in my next post...


Please elaborate in the form of a list of weird tricks


He just did with this:

> I'll explain it all in my next post...

By leaving it hanging your curious mind could not resist the temptation and started to fill in the blanks, and when that wasn't enough you posted a request for more. That's why the main characters never get home or never make out — it's a lot like an infinite scroll.


> and when that wasn't enough you posted a request for more

I think that was very much intentional.


Regrettably, "they" don't wish you to know those tricks.


Couldn't agree more with the looking back part.

It's a line of thought I frequently have when trying to think critically about many accepted practices in todays society.

It usually comes in the form of asking myself "Is this practice the kind society is going to laugh about in a 100 years?" or me imagining someone saying "Haha I can't believe this is what they did in 2016! Man were they dumb".

Most prominent non-tech example in these times for me is the meat industry.


not just meat

The entirety of food production is insane.

We import workers from other countries to have them pick our fruit and vegetables.

We use tons of various chemicals to combat and kill all kinds of insects, birds, animals to keep them away from our crops.

We grow huge amounts of food in areas without fresh water sources

etc.


I was about to post the same sentiment re: smoking.

Given that we see this type of behavior in all industries (not just tech), it seems to me it's actually a systemic problem. People / organizations are incentivized universally to optimize for their own selfish interest, because they do not incur the cost of their decisions on everyone else. In this case, designing your product to maximize e.g. addictiveness or time spent per user makes sense if the downside of that is paid by the user.

I think taxing wealth / property instead of (primarily) income actually solves this problem, but that's another story...


I'd wholeheartedly support wealth taxes if I trusted the social safety net and health care system in my country. Until then, I'll hoard money out of fear: I don't have anything I'm intending to spend it on and hopefully never will. Fix health care and there'd be a high probability of the chains coming off off, at least for me.


The trick to taxes is in getting them right.

Taxes are, to a rough analog, like the vacuum hose system within an automobile engine. (Hrm: I'm thinking that this may be a bad analogy if there aren't many auto gearheads here.)

An internal combustion engine is essentially a self-powered air pump. It has a low-pressure end (intake) and high-pressure end (exhaust). It's got various bits and pieces which need powering. Chains, shafts, and vacuum hoses bleed off some of the energy output of the engine to run systems which can't otherwise be powered. Without the vacuum system, the engine as a whole runs worse.

A vacuum leak, though, worsens performance as you're bleeding off energy and not feeding it back in where it's needed.

In the same sense, taxes modify the function of markets by rasing or lowering costs, and transferring purchasing capability elsewhere. If properly structured, they improve the function of the economy as a whole. If not, they worsen it.

The engine (wealthy) generally perceive the direct costs, but not the indirect benefits of the tax system.


This just begs the question though, what is the right way to tax?

Assuming that you are redistributing wealth (as you describe above), taxing wealth instead of income has a profound effect. It creates an incentive for every individual to increase the total wealth in the system, no matter who creates it, or where it's created. When you tax income, it makes no difference to you whether the income was created wealth, or merely captured.


Whatever you tax becomes more expensive.

Whatever is more expensive, you have less of.

Your question can be restated: what's your overall economic goal?

You tax to achieve that.


I'd tax rent-seeking, and the most effective way to do that is a land value tax.


I'm seeing merits to land tax, inheritence, financial transfers, and either a corporate or corporate transfers tax.

Allowances for that which is reasonable. Disallowances for that which is not.


The economy views taxation as an outage and routes around it. IOW, prices adjust.

The thing that should be taxed is rents, Ricardian rents as written about at length by Adam Smith.


Yeah, I chalk this up to broken feedback loops. A separate but related problem, is that in most places it works roughly like G = TI, with a fixed T (tax rate), so that G (government budget) is a function of I (income). The tax just works like a resistance to accumulating wealth, no matter how much the government actually needs in order to function. It would probably help if we capped G instead, i.e. T = G/I.


