This is an appropriate time to show appreciation and support for the companies who are trying to demonstrate successful revenue models which are NOT based on advertising:
Medium - the replacement of “Recommends” with “Claps” was to allow Medium to better understand how much authors should be paid (with the money coming from the paid “Medium Member” plan). 
Patreon - probably the most popular service for paying independent content creators today. If you are a regular consumer of a content channel who’s creator is on Patreon and you haven’t already set up micro payments, then please part with a few pennies and help show the industry that an advertising revenue model isn’t the only option.
Wikipedia - Ad-free since its inception, and the web’s most popular encyclopaedia which is completely free to use for all. If you feel like you have the resources to part with a few dollars per month to support Wikipedia, and haven’t already done so, then please do. 
Please let me know if there are any others I’ve missed out.
Advertisement as a revenue model exacerbates this problem, but I submit the problem stems from how we define success for mobile apps and websites. We directly designate "engagement" as success, rather than customer value provided or even asking our customers if they like the service.
We assume if they are there that they have made a clear-eyed assessment about the value proposition of our product compared to every other aspect of their lives and decided this is the best use of their time.
Because of that hidden assumption, our UX folks are encouraged to ruthlessly push by any means available to get more of that time. There is an assumption that the cutoff switch is somehow built into the user; that the user will say, "Enough is enough" if the engagement every reaches a toxic level in their lives.
And I think what many of the people in this article are trying to say is: That is a bad assumption. We're making our products so sticky that we're starting to surpass some our user's ability to say, "No."
This contrasted starkly with the Alta Vistas, Yahoos, and AOLs of the day, which were all creating interlinked portal networks and trying to keep users within the company's own bubble of services to increase engagement.
Somewhere along the way, when we figured out how to use advertising revenue to "pay the bills" and turn on a profit on the cost of hosting... I think this was lost. Sometimes the user just needs the content they came for, and sometimes delivering that content to them in the leanest, most efficient manner possible is worth more than all the engagement tactics in the world.
That's an interesting example, because it contains also why Google changed. There is little business to be had in just being a place where users spend as little time as possible.
All the "customer value", "customer happiness" and all the rest is inward facing PR. Creative people need a better motivation to build these attention traps than "suck em in so they watch ads" so it has to be phrased differently to them.
From the beginning of the Web onwards, you had very little idea of what people actually did on your site, but the fact that they visited was an easily counted line in a plain text log file.
The moment something else was available (e.g. actual clicks on an ad, or conversion rate), that was used.
But isn't that orthogonal to this discussion? There are better metrics, but they still have the same large scale attention economy, filter bubble, junk food media effects as "engagement" does. "actual clicks on ads" is conversion rate x ad views and ad views is a function of engagement.
I don't see how more accurate measurements would positively affect the way content is written, presented and optimized. If anything wouldn't it just get worse?
If your model is explicitly ad revenue, then yes; you will find similar pressures.
I don't work in entertainment and I'm telling you we got the same guidance even from respected VC firms. We never once showed an ad and we had a similar model for a long time.
That was the guidance KP gave Level, for sure.
It took us a long time to realize that was wrong. Too long.
That's the type of stuff smartphones and the web should be used for - supplements that make us have a richer real life, not addictive junk food that competes with reality.
Assuming that the publisher openly states they're mining instead of showing ads, and the user understands what's happening, browser-based mining is an attractive alternative to ads.
The first benefit is in privacy: you don't need to track your users personal preferences or identities. The second benefit is that there's no signup, no login, and no fraud.
It does not wholly solve the issue of attention-based revenue. That is, there is still some incentive for publishers to "manipulate" the user into long session times on the site. However, unlike ads, long session time doesn't have to mean long attention time in order for mining to happen.
Browser-based mining is sort of like micropayments: the user is paying the site in electricity. Many people don't want to pay subscriptions and they don't want to see ads. Browser-based mining is a viable alternative.
- Appeal to donation banners are not content, they are a purposely made distraction with a money-making goal. Just like real ads.
- Most people agree that when Windows 10 gives you a popup to buy another Microsoft product, it's an ad. So the "self-advertising" rule is not absolute.
- Charities sometimes purchase advertising space on Google, Facebook, etc... They obviously count as ads, and are blocked by ad-blockers. So nonprofits can post ads too.
- When I looked at Wikipedia fundraising reports ( https://wikimediafoundation.org/wiki/Fundraising_reports ), I found it striking how similar it feels to regular ad campaigns. They use A/B testing, talk about conversion rate and all the usual tricks to incite you to pay more.
So I think that while it is safe to call Wikipedia independent, I wouldn't call it ad-free. Whether these aggressive campaigns are justified is another debate.
I'm looking for one that was a browser plugin - you click it every site you want to support (if that site opted in).
Then, your monthly spend eg. $5 is split between all of the sites you chose to support.
It let users commit to paying $N per month for their favorite sites, without having to calculate "should I give 1 or 10.." etc.
Anyone remember this? I saw it on a few webcomics
That is not a system that aggregates or works with the nature of creativity.
What you need is payment for labour hours provided - consistent payment for effort not results.
The challenge is how do you determine effort without looking at results. How do you influence the transformation of labour hours into the right sort of labour services without payment.
However, the "business" of the Wikimedia Foundation can be determined by its board of directors so long as it falls within the articles of incorporation and the IRS guidelines. It's not for us to decide.
So, when the Wikimedia Foundation decides to fund grants to help increase gender diversity in Wikipedia content, that's totally legitimate. It can decide what its business is.
From my perspective, Wikipedia is a global treasure and if they want to spend money to make sure it gets better, rather than just on servers and wiki tweaks, that's fine by me. No-one is forced to donate.
Isn’t that true for literally all Web-based businesses? Is Twitter "much more than a server farm and software tweaker"?
The lecturer gave me a b+ and went on to berate me for using Wikipedia as a source that was not to be trusted. I was 42 (older than than the lecturer) at the time and had innumerable experiences of people questioning facts during my previous life because they didn't fit their narrative, and politely asked him to point me to where in the Wikipedia entry the political manipulation strayed from the science and process... He couldn't and after a phone call to confirm, my mark was bumped up.
Utter academic bs and cognitive bias clouded all judgement on his part. I was pretty pissed off he'd dismiss something before reading it, and the rest of the diploma was spent playing to what they would accept as sources.
Two years later my Pinot noir got 95/100, ironically marked (in part) by our other (more experienced and realistic) lecturer in a blind tasting.
Fuck academia and their fucking higher than thou bullshit based on nothing other than their own ego. And don't get me started on that other clusterfuck Turnitin.
But you're not understanding academia when you lump Wikipedia in with other sources. The purpose of publishing is not just to write down what you have reason to believe. The purpose is to build up a verifiable chain of trust. It's a lot like a block chain actually.