"but about creating want in the user" reminded me of a quote, but it was about television advertising, which I think may be a more apt comparison:

Indeed, we may go this far: The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products. Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country -- these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research. The television commercial has oriented business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable, which means that the business of business has now become pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient assured by psycho-dramas.

I highly recommend the book http://www.amazon.com/Amusing-Ourselves-Death-Discourse-Busi...


This is why I generally choose small open source Linux based tools over smartphone apps and the like. I just don't trust app and web developers because they have repeatedly worked against my interests.


There's nothing to trust app developers with. The mobile app ecosystem is ridiculous - most apps are so limited compared to what they could be that it boggles the mind. The primary problems: they force you to use the interface provided by the author, and they don't talk to one another.

Android phones become infinitely more useful with Tasker[0] and AutoApps plugins[1][2]. They let you work around the limitations of many apps, force them to talk to one another and to the underlying operating system. Sure, you can technically program Android, but the standard interface to that (Java, APKs) is so heavy and complicated that you can do whatever you need in Tasker quicker than you can create a hello world in Android Studio. Oh, and you can do this on the go, from your phone.

[0] - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.dinglisch....

[1] - http://joaoapps.com/

[2] - I only discovered them like few days ago, despite using Tasker for years, and I've already integrated many features from them, with clear path to using even more. They make Tasker many times more powerful than it already is. They e.g. solved my problem with creating custom commands for Google Now.


I'm really curious what you specifically are doing that's such a huge lifestyle boost for you.

I really use apps on my phone for:

1. Calendar

2. Email

3. Messaging (mostly with one other person, but occasionally a few others)

4. looking stuff up on the web

5. Reading a bit in my downtime

6. Listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks

7. Checking the weather

I suspect most people are in the same boat, give or take a few things.

I know that Tasker can do cool stuff like activate certain apps in certain places (turning on your music in the car, for example), but I can do that to. Every time I've sat down to figure out tasker program I realize that the 30 minutes I'm going to spend messing with it will save me about 5 seconds.

So I'd like to know what I'm missing.


These days I use Tasker to make my phone a dumb phone when the display is off. Wifi, GPS and BT are off, mobile data is off. I can receive calls and texts, but no data transfer.

This means that people close to me can get in touch if my phone is off, but apps that want to sync things or notify me can wait until I open my phone. I also don't have facebook/twitter installed on my phone, although I use fb occasionally via desktop browser.

Re: the article, these days the worst offender is email spam. I've stopped using gmail's auto categories a few months ago, and I still (a few a week) occasionally get stuff that would have fallen into the "promo" category. I've lost count of the number of newsletters I've clicked "unsubscribe" to when I first made the switch. I made the switch because I wanted to get out of being tied to the gmail client. Now I'm free to use any email client, and my inbox looks sane regardless of what tool I use.


I find Gmail find for blocking spam but I don't use those categories as they don't make any sense to me. I like the data blocking idea but text only is too clumsy a tool; I use texts as infrequently as I use email (essentially never unless I have to). I've trained myself to only have people I care about in my contacts lists in the various apps, and to not stop everything and tend to my phone as soon as it makes a sound.


It's about being able to quickly automate away any thing that either annoys me or that I think it would be cool if it could be done. Some things I've been using Tasker for:

1. "Quiet hours" before quiet hours were a part of Android. I had a task that automatically reduced the volume levels for calls, notifications, etc. between 00:00 and 06:00. I've recently updated it to also go full volume if a certain number is calling.

2. Automatically turning wireless on/off when I'm entering / leaving home.

3. Automatically silencing / unsilencing phone when entering / leaving work (at previous work I used NFC for that, currently I use geofencing).

4. Adding custom voice commands to Google Now (I'm playing with it right now, as I finally found a way to make it work with my Bluetooth headset only a day or two ago).

5. Overriding media buttons on headphones, making them do other stuff.

6. I'm making my phone much more chatty right now - whenever I have a Bluetooth headset connected, it starts to tell me stuff via TTS - it reads out important notifications, tells me when I'm transitioning into/out of a geofence, occasionally tells time (yeah, too lazy to look at my watch), etc. I'm adding more stuff at the moment, with the intention of turning the phone into information awareness device.

7. Some time ago my SO wanted me to remind her stuff regularly via SMS; I eventually made a Tasker script that auto-assembled a message out of randomized components (to make it sound natural) and sent it to her. (Yes, she eventually started to suspect it's automated - I think because the reminders tended to come perfectly on time, or even during phone conversations.)

8. Orgzly is an application I use a lot (because I run my self-organizing in Emacs & Org-Mode). It doesn't auto-sync and having to select "Sync" from menu annoyed me a bit; I wrote a Tasker script that automatically opens the app and clicks in the menu for me every morning (still tweaking it due to issues with lockscreen).

9. Quick remote actions. I have a task that automatically opens a SSH connection to my VPS (via JuiceSSH) and executes commands.

10. IoT. In our Hackerspace, we've set up lights to be controllable via an API. A friend made me a Tasker overlay (yes, you can design UIs in Tasker) that could be used to turn the lights on and off.

11. I've just made myself a control panel for my IRC bot. The use case is this: sometimes people from our Hackerspace want me on the channel ASAP for some reason, and they notify me about it via Pushovers sent from my bot. Logging in to IRC while on the go isn't exactly convenient, so I made a popup control panel, accessible with a homescreen shortcut, that provides me with a text field and a series of canned responses that I can use to have my bot tell them something in my name.

12. When I was in China on a business stay, every day we'd catch a taxi to take us to the company. Since taxi drivers in Shenzhen don't understand any English and can't really read latin alphabet, we used to show them the photo of the street sign with an address. Taking out the phone and finding that photo was annoying, so I got one local to say the address out loud, recorded it, and then made my Pebble activate a Tasker task that would play the recording out loud - this way I could press a button on a watch twice instead of having to pull out my phone and find the image.

13. Speaking of Pebble - I used to forget to note down work entry/exit times in China. I realized that I always think about it while I'm riding an elevator, so I made a quick Tasker logger and hooked it up to the Pebble.

The common thread in all of these is getting rid of trivial annoyances and quickly adding some features to the phone. For half of these you wouldn't probably even find an app. Tasker to Android is like Bash scripts to Linux - when you learn it, you suddenly start using it all the time for fixing stuff and implementing random ideas. It turns your device into a tool. Yes, I do the same 7 things you do on my phone, but I know that if I want to do something else - like e.g. manage a server or an on-line service - I can make it happen.


Tasker is excellent, and AutoApps looks like a useful extension.

I wanted add Locale. I find Tasker is easier to work with for edge-based transitions - reactions to events - while Locale is easier to work with for level-based states, i.e. to enable some setting when a certain set of criteria are true, but go back to defaults if they're not.

I use Locale for toggling wifi when leaving home and silencing when at work, for example.


Thanks! I've seen the name before, but somehow assumed that this app must have something to do with languages and stuff... :). I'll check it out.


Yeah, except:

- A phone has a convenient form factor (I still keep using a lot of desktop apps though)

- Small open source tools usually are incomplete and have clumsy usability


Could you let us know which open source Linux based tools you use, and what mobile/web app you let go loose.


Not OP, but a good example would be the various PDF conversion apps around. The freemium/shareware ones all suck in one way or another unless you pay (arbitrary page limits, watermarks etc), the web-based ones make batch processing very hard and have privacy issues. Meanwhile ghostscript, pdftk, imagemagick and co. just work and will continue to work for a long time. On mobile I can use these over SSH on a remote Linux box. LaTeX or LibreOffice vs. Word is a similar example, although you can't always get around using Word.

Or Photoshop, when Adobe switched to a subscription service. I use it maybe 3 times a year, a (legal) old version would be fine but you can't buy one. GIMP it is, even though it has less features.