When you publish in Nature, and note that you are employed at Stanford, what is happening is you, Nature, and Stanford are all "signing" the paper. Then when someone cites you, they are building on your chain. That allows you to read a paper published somewhere and be able to rely on its truthfulness, to some degree, without manually verifying each source.
Part of what you learn in academia, what your professor was trying to get you to learn, is how to write a paper which could be published. If you cite a Wikipedia page, that can no longer be published because there aren't enough "signatures" on it to verify a chain of trust. Yes, you can verify it by hand, but that doesn't scale. The point of scholarship is to scale verifiable knowledge.
It's a little sad your instructor capitulated. It's possible they realized you were in a professional program and you weren't supposed to learn how to do scholarship... that your task was just to be able to write a professional research report, and for that Wikipedia is fine. It's also possible they assessed that they're not being paid enough to argue with indignant students and gave you the grade that would shut you up.
But regardless... you should know that what you did is not scholarship. That requires you to participate in the consensus algorithm and the verifiable chain of previous work.
Geez, you messed up your citations. Take the L and remember wikipedia is an aggregation that has to get citations too.
Going, "All academia is bad because I got a bad grade can't they see how right I was" is childish nonsense. You'll be better off if you just take the L.
Sure, smartphones provide access to almost unlimited trash. But they also provide access to Wikipedia, perhaps the most successful encyclopedia ever developed by humans. They can show you newspapers from across the planet. They let you read Latin histories of the Norman conquest of Southern Italy in the middle ages.  C'mon folks, this is stuff you might otherwise seek for years in bookstores or never even hear of. Thanks to the Internet and powerful phones you can pop up the link below and read it in bed. The information is within reach of anyone with a decent cell phone.
The effects of the Internet on human society have been profound but the ultimate outcome is not foreordained. Humans have survived some pretty nasty stuff over the millennia and we'll no doubt get through this as well. It's time to stop the hand-wringing and focus on making the Internet help humans in the way many of its original founders conceived. 
 Gaufredus Malaterra, http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/malaterra.html
It's remarkable how well some of Richard Stallman's quotes have aged. "With software, either the users control the program, or the program controls the users..."
The idea of a program controlling its users must have seemed very esoteric when that quote was first penned in 1985, at a time when home PCs (let alone ones with GUIs) were exotic: the first Mac had launched only a year ago. By the time I first heard of Stallman's ideas in the '90s, I was surrounded by PCs with GUIs, but still didn't get it.
Now here we are, 30 years later. The first thing most of us do when we wake up is roll over, grab our phone, and look at some software. The existential costs of the non-free software are so high that we read new stories about them in the media every week, and the tech revolution's architects are banning the products they built from their own homes.
For the less frequently cited ending to Stallman's quote is this: "...If the program controls the users, and the developer controls the program, then the program is an instrument of unjust power."
The danger of computers becoming like humans is not as great as the danger of humans becoming like computers.
-- Konrad Zuse
I recall Joseph Weizenbaum mentioning something like that in an interview before his death, too, about the difference between using technology to empower people, or to exploit them.
But hey, Wikipedia so what do they know... ask the mediocre for permission to learn from the great at your own peril, that's my motto.
The book addresses this same topic: to what extent is computer "thought" like human "thought", and what are the dangers of equating these concepts? Like any book about AI written in the 70's, there are some things that are obviously out of date or wrong, but overall it holds up quite well. There's also a section on "compulsive programmers" that may cause some self-reflection among this crowd: https://www.sac.edu/AcademicProgs/Business/ComputerScience/P...
I see a parallel with food companies spending money on researching and marketing foods that are more addictive and more profitable.
Yes, people do “want” addictive foods, but that’s not the type of want we want empowered; rather it is a hook into addiction and transfer of power by inducing an addiction.
He had incredible foresight and was absolutely, insanely ahead of his time. He was providing solutions for problems 30 years before we could even realize we had them.
The problem here is not the smartphone per se, but our increasing dependence on it and the "outsourcing" of our thinking and desires to our smartphone.
Imagine the follow scenario:
* Need to get to a place? Just ask Google Maps, no need to think.
* Need to decide what and where to eat? Don't need to think, just use an app that optimizes for health/variety/preferences/budget and you don't even need to leave the house, just it delivered right to your doorstep.
* Need to think deeply about something? Just Google for the right articles. No need to waste time thinking.
* Feeling bored? Just consume a game, song, movie, Reddit/Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/etc.
* Don't know what to do next week? Have an app that auto-suggests what you can do based on your preferences, your friends' schedules, activities in your city, past user ratings for an event, etc. Taking this further, have an AI virtual assistant that plans your entire year's activities.
* Need to date someone? Use an AI virtual assistant (built with the latest in Natural Language Processing and AI technology that optimizes for the right words to use, the correct responses, the best times to send a message, the best jokes to be using, the best emotions to elicit) that has already done all the swiping on Tinder/OKCupid and done all the texting conversations to set you up on a date.
When this point in the future arrives, without a smartphone, you would become almost feel like an empty shell (or even suicidal). Your very existence becomes tied in to the smartphone. Your daily whims/desires becomes dependent on the smartphone.
If you were given a life sentence: give up an arm or a leg, or give up the right to own or use a smartphone for life. I think increasingly in time, people would rather give up an arm or a leg than give up a smartphone for life.
The question then becomes: Do you own a smartphone, or does the smartphone own you?
If you're learning or working on something you love and you want to have more time to do, its a perfectly reasonable choice to outsource "what I'm I going to eat next" or "how do you I get from A to B". The problem is not having anything that you love to learn/work on.
"Finally, Eyal confided the lengths he goes to protect his own family. He has installed in his house an outlet timer connected to a router that cuts off access to the internet at a set time every day. “The idea is to remember that we are not powerless,” he said. “We are in control.”"
In an admittedly handwaving manner, there is tech that gives you time (think dishwasher) and that steals it. I tried to write this down a few days ago: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/tech-craves-our-attention-ann...
Quite a few times I've read an electronic book where it would have been inconvenient to have paper books available.
I'm not convinced they are any different than books when it comes to time.
The time spent acquiring, storing, and carrying physical books adds up a lot faster than managing digital materials.
Consumerist technology is just crap version of actual technology; the former being designed primarily to make money off consumers.
And of course you think you’re in the other camp, don’t you? How cute.
TV, fortunely for me, is not something I find addictive. I don’t own a TV, and the number of shows I care about seeing online or with friends is, on average, about 1h per week.
Reading more novels would be a good thing for me at this point. Long-form prose requires focus for several hours; exactly the mental state I want to have.
Smartphone follows you everywhere, all the time.
It's the same effect that gambling has on the brain.
You keep playing, even though you keep losing.
That's the danger and that's why books, the TV, movies, radios (music in general) and other form of entertainment are not equally dangerous, because usually you are able to stop before it gets too far.