I want to spend less time looking for new apps/services just because the previous ones went out of business or now charge monthly for 5 lines of code. Libre/Free software mostly stays around, even the unmaintained stuff is often forked/fixed/updated by someone if the fix is small enough.


Offtopic ad. PDF: [1] is quite fine on Windows and has no arbitrary restrictions. But the general point holds.

[1] https://www.pdfill.com/pdf_tools_free.html


Nice. Apparently it uses Ghostscript in the background though?

Another problem is that a Google search for "convert to PDF" turns up so much crap it's hard to even start looking. Same with "convert to MP4". I just use ffmpeg directly now, even though getting the command line options right is not easy.


Isn't it just "ffmpeg -o output.mp4 input.whatever" (AFAIR)?


> User happiness just happens to not be be necessary for Facebook to be a successful business.

Agreed. But the anti-thesis of that is that along with tech companies (like Facebook and Goolge), the average user is evolving too. In other words, sooner or later, the average user will start thinking exactly what you are thinking now. And thats when the user will start ditching Facebook for something open source and WhatsApp for something like Telegram.


You couldn't be more right. Looking at apps on Apple's App Store, you will often see them bragging about their app being "Addictive," or in reviews, people will state how addictive the app is as if that were a good thing.


That and "aggressive" for praising car designs. Great idea, we really could use some more aggression on the roads ...


One of the interesting side effects of social media is the social "guilt" of "unfriending". I suppose this is another form of the inconvenience associated with using a technology. Individuals feel briefly butthurt by someone consciuosly disassociating themselves after intelligently beating the system. For example, I first unfriended all connections prior to deleting my Facebook account which allowed me to stay away forever instead of coming back to reactivate my account. You might have heard of similar approaches such as the "overwhelming force" of paying someone when it comes to quitting smoking if they happen to catch you smoking. Instead it seems companies have countered this by selling electronic cigarettes which seem to be socially appealing (e.g. asthetically appealing color and pattern choices). If someone does to act quickly enough on their plan to "leave the system", they may quickly get pulled back in with a counter move on behalf of some business.


Interesting you used smoking as a metaphor and not advertising. The amount of effort and money that's gone into that is amazing.


I heard some thinking by Jake Appelbaum that it feels like you might connect with: https://twitter.com/patconnolly/status/612755010238193664

There's some sort of future truth in this kind of thinking that I'm still sorting out. It seems to centre around a future ability to embrace and accommodate all the ways that humans and our minds are frail, instead of all the ways that we're great. And that seems pretty counter to the prevailing western culture of choice and autonomy. Accepting this might require social concessions, where we carve out safe spaces and practices, free from the all-too-easy possibility of manipulation. I can very much imagine, in a sci-fi-esque way, how this leads into conversations that will later involve trans-humanism :/

Hopefully the above doesn't seem dark -- I'm an optimist!


I think that these powers can be used for good. I'm building a subreddit for people who want to learn how to align the behaviors their apps construct with their users best interests.

https://www.reddit.com/r/behaviordesign


> I think the way we use technology today will be looked back on the same way we look back at naive cigarette smoking in the 1950s.

> Modern app design isn't about creating things that are good for the user, but about creating want in the user. This is a problem.

This would be my feelings as well. However, you have to acknowledge that this is only one possible scenario. It could be that somewhere in the future all of a sudden we discover a puzzle piece which is as of yet unknown and boom everything makes perfect sense and the way we did things in the 00s looks incredibly quaint and idiotic.

Atm I try to ignore FB et al as much as I can but there is a slim chance that this makes me look like a fool one day.


But why call it technology?

On the bright side, the profit from hijacking your brain goes to sending their kids to "low-tech" schools[0] Hurray for computer human symbiosis after all[1]

[0]http://www.educationnews.org/technology/silicon-valley-tech-...

[1] http://groups.csail.mit.edu/medg/people/psz/Licklider.html


Apps always serve the customers. When people used to buy apps, they were the customers. Now advertisers pay for apps, and people are the product. Economics are hugely important, as all behavior eventually will align with what is incentivized.


> User happiness just happens to not be be necessary for Facebook to be a successful business.

All that is necessary for Facebook to be successful is to make money for their shareholders. User happiness is only important if it impacts that particular line item.


I think this hearkens back to the "great power, great responsibility" cliche. The power of technology requires mature, responsible users and creators. But it's very difficult to be either of those.


I think the way we use technology today will be looked back on the same way we look back at naive cigarette smoking in the 1950s.

Or perhaps cars and freeways, from about the same period.


The same holds for fast-food and pop music.


Any books you would recommend for reading about these techniques?


I'm glad you posted this. It is all about trying to drive habits just like cigarettes which are specially engineered.


I had a mildly negative reaction to this article which seems different from most people's reactions here

Yelp example: I get that yelp is limiting my options but what did I do before yelp? Pretty much I just went to the 4 or 5 places I already knew instead of seeing if there was something new nearby. I tried hundreds of new places because of recommendations from Google Maps or Yelp that I likely would not have tried otherwise. Certainly not before I had this thing in my pocket that let me research at the moment of desire instead of having the plan ahead

Similarly I look for meetups and have been to way more activities that I would have gone to in the past.

On the slot machine idea: Before smartphones and apps I'd flip through a magazines and hope there'd be something interesting. Before digital TV back when channel surfing tuned into each channel immediately instead of taking 3-5 seconds I'd flip through channels hoping to discover an interesting program. When I buy a book I'm gambling it's going to catch me. When I go to a new restaurant I'm gambling it's going to be delicious (it often isn't)

I guess I don't really see the difference between that and many of the things listed on that list.

I also do uninstall apps. I've un-followed 90% of my connections to keep it my feed actually relevant to me.

Sure I do spend too much time on (in my own opinion) on the net for various things. hopefully I can keep it under control.

It got more scary for me toward the end where he seemed to be calling for government regulation. A digital "bill of rights". An FDA for Tech. No doubt he's assuming he'll be on the committees to decide what's best for everyone else.


There's definitely positive value in the services and apps that you mention, otherwise people wouldn't begin using them initially.

I think the key difference between the services and living life with "Pre-Internet" substitutes is that all of the services have been designed and engineered to elicit a certain usage.

When you use something that was designed, there's a certain set of axioms governing that thing. You've got to buy into someone else's interpretation of value. If you're aware that the other person's interpretation is different from your own, then you'll be much more likely to have the self-control needed to interpret its value for yourself. The danger is that most people don't do that and as a result fall prey to their own assumptions based on what they were told is valuable.

The trickle of pre-internet information doesn't compare to the firehose we have today. There's not one single solution and I agree that a governance of these ethical ideals will be tricky no matter what form it takes.


I'd rather have the fire hose with the bad that comes with it than what came before - severely limited information, often old or stale, often requiring travel to find it.

Having the wealth of the world's information LITERALLY at your fingertips is going to come with some bad. But holy moly is it just so much better this way.


I think his point about Yelp was more that THEY CONTROL all those new choices you explored. Yelp becomes the gate keeper that restaurants and bars must appease in order to show up in their list that you are looking at.


Kind of interesting idea about how our tools (generic) present us with limited menus, and effectively restrict our options.

Facebook has expanded (barely) the options for basic responses to posts (no longer just like, but also a handful of emoticons to express laughter, anger, sadness, etc.). Not as full an option as when using the comment box, but for quick responses it allows for greater expressiveness. At least people don't have to "like" the tragic news of their friend's family deaths anymore.

But then look at Allo, announced from Google yesterday, with its @google bot that will help people decide how to make basic, trivial responses to pictures posted to threads. (I'll try to find the link later, but the demo was with a graduation photo, and a few suggested responses like "You look great!" "Congratulations, so happy for you" or something similar).