Flipping through the circular loop of cable TV channels predates scrolling and refreshing webpages, but people exhibited the same addictive novelty-seeking. It was so common it became a cliche to say things like "N channels and nothing [good] on."
In addition, they share same emphasis on advertisements as a funding stream, whereas movies and books are typically paid for up-front.
And looping through radio channels was popular as well
There were just not enough channels back then
The addiction mechanism is known, it's the way it is exploited that is new
You didn't bring your TV on the way to work or at school, when driving, on holiday or waiting for your baby's birth.
> In addition, they share same emphasis on advertisements as a funding stream,
Radio used the same funding stream and still does
Newspapers and magazine do that as well
None of them tried to trick you into checking again and again, other than putting a pair of boobs on the cover
Having said that: that's why advertising on TV has been regulated many times to protect kids
We're not doing the same for social networks
Either we force social networks to act good, or we block kids from using them
The engagement in social networks comes from being actively participating
"Your opinion matters" they say
No, they don't
But the fact that you can argue with someone on the internet believing someone is finally listening to all the important things you have to say, keeps you there refreshing over and over
it's "someone is wrong on the internet" 
And it's highly addictive, especially for those people who feel powerless
You don't replace social media with books, there are books I never get bored by, I've read Dune almost 20 times, and I'm sure I will read it again sooner or later.
Social media content is based on engagement, not on enjoyment.
You don't enjoy the content, you enjoy scrolling through the content at the point that once posted, the content is lost, unless it gain real traction, you won't be able to find it again.
Books never run out of battery, when you watch TV you are not actively skipping through ad, you passively ignore them.
Think about it: when was the last time that you interrupted reading a book for watching the TV or a movie?
But how many time you've watched your phone while doing something else?
The addictive nature of the "you might miss it" content is the real danger and it's what the article talks about.
We are at a point in history where going to a bar and drink it's healthier for you mental health than staying home with your phone.
> But how many time you've watched your phone while doing something else?
I don't think this example proves your point. For me, a book engages ~100% of my cognitive resources; a movie also engages a large amount. Therefore, those activities can't be done simultaneously with other stuff if I'm to enjoy them or benefit from them. OTOH, social media usually engages less than 50% of my brain power, so it's a perfect thing to do simultaneously with other things that barely engage my brain and otherwise would bore me out of my mind. Hence: yes, it's reasonable to watch your phone while doing something else.
Also, the population is higher now than ever before, as is the literacy rate. Both of these independently increase production of books.
Umm - don't go to them?
Or - if you need to get rid of the app (and you can't because provider-ware) - root the phone, and then delete it. If your phone is close-to-near impossible to root, get a different phone. Get a phone for phone use only, and drop everything else.
Seriously - the only thing holding you back is you. I don't say this to be flippant; I think we all struggle with it in some manner or another. I know I do now, and have in the past. For instance, I used to be very addicted to /. and Fark - eventually, I stopped going to them, and haven't been back. TBH, Hacker News will probably end up in the same bin sooner or later, as I see things going this route; I try to head it off beforehand. I don't blame anyone but myself.
So just do whatever you have to do to drop it - cold turkey, as it could be called...
I am using all the easy technological tricks I know, at least the ones that don’t actively prevent me getting a job (found a better iOS content blocker since last message): After this novel is done, my intention is to go back to being an iOS developer, so I need to rearrange my brain to not care about the social sacharin soda that is every comment section with a voting mechanism and many without — cold turkey in my position would be like giving a minor drug addict (dopamine is totally a drug) a job finding drug dealers, with no oversight.
What I need, and have no idea how to achieve, is to stop caring what text on the internet says. If I could do that, I wouldn’t even feel a need to respond to you, I certainly wouldn’t feel this strange and unhelpful “arg, why don’t they understand!” anger-lite that tells me to not even try to be better by deleting this reply.
Now, if you have any suggestions based on psychology, I’m interested. I know too little about psychology to rewrite my mind to be the person I want to be.
"When humans learned to read, they also learned to write"
Now humans learn how to click without learning how to code:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgicuytCkoY trailer for the book "10 commandments for a digital age"
I'd modify this statement as the program can potentially be an instrument of unjust power.
I like to believe that the opposite of this will most likely occur. What if such a program manipulates people's minds towards the good, what if it can turn terrorists against terrorism.
Whenever we think of something outside our brain taking control of our lives, we only think of negative outcomes. Why not positive ones ? Sure distraction is bad, but how bad ?
I don't buy the argument that the short doses of of social media engagement is equivalent to consuming heroin or smoking. It is an addiction for sure, but why is addiction bad ? All through history, we have always looked for means of getting high - from alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana and what not. Ever since we discovered that we can get high, we have embarked on finding new means that can give us that high. Why do people want to be rich ? So that they can show off. Showing off is an addiction. Social media is just making that addiction available to every one. To use some silicon valley terminology, social media is democratizing showing off and we are just getting started :).
I say this because, Whenever we friends got together for a beer or a social hangout, most of the conversation, at least 50% drift around to showing off. So I've realized that social media has just become an extension of our behavior. It has become just a tool to express our collective narcissism. The root cause of the addiction is not social media, it's our own self.
I am generalizing, and there are many many exceptions to the above stated collective behavior.
Even if I were to grant—though I don’t—your claim that addiction isn’t necessarily bad, it wouldn’t follow that it’s perfectly fine for businesses to boundlessly seek more effective ways to capture more human attention more of the time. ”Just” run the simulation in your head, and gradually turn up parameters such as:
- amount/quality of information about how the human brain works
- % of humans addicted to addicting-by-design software experiences
- number of unethical people who realize the financial and political opportunity a pathologically distracted electorate presents
And then maybe take another look at what’s happening in our world today.
Firstly terrorists didn’t have that much reach before. Now? For the few terrorists that you pull away, many more can be pulled in.
And it’s not just terrorism. It’s any tribe or emotional trigger that can pull you.
The other way to read this would be about how the program is used. If my morning starts with my phone telling me it is not going to rain and i go out into a downpour without an umbrella then I put too much confidence into the algorithm. This could get much worse though.
Of course, unless you're making the modifications personally, you'll need to trust the developers behind the new project. But at least their work is free software too. That means it can be audited publicly, so for instance you can always find out why their news feed algorithm shows you some stories and not others. And if they get too abusive, someone might come along and fork them.
In this sense free software's main benefit is that it lowers (though doesn't eliminate) switching costs. Businesses have been well aware of this advantage since Microsoft's abuses in the '90s, and that's a big reason much of the software in use today is free. Consumers, though, haven't learned this lesson yet.
Now, I certainly don't think free software is the complete and only solution. It strikes me that the bigger issue is trust and where we place it. For most of human history the face we looked at when we first woke up was of the person we loved most in the world. Now it's Apple or Google, who by their nature as publicly traded companies actually _can_ be trusted to act in a certain manner, but certainly not in a manner that puts our best interests first.