By pushing the job of coming up with options to tools, like the choice of restaurants and bars to Yelp, we narrow our worlds. We limit our expressiveness and creativity.

I don't know that I have a point, just some thoughts.


A long time ago, when MMORPG was a new thing, I was still playing regular, "paper based" RPG. When someone asked me why am I not jumping on the shiny bandwagon I told them it's because I cannot make the decision to, in case I have the strength for it, pick up a random log of tree in the forest and kill the attacking giant with it in the game, because the choices there are limited to whatever the programmers decided to add.


The exact response I have to people that badgered me about joining their WoW guild. I was thankfully playing D&D in the years prior and that inoculated me against the MMO genre...

Nearly a decade later, I was leveling a WoW hero to lvl 20 in order to get a Liadrin hero portrait in Hearthstone. Though I think the UI is fantastic and the music score is superb, every game mechanic just seems watered down and the world seems to have all key points curiously spaced out, as if to waste your time on traveling.

When I got repeatedly bullied by the Snapping Turtles in an oasis where you're meant to plant some dried seeds, I just gave up and went back to Teleglitch. Now that's a great game!


Yep. I play some video games. But tabletop will always be better for me and my friends because of this freedom.


> By pushing the job of coming up with options to tools, like the choice of restaurants and bars to Yelp, we narrow our worlds. We limit our expressiveness and creativity.

And the sad thing is, those same tools could help us significantly extend our expressiveness and creativity. Instead of narrowing available options they could be expanding them. Think about this every time you see someone saying it's good to remove features because "99% of users don't need it" or "more features = more work for developers".



Related to this essay is the appendix from 1984, containing a discussion on the principles of Newspeak.

http://orwell.ru/library/novels/1984/english/en_app


Really good essay, thanks for reminding me of that one. I believe it's been posted to HN before (I read it from a link here), but it may have been another comment suggesting it.

  But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
(about 3/4 down)


I saw it here first as well. It's made a number of appearances: https://hn.algolia.com/?query=https:%2F%2Fwww.mtholyoke.edu%...


hey dang, how about a category link that automatically recycles classic submissions like this?


> the demo was with a graduation photo, and a few suggested responses like "You look great!" "Congratulations, so happy for you" or something similar).

Don't know why anyone would actually use features like this. It's very impersonal and insincere


People already just like photos like that. Or say simply "happy birthday" to everyone when Facebook tells them it's time. It's a small step from this state to a slightly extended set of canned responses to pick from.


The "Happy birthday" messages were nice the first time (circa "thefacebook"), but the more I thought about it the more depressing and creepy it became. I hid my birthday, then closed my wall, and then left facebook entirely. Now it's only sincere messages from a close few, which feels like much more.


definitely agree, on the other hand it's funny to see people who put fake birthdays on facebook actually getting the "happy birthday!" messages on the fake date


So are greeting cards but those are huge, for many people receiving one is a requirement for every Hallmark holiday.


good points about greeting cards, but people usually add to greeting cards... right?


It makes for a cool demo, but impractical for real-world use.

It might be good for some laughs to have bot-only conversations.


Eventually we will have a bunch of bots commending each other on their autogenerated graduation photos, and we can go outside and have actual human interactions again.


I wonder how much uptake Allo is going to have. Personally I'm going to stay away from it - why should I need to compete with a robot to provide authentic responses?

People are going to pick apart what you say on Allo. "Did he just click on the bot response, or did he really mean that?"


This started with multiple-choice tests in schools, ages ago.


This means Facebook's trending topics list is, essentially, the news.


The bit about choices reminds about the soda cup debacle from when Bloomberg proposed limiting the size of soda containers that some venues could sell.

Everyone griped about how it limited their "freedom of choice", but nobody asked about why those particular sizes were the choices available in the first place. 7-11 and others decided that they could add a $0.05 more soda and charge $0.25 more and make more money. People would buy it because look, you get 50% more for only a quarter!

Meanwhile the choice of buying less was never presented as an option.