The concerns addressed in the article make it much more difficult to take the posture you’re taking here.
Consider the idea that democracy is being destroyed because people are helpless addicts of social media. You can make a plausible argument that American society and democracy are going through a troubled spell. But it's a big step to say that's all or even largely the fault of social media. It's true that Facebook makes it easier to develop echo chambers that group people by political persuasion. But hey, there's emerging poll evidence that American conservatives and liberals don't even want to marry each other.  There are many other causes at work here like failing education systems, economic dislocation, the capturing of the the political system by moneyed interests, etc. That's not even considering real political disputes over things like health care, immigration, and crime. Plus many of the disturbing trends we see now predate social media.
Also, the article essentially dismisses fake news and trolls ("symptoms of a deeper problem"). The fact that you can't verify sources easily is not a symptom. It's a fundamental problem with the Internet today that is not all that different from the dark money problem in American politics.
Overall this article reads like a variation of Nick Carr's "The Shallows" which I read and quite enjoyed. However, I don't think the threat to our intellects is as dire as he says. In the current article it's even a little surprising to me that tech people discount the possibility that something will come along that really upsets the apple cart at Facebook and Google. These are pretty new companies after all and they were the first to get really big on the Internet. This is not the end of the story, especially if the Internet breaks up into essentially national blocks.
How would one go to independently verify some news article in 80s? There was no quick way to do it, and consequently nobody did it, people just expected it's true if it's in the newspapers (and often it wasn't).
Now you just need to google a little or google search the image and the problem solved - or even better, surround yourself with others paranoid enough to do the googling on every piece of info. There was no a single fake news in my feeds (and it's not just US news but our local, even more untrustworthy, ones), that within a few hours someone didn't reply with "fake" and a link to prove it. You just need to follow and friend with intelligent people from the both sides of political spectrum and let them filter out the noise for you. And also you need to discipline yourself not to over-emotionally jump to the conclusions - arguably this is the hardest part and also the main reason social networks are considered harmful: you can respond immediately, so responses are much more emotionally driven, people never bother thinking of all the angles.
The recent "fake news", "omg people are brainwashed by social media" hysteria is coming almost entirely from the parts of the traditional media that are keenest on having a monopoly over political influence.
Observe that the Guardian burns money at a catastrophic rate and run begging boxes on every article ... because they prioritise influence over profit. They can't stand the idea of hiding their writing behind a paywall because they see their mission as to influence first, and make money second. What's more they always have, the Guardian has never made a profit (it was subsidised by unrelated businesses until recently).
My trust in the media has steadily declined over the years and what's killed my trust has been the times I've fact checked articles and discovered they're lying to me. Sometimes I felt it was deliberate and other times it clearly represented colossal laziness on the part of the journalists.
Any good journalist worth their salt like any good teacher wants to make sure the most people are informed with good information and they do the best job to inform.
How did that become “wanting influence”.
And if being good Doesn’t make an impact - which it increasingly doesn’t- then only crap will remain.
And why are there so often easily caught factual errors in news articles that just happen to fit the journalists agenda? Here's a good example from this weekend:
The BBC is running some vacuous "top 100 inspiring and aspirational women" series. They really like Amy Cuddy. She's typically described as a psychologist who shows people how to create changes in their own biochemistry by "power posing". Search her name and in the first page of results you'll find an article by Slate (written by scientists, not a journalist) that reveals her to be a fraud: her research doesn't replicate and she knows it doesn't. The effect she promotes doesn't exist at all. But she continues to milk the media and TED Talk circuit by promoting these feel-good ideas as if they were based in science.
It takes all of 10 seconds to discover that Cuddy is a fraud. Yet the BBC is promoting her repeatedly. Why? Because the articles are written by a feminist who likes the idea of Cuddy as an example of a successful and inspiring female scientist. No desire to inform need intrude!
Sorry, if you really believe journalist's priority is to neutrally inform with good information then you can't read many newspapers. I'll give you a tip: newspapers don't employ fact checkers.
Given that fact, I’m left wondering what the motivations for your comment are. Especially given the nature of your target, and the thinly veiled usage of the word “feminist” as an epithet.
So please share your findings then
The problem is that Google results are often misleading or incorrect themselves. This is as expected. The sole purpose of Google is to maximize shareholder value. It would be silly to expect it to optimise for any other metric like the fairness or accuracy of results.
The main problem is how much time and effort one is willing to invest into debunking the fake news stories? For the most of people answer is: not any, if possible. Even I will look at maybe 2-3 pages of google results and twitter feeds and give up, presume it's true. It's the same problem as computer security: it's all about the balance between the goal and convenience. It's just not convenient to double-check every fact that you read, you'd just do that whole day long or go crazy, so we choose to trust them...
Verifying sources is easier than ever. In the 80s it was a major time investment to verify anything. Today, if your source is available in written form - whether that's a newspaper, a research paper or a book - I can more likely than not start reading it within five minutes.
Fake news and trolling are much more a symptom of cheap and easy publishing, and the exposure they can get in today's attention economy. Outrage spreads faster than you can fact-check it
This makes me wonder how much of the information from the old media (newspapers, TV programs, books or radio shows) was ever actually true before the internet. Has anyone tried to verify a bunch of news stories from the olden days, to figure out who was lying and how common misinformation was?
Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are easy to game. A recent study claimed that up to 44M Twitter accounts were likely bots--even Twitter grants that many of the accounts are fake.  This is kind of like the email spam problem but harder because besides some genuinely difficult technical problems it raises a lot of tricky issues about things like free speech that we're still working through. It's also not just a social media problem. "Cheap and easy publishing" was a design goal of the World Wide Web.
That's might be because of thinking of first order effects only.
>Sure, smartphones provide access to almost unlimited trash. But they also provide access to Wikipedia, perhaps the most successful encyclopedia ever developed by humans.
Well, who said access to Wikipedia is something good in itself? For one, it might (and I say it does) reduce the number of deeper study on a subject, because of "I can look it up in Wikipedia". So, people that get interested in something don't need to build a deeper connection with their subject, buy books, follow it over time, connect with other people studying it, as a basic (and often crude) summary is always at small distance, and is perceived as enough.
What's worse, there's a whole new entitlement and arrogance about topics, from people who have just cursory experience with them from Wikipedia or some other such source, and feed as qualified on them as actual people who've studied them/experts. Wikipedia feeds the "Read 1 lemma for 5 minutes expert".
It's even worse when the source of their knowledge is not Wikipedia, but random web BS pages -- from conspiracy theories to homeopathy pages to alternative diets, to plain old bad journalist/click-baits.
>They can show you newspapers from across the planet. They let you read Latin histories of the Norman conquest of Southern Italy in the middle ages.
Both quite irrelevant to the discussion (which is about mass effects), as only a tiny outlier group will ever read those anyway.
It's not the internet/smartphone that is the real problem though. It's that as a civilization we've relinquished control to structures whose only motives are profit-making.
Their "we're changing the world" lip-service always has that ("to make more money") proviso -- not "for the better".
Also, I disagree that reading a book is a REQUIREMENT for study. It can be beneficial, but it's just another tool.
There are a lot of wrongs on this planet, unfortunately.
They would -- but they wouldn't be able to pass their ignorance as knowledge in most fields. Easy access has been known to devalue things -- it's simple economics.
>Also, I disagree that reading a book is a REQUIREMENT for study. It can be beneficial, but it's just another tool.
Reading a book might not be, but reading extensively is.
Skimping through online articles and wikipedia-surfing is not that.
How about a library at a world-class university?
How about the magazines on display at the grocery store checkout line?
Sure, smartphones provide access to almost unlimited trash. But they also provide access to Wikipedia, perhaps the most successful encyclopedia ever developed by humans."
This is not really a valid argument. The mere _potential_ to read medieval Latin, or even classical Greek, on your smartphone says very little about the actual overall effect of people having smartphones.
I suspect a lot more smartphone time is spent on Snapchat filters than Homer.
But let's be honest, most smartphone users spend their time confined in a limited number of domains: social media, games, shopping etc. In that sense, we can be called a bit zombie in the head.
As for shopping, I don't see anything wrong with acquiring resources needed for various things in your life.
So the question to ask now is, regardless if you're solutionist/ Luddite/ neutral/ etc, how do we tackle this? Do we need to tone down some of the 'hook' features? Do we need to totally discourage unethical tactics like dark patterns? What can we do to educate/push people towards a healthier Internet diet, to have enough will to protect themselves from being psychologically hacked? This is an entirely new design philosophy, maybe not so good for big tech corps, but can potentially push the Internet to the next level.
No they aren't. Nobody sat down and said "how do we design Instagram to be maximally addictive". They just said, hey, look, I made some neat photo filters and someone else said, hey, love the filters, it'd be neat if I could share these photos with my friends. Badaboom, a social network.
The fact that so many people spend so many hours on Instagram is nothing to do with the software itself and everything to do with how people use it. To be brutally honest here, in my experience it's 90% girls who obsess over Instagram. I know very few men who use Instagram at all, let alone post regularly. Women use it so much because the posts they configure the app to show them consist mostly of girls boosting each others self confidence by telling each other how beautiful or successful they look in each photo. Equally important - what's not there: no politics, re-sharing of links that someone might expect you to read or care about, and in general nothing that would require any mental effort at all.
Nobody designed Instagram to be full of trivial ego pumping, it's a neutral photo sharing tool. There are no dark patterns, whatever they're meant to be, unless you believe that the absence of a "share this link" feature is a dark pattern. It just so happens that this is how many people choose to use the tool.
In the same vein, nobody designed Twitter to be mentally less taxing than other social media sites, it was just that due to technical limits SMS restricted your character count, and Twitter inherited that limit, and limiting the size of a post sets a very low but very consistent quality bar on tweets, such that people who would have been intimidated by blogging full sized articles can now engage in online discussion without feeling out-competed.
And why not? The attitude you display here shows a great feeling of superiority: people don't like Twitter or Instagram because they like the culture on these networks, instead it's because they've been "addicted" by "dark patterns" beyond their comprehension of control, in some sort of vast Silicon Valley conspiracy that is mysteriously unsupported by any sort of paper trail or emails showing discussion of these malign intentions.
Please, grow up and just let people enjoy communicating in whatever way makes them feel good.
you have no idea what you are talking about and everything you're saying is invalid. The companies noted in your post are run by and dependent on advertising. The number of users on the platform, their ability to lure users back to the platform and the amount of time spent within the platform is kkey to making money and is essential to keeping their stock price up.
That's a natural response to be expected from companies, user engagement is tied to company health/profitability/etc so it makes sense to maximise it as much as possible. But earlier when I called for a new design philosophy, I am hoping that tech companies can be better than that. Because you are right, nearly all of them start with a genuine belief that their tool can help people, or at the very least, it's cool and yo let's spread the word. The tools still work, like Facebook still functions as a platform to connect relatives and old classmates, but it has also become so much more than that: it's a news platform, it's a media engine, it's a publisher, it's an ad-clicking farm and so on. The tools have evolved into systems, which other forces (commercial companies, political groups etc) have learnt to leverage for their own benefit. They have become complex and life-evading enough that they can't be called neutral anymore, despite the company's best intentions. And I'll go as far as to say that these companies have some accountability.
As a daily Instagram user, I do take offence with your comment regarding Instagram and girls - you are caricaturing a lot. It's not just high-fiving about body confidence and taking random selfies...
The part of your post I quoted literally says "the systems are designed to hook people". It also says "Do we need to totally discourage unethical tactics like dark patterns".
Don't try to wriggle out of it. The words "design" and "tactics" mean deliberate intended action, agency. My post is not a strawman: it responds to exactly what you were saying. Perhaps on reflection you think that position was too extreme: OK then.
please explain if it's really OK for kids to get hooked on YouTube etc five hours a day
Sure. They're kids. What would you rather they do? Play football for five hours a day, like my grandparent's generation did? Read story books - the ultimate form of passive media consumption? At least on YouTube they might be learning something more useful than how to kick a ball around, and who knows, might even be inspired to create something themselves.
I think a lot of the complaints about social media and YouTube overlook that point. It's easy to complain. What's your proposed better alternative?
As a daily Instagram user, I do take offence with your comment regarding Instagram and girls
Alright, be offended, my lived experience does not care. All the girls I know use Instagram all the time. None of the guys do. I realise there are exceptions, it's a huge network. But I know from discussions with other men that they've had the same observation as me. If you find that fact offensive, too bad!
The evidence points to the contrary. Why would you not want to make, as another commenter put it, a social network site as 'sticky' as possible? You have to understand how sites like Instagram make money, using methods which rely on keeping engagement high. It's the so-called 'Attention Economy'.
Here's one article describing how Instagram's approach to generating revenue has evolved over time:
Here's the Wikipedia article about the ideas behind the attention economy:
The article you link to just says they make money through advertising. Yes, and?
Your argument is 'their business relies on their users being happy and using their service a lot' which is an empty statement: it's true of all businesses. It's not a sign of addictiveness or anything like that.
The reason I have trouble seeing the "gamification" aspects of Instagram is that there are none. This idea that a photo sharing site is designed to be like a drug exists in your head - every argument you make easily applies to many other kinds of business that nobody considers addictive.
Theatre, cinema and opera are experiences that are best appreciated in small doses. Television, on the other hand, is something I'd class as addictive. Wouldn't you?