There was an amusing parody of that in an episode of Parks and Rec: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNLUwBot8B0#t=13s


And nevermind that most places have free refills on drinks anyways. So the total quantity of soda you consume isn't restricted unless it's take-away.


That's true, but I would assert that if you gave two people a small cup and big cup, the one with the larger would still drink more, even with free refills. More refills needed for the same amount if soda, more distance to walk, more time, etc.


> Meanwhile the choice of buying less was never presented as an option.

What do you mean here? There were always multiple sizes of soda. Bloomberg was the one who was introducing the restriction, requiring someone who wanted more than a particular size to buy it in two separate cups. I must be parsing this incorrectly.


In NYC, most soda drinkers are stopping by their corner bodega/deli and buying a bottle, then walking/taking the subway somewhere. I feel like in this particular case, the goal was to force soda manufacturers to sell 16oz bottles rather than 20oz bottles, thus reducing the amount most people consume in a single purchase.

EDIT: I'm wrong, a reply below clarified the intent and also that bottles were exempt.

Back when I drank soda regularly, I often felt like 20oz was a little bit too much. A 12oz can felt about right, but in NYC it's a lot less convenient because you must finish it immediately upon opening.


That makes total sense for bottled soda, but for 7-11 sodas (which were what was mentioned in the comment I replied to), or fast food sodas (which were mentioned often at the time the law was proposed), there were always various sizes. They got cheaper by volume as they got larger, but 1) that's the same as every product, and 2) there's overhead in cup and the labor of filling it that stays fairly flat as the size increases.

Wasn't the Bloomberg law intentionally meant to corral people into drinking less soda by forcing people who wanted to drink more to carry two cups? The law, rather than the opposition to it seems like an explicit, intentional example of the OP.

edit: I don't drink soda, and I'm not a libertarian.


I don't have a refutation for your first point regarding fast food, although according to Wikipedia[0], 7-11, being a grocer and thus state-regulated, would be excluded from the sizing law.

> The law, rather than the opposition to it seems like an explicit, intentional example of the OP.

Indeed. However, we must note that using techniques described in the OP aren't necessarily bad: merely that when the values of these large (not-always-tech) companies do not align with their customers, consumers are manipulated toward actions that ultimately run counter to their (presumed) values, such as their physical, financial, and emotional well-being.

If a government, which ideally represents the values of its constituency, chose to regulate using these same principles, the result could be a net benefit for society.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugary_Drinks_Portion_Cap_Rule


The law exempted canned and bottled sodas. It was targeted at things like the Big Gulp, and movie theater sodas, where the small size starts at about 24oz.


I did not know this. Makes sense but also seems fairly weak/overly specific given it basically only targets movie theaters.


Well, also gas stations, convenience stores, and fast food places. Basically anywhere that has a self-serve fountain.


The small size for a movie theater soda often starts at about 24oz. Getting less than that is not an option. There's been studies that when you put more food or drink in front of someone, they'll consume, even if they aren't particularly hungry or thirsty. Hence, the inflated soda sizes were adding thousands of extra calories that people otherwise wouldn't have wanted.


Thanks, I didn't think about the massive movie theater tankards. Seems like that could be solved by requiring that they offer a smaller size, rather than requiring that they not offer a larger one.

I've always thought that government could help a lot just by requiring that they sell tap water in cups of the same size as the cups of sugar water, and at cost. As it is, the choice is usually between a thimbleful of water, or a bottled water that is (other than being wasteful, environmentally horrible, and sending money to those same sugar water companies) sometimes more expensive than the soda.


I have joked many times that I would gladly pay more to have less food served.

I find most served dishes are too big for me, and end up sharing w someone.. but sometimes that's not an option, so it will be good not to waste half of the food, even of it cost more to me.


With a little planning, you can eat the food that tastes best freshly-cooked, then take the remainder home for left-overs.

If I'm eating solo, I'm always taking food home with me.

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