> "The reason I have trouble seeing the "gamification" aspects of Instagram is that there are none. This idea that a photo sharing site is designed to be like a drug exists in your head - every argument you make easily applies to many other kinds of business that nobody considers addictive."
You have to separate the intention from the result. Did the creators of Instagram intend to create, as you put it, "a drug"? No. However, they did intend to make it a popular platform for advertisers, and advertisers are clearly interested in getting as many eyeballs on their products as they can, and the more the creators of Instagram can do to make their site sticky and drive engagement, the more their company will grow. Whilst their users are of strategic importance, their most important customers are advertisers. Increasing the userbase only makes sense if there's a corresponding increase in advertising revenue, they can't run on good will.
To give an example of a feature that increases the stickiness of Instagram (note that I didn't use "drug", that was your term), I'd suggest Instagram Stories (a feature inspired by Snapchat).
The idea being, you have to use the app every day otherwise you might miss something. Previously, you could dip in and out of Instagram and not miss anything. With Stories, that's no longer the case. Also, as well as viewing the stories of others, creating your own 24 hour story also encourages much more use of the service. What's opera's equivalent of Instagram Stories?
Let's move away from Instagram for a second to consider other players in the attention economy. News organisations are most definitely in this space as well. The rise of sensationalist, clickbait news articles, even by news institutions that were previously above such behaviour, is a clear indication that we're in an era where attention is something that's harder to earn. Have you noticed this trend or would you like some examples?
This is clearly where we differ. No, I wouldn't. The word addiction has specific meaning. The fact that lots of people enjoy something a lot does not make that thing addictive. I am surrounded by people who have TV sets and who do not spend much time watching TV at all. I myself have a TV set and feel no particular cravings to watch it, ever. When I choose to, an hour or so is sufficient and then I may well not watch any for weeks. I consider this normal behaviour.
I think you're far too liberal with the use of the word addiction.
What's opera's equivalent of Instagram Stories?
Heh, how about the fact that it's very expensive and only occurs at specific times of day, meaning you have to structure your entire day around getting to it by the start? You've never seen someone literally running down the street because they're late for the opera or theatre? Running to the dealers for their fix!
No no, that's a very forced analogy. Opera isn't addictive even though some people can spend hours on what seems to me a very pointless activity. Instagram Stories is a great example of why Instagram is not designed to be addictive - it's simply a reaction to the success of Snapchat, i.e. a very strong message from users that they value transiency and don't actually always want their photos to go into a never ending history accessible to all, for ogling and possible exploitation years later.
Given the highly transient nature of photos usually posted to Instagram feeds, the desire for them to disappear after a while makes perfect sense from the perspective of the uploader. The fact that this gives downloaders limited time is - once more - not a deliberate attempt to addict people to anything but rather a natural consequence of the users own requirements.
What's a definition of addiction you would agree with? Is it linked to changes in body chemistry? To obsessive behaviour?
Other forms of "addiction" are difficult to cleanly disentangle from people simply liking things for their own reasons, acting on their own free will. That's how you get things like TV being described as "addictive" though I never heard of anyone going into prostitution so they could afford their cable bill. Perhaps there are stories of it happening somewhere, but such a story would be rare and shocking, whereas prostitution for feeding a drug habit is unremarkable.
But let me turn it around. How do you define it? Above I've seen people claim that anything that has advertising in it must by nature be "addictive" but that would cover 20th century newspapers, and again, I never heard anyone describe them as addictive or display uncontrollable cravings for newspapers.
Okay, but what makes those substances addictive?
The article itself lists people directly who have worked on items and code meant to addict and make sites “sticky”.
If that’s not enough - go look at gamification.
Back when WoW launched I was impressed. They distilled the then amorphous knowledge of UI and game psych and upped the ante.
At that time friends and i imagined what maximally addictive games would be. How we would use more malicious techniques from behavioral science and habit formation to keep people in game for longed.
Then came TF and the hats/freemium model (Korea/SEA/China ).
And from there to now, the worst of those ideas have been applied and evolved.
Sites very definitely design themselves to trigger and keep people on site.
I disagree. Pre-social media, people would talk with friends and family using e-mail and programs like AIM, and there would actually be deep and meaningful conversations. This has been supplanted by social media, which is often simple banal comments on an article/rant that someone threw up for everyone to see.
If someone told you 15 years ago that people would stop having conversations by e-mail and communicate by LiveJournal posts/comments instead, it would have seemed like a hilariously terrible idea, but that's more or less where we are.
This seems hilariously false.
But the op is oriented correctly.
The issue isn’t the depth of conversations- the issue is the availability of addictive alternatives.
I’m on a phone surrounded by family - who I will see only a few more times in my life.
And that’s entirely because of my choices.
But by that criteria being in bad relations, junk food, bingeing, gambling addictions are all “choice”.
They are not.
These tools are designed to be as addictive possible within the confines of law - laws made to prevent even worse excesses.
If you have Joe Schmoe, vs me and my ability to data mine their lives, to put reminders that “hey you are on your streak! Log on again!” While they are on the pot, to “leverage” their network to get more people onto the game and then put them on leader boards “to catch those people with competitive impulses”; to gamify their life and to put triggers to run dopamine and seratonin triggers - then joe schmoe doesn’t have a snowballs chance in hell.
So our connecting is more like lines crossing over briefly, but never more than that. Sometimes this is fun - because where else can you encounter other people different from you - and sometimes it's just a little sad.
It seems the less "mass" a message contains the more "force" it seems to exert. A long response is ignored and carries with it very little persuasive power compared to the pithy response of a mere binary form of approval.
If interacting with friends and family is what is important, is Facebook the best way to do so?
Point being, the business models are not inherent to communication mediums, but due to history, those mediums are provided through the particular business models we have.
What about simply having a conversation in person, mediated only by spoken language? What if you never moved away from your family and could stop by for dinner a few times a week?
There are many possibilities beyond just accepting the dictations of a few product managers in Silicon Valley!
Let's call it what it actually is, instead:
Talking to your friends and family while a stalker sits in the corner recording and taking notes.
"In your pocket" represents a world of difference.
Admittedly a lot of people would probably just stick to browsing Facebook or Twitter most of the time, but even then, they'll look up tons of small facts and trivia pieces through Google whenever they don't know something too. In the olden days, that wasn't possible. Even less people looked up stuff they were curious about, since it meant either having to go home and online (before phones) or bringing out the encyclopedia (before computers in general).
Most of my mobile searches are related to a) things I'm learning right now, or b) things I've just read about and I don't know what they are.
I read a lot of 18th/19th century lit. Wikipedia is like having footnotes for anything you are reading. I use it regularly, almost exclusively on my iPhone.
From 'The Way I Am', sung by Merle Haggard and many more:
I wish I enjoyed how I made my living,
Did what I do with a willing hand.
Some may run but that ain't like me,
So I just dream, keep on being the way that I am.
Or not! Maybe you are fully accepting and fully aware and it is I who is missing the extra pieces to the puzzle!
But maybe both of us are right, just right about different population groups? Maybe I happen to mostly see the use of social media I'd consider reasonable, and this biases my perception? Bubbles are strong in physical world too.
 - The kind of "smartphones make us antisocial on trains", except they don't, because before smartphones it was walkmans, and before walkmans it was newspapers.
It is true that newspapermen created the Spanish-American war out of thin air as well, but we learned our lessons about the unethical use of mass print media. Irony of ironies in the name Pulitzer Prize!
I just want to make sure we're not blind to the downsides of this new "liberating" technology. It has had plenty of defenders and has swept up billions of people in its grasp.
Perhaps feeling depressed by staged photos of a friend on vacation posted to Facebook is one thing but threats of nuclear war on Twitter are a much more serious matter!
He talked about it in multiple places, but Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (an interview) discusses it a lot.
What explains the pointlessness of most published TV criticism is that television has become immune to charges that it lacks any meaningful connection to the world outside it. It's not that charges of nonconnection have become untrue. It's that any such connection has become otiose. Television used to point beyond itself. Those of us born in like the sixties were trained to look where it pointed, usually at versions of "real life" made prettier, sweeter, better by succumbing to a product or temptation. Today's Audience is way better trained, and TV has discarded what's not needed. A dog, if you point at something, will look only at your finger.
> Television will achieve its apotheosis when it is interactive.
> Of course, some people think they have that now. For some people, TV reality is as much of a reality as what they move through most of the day. I remember listening to two people I used to work with discussing the horrible burden a character on a TV series would have to bear for causing someone's death in a fire. These were not uneducated or isolated people; they had simply been drawn in so far, they were projecting the characters well beyond the end of the show -- indeed, beyond the life of the series itself. And we've all heard amusing stories about actors who play soap opera villains suddenly attacked by irate viewers who cannot separate actor and character, Maybe more people can't than can -- the host of Death Valley Days was President of the United States for eight years.
> Does TV encourage, or even induce, schizophrenia? Or does it create a separate reality in conjunction with our minds, something that is neither totally our inner life nor totally TV. The networks might call that programming.
Marshall McLuhan explained how humans see tools - such as media - as an "extension of ourselves". It's important to keep this in mind when creating tools or types of media: you're also defining part of the human that uses the tool.
 The short story "Patterns" was originally published in the August 1987 issue of Omni.
"The Mirror of Erised is an ancient, ornate mirror. It has clawed feet and a gold frame... The mirror shows the most desperate desire of a person's heart, a vision that has been known to drive men mad."
"Men have wasted away before it, not knowing if what they have seen is real, or even possible."
—Albus Dumbledore explaining the danger of the mirror to Harry Potter
(This miight be the one - “informing ourselves to death”: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&t=1487&v=fuRVxW... )
Its interactive nature is another difference of kind not shared with books or television and likely to increase its addictiveness.
Also, the literary broken narrative effected by story-length footnotes that had story-length endnotes imitates the short/shattered attention span experience of living that DFW was already able to feel and express—and Infinite Jest was published over twenty years ago.
I escaped into Infinite Jest to survive a period of deep depression, denial, and directionlessness, so that shattered consciousness was pretty easy to relate to at the time.
I also think about distractions (pop ups, bullshit social media, etc) as interrupts that disrupt program execution. The mindfulness movement has organic parallels.
Is mainstream news nourishing to my brain?
The biggest story of the week (year?) has no leakers and limited facts. The media have made virtually no progress on explaining who this person was in Las Vegas.
We do have 12 sources that prove some DC douche called another douche a moron.
I am not letting the media run code on my cpu anymore. Their code doesn’t nourish.
There is a book on this idea "Infinite Distraction"
The idea being that our media experience is modulated in a way that people can't individually or collectively focus indignation.
Get hooked at young ages, and their tastes develop around the overly sweet/salty foods. Thus becoming adults still addicted to them. Especially with marketing to young children(Animals, Colorful packaging, etc).
Combined with the both parents working, 'busier' modern lifestyle lots of families don't have time to cook 'real' food or dinners. So quick and easy food with low nutritional value is substituted.
Anecdotal, but I've noticed that higher caliber restaurants have very subtle flavors. As opposed to mass produced/fast food that tend have very strong flavors.
People who enjoy bland things always say this. :) Those words mean the same thing "to me", does mean it does to you, wasn't an insult, subtle just isn't a word I use for food. I like what I like and I've tasted things people use that word for, I call them bland.
Especially interesting is paragraph 171, as it pertains to the recent concerns about AI and our increasing technological dependence. Note that he wrote this essay way back in 1995:
"What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and as machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more and more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide."
"The Machine Stops" is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster's The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928. After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories. In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.
"The story, set in a world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide their needs, predicted technologies such as instant messaging and the Internet."
I won't spoil the ending, but you can guess how it plays out.
And we all have a good excuse: there are great tools and best practices for publishing a development tool to other professionals. If you want to design something for a first week coder you have a lot more work to do, few examples to follow, and no obvious personal benefit.
Except the end result of that is that we sell computers to people which are useless for actual computing. All they give the average consumer is the opportunity to follow a path worn by someone like you or me.
We barely notice this, because we do have the ability to do real computation. We forget that it's something we are hoarding for ourselves.
It's a rough solution but simply dampening the strength of the signal is one way to manage our minds.
That's why I'm moving towards a smartwatch with cellular. I know I need to be connected, but to specific people, not to the information highway. (More information cul de sacs.)
I'm excited about the kind of lifestyle patterns we can design that would be more kind to ourselves but not any less performant.
I look forward to making more addictive programs that make me and shareholders more money. I am eager to see the next evolution of UI/experience and code, where we manage to get ever stronger feedback loops in place.
The end goal is to make money and have a good exit. To find a way to part people from their money, for the minimum effort on our our part and the best competitive release of value from our product for their time.
There’s of course diminishing returns to product quality - I mean after all, who wants to be craigslist and just do the one job good enough?
No no. We will buy out the competition or interesting startups and then expand our reach and label beyond the core product which must plateau out eventually.
Then we leverage this cross platform ability to gain more market share and dominate multiple verticals which lets us disrupt other industries.
Because if we don’t do it, someone else will. And this also has such amazing RoI!
And look at the amazing value we unlock, surfacing relevant ads all over our network.
But hey, you know not enough people are clicking on ads, so let’s push them Harder, we could model ourselves like those old companies we removed. Let’s hire some tv execs for their insight.
As For the big picture - well I’m sure there’s someone else whose job it is to worry about that.
If there is a problem we will solve it ourselves, us being the duty minded, un-incentivized corporations.
Yup. The future is shiny and usefulness is incidental.
We know that it isn’t good for us but we don’t realky have any idea just how destructive it is to not only the user but to society.
My analogy breaks down in that cigarettes have very little to 0 use where as the internet is in fact useful and can be safely used - much like sugar.
I absolutely abhor and condemn his actions and what he had done, but his essay is absolutely brilliant, and is prescient, taking into account it was written way back in 1995.
He is wrong on many counts, but some paragraphs are interesting:
* You can’t get rid of the “bad” parts of technology and retain only the “good” parts.
* Technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom.
* A technological advance that appears not to threaten freedom often turns out to threaten it very seriously later on.
* While technological progress AS A WHOLE continually narrows our sphere of freedom, each new technical advance CONSIDERED BY ITSELF appears to be desirable.
* Another reason why technology is such a powerful social force is that, within the context of a given society, technological progress marches in only one direction; it can never be reversed. Once a technical innovation has been introduced, people usually become dependent on it, so that they can never again do without it, unless it is replaced by some still more advanced innovation.
* Technicians tend to be so involved in their work (their surrogate activity) that when a conflict arises between their technical work and freedom, they almost always decide in favor of their technical work.
* In paragraph 127 we pointed out that if the use of a new item of technology is INITIALLY optional, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional, because the new technology tends to change society in such a way that it becomes difficult or impossible for an individual to function without using that technology.
* Will public resistance prevent the introduction of technological control of human behavior? It certainly would if an attempt were made to introduce such control all at once. But since technological control will be introduced through a long sequence of small advances, there will be no rational and effective public resistance. (See paragraphs 127, 132, 153.)
* What we do suggest is that the human race might easily permit itself to drift into a position of such dependence on the machines that it would have no practical choice but to accept all of the machines’ decisions. As society and the problems that face it become more and more complex and as machines become more and more intelligent, people will let machines make more and more of their decisions for them, simply because machine-made decisions will bring better results than man-made ones. Eventually a stage may be reached at which the decisions necessary to keep the system running will be so complex that human beings will be incapable of making them intelligently. At that stage the machines will be in effective control. People won’t be able to just turn the machines off, because they will be so dependent on them that turning them off would amount to suicide.
* On the other hand it is possible that human control over the machines may be retained. In that case the average man may have control over certain private machines of his own, such as his car or his personal computer, but control over large systems of machines will be in the hands of a tiny elite—just as it is today, but with two differences. Due to improved techniques the elite will have greater control over the masses; and because human work will no longer be necessary the masses will be superfluous, a useless burden on the system.
I hate his actions and his strategy, but it's a chilling read.
Think about what your grandparents ate vs. what your parents ate (assuming you grew up in the U.S. and are in the 20's-30's age range. Anecdotally the effect seems to have been particularly strong in the midwest.). It's like night and day.
It's not a coincidence that the food was remade by large corporations during that time. And likewise it seems obvious to me that we will look back on this time in 20 years and see that big corporations were hacking the human brain, like they were hacking the human body 50 years ago.
Now I don't think it is a matter of evil people in dark boardrooms. But if you believe in capitalism, and you believe in biology, then this effect is almost inevitable. It would be surprising if it did NOT happen.
While it's hard to believe today, Kellogg's was founded by a health nut who was eager on bringing healthy grains to Americans. Once his descendants took over, they noticed how enriching their product with sugar increased sales. Kids specifically don't have necessary mental controls to recognize addictive behavior (which is why we have restrictions on sales of cigarettes and alcohol).
So bit by bit American breakfast table and grocery store cereal isle turned into varieties of concentrated sugar instead of the muesli, oats, granola and nuts mixes it was way back in the days.
Strictly speaking he was trying to prevent masturbation, but I see your point.
Medical historian Howard Markel addresses this in his recent book The Kelloggs, with some relevant aspects mentioned in this book-tour interview at KALW, Santa Monica:
[Dr. John Haarvey Kellogg] also was very chaste and reminded both his readers and his followers that sex outside of the marriage, of course, was not a good idea, but [that] sex for anything other than procreation really sapped the soul and sapped the spirit. And of course, he was very much opposed to masturbation of any kind, something he wrote about extensively and called "the solitary vice."
The Kelloggs' theories of nutition are fairly hit or miss. Corporatising the institution they created has not helped.
I guess the word "hacking" conveys intentionality, or an explicit goal, but I'm using it in the sense that it's "exploiting bugs" in human brains.
Human brains/bodies didn't evolve in a situation with unlimited supplies of fat, sugar, and salt. Likewise, human brains didn't evolve in a situation where you can have an instant audience of 1,000, 100K, or even 100M people.
If you consider facts of about human biology (we like fat, sugar, salt, and to belong to a social group, etc.), and if you understand what a powerful mechanism capitalism is, then it's not surprising that corporations could remake the entire food industry or remake our social lives / belief systems in the span of a single generation.
Whether it's intentional or not is perhaps a secondary issue. I'm saying that in the absence of any opposing force, it would be surprising if this phenomenon did NOT occur.
So I guess my takeaway is that it doesn't hurt to treat current social networks and tech products like smartphones as adversaries. Just like it is reasonable to treat McDonald's and cigarette companies as adversaries. They were designed to deliver concentrated pleasure to your brain without regard to long term consequences.
My impression is that tobacco was a traditional, social, harmless pleasure until "capitalist optimization" morphed it into something deadly and addictive.
(BTW there is evidence that the human brain grew bigger to keep track of our peer group, i.e. it didn't grow big in order to solve math problems. The social part of the brain is large and critical for survival.)
But since you mean companies just following the market gradient - that is precisely what happens.
> So I guess my takeaway is that it doesn't hurt to treat current social networks and tech products like smartphones as adversaries. Just like it is reasonable to treat McDonald's and cigarette companies as adversaries. They were designed to deliver concentrated pleasure to your brain without regard to long term consequences.
This is the key. The goal of companies is to make money off you, not to do good to you. If doing good to you helps them make money, they will do it. If screwing you over lets them make more money off you, they will screw you over. This is obvious both in observational evidence and in theory (if you look at the incentive structures of the market economy), and yet some people still persist in the belief that companies do only what consumers want, and that consumers have any agency in this process.
Overweight people eat more. Creating obese people needn't have been a corporate goal; a blind optimization process could have produced the same outcome. Just tweak the product until it sells more.
I believe one of their goals was to lower testosterone in general population, to make for a meeker and more easily controlled population. This probably wasn't a 'fully evil' goal, since the horrors of WW2 were recent, and some of them thought that they could prevent that from happening again by engineering a less aggressive population.
From the onset of 20th century at least, it was known that testosterone is responsible for 'manly' characteristics (aggressiveness etc); in 1935 it was synthesized from cholesterol by Lavoslav Ruzicka. So, by the end of WW2 it was already well known that a) testosterone is what makes people aggressive and b) body needs cholesterol to synthezise testosterone. With this information in hand, it's easy to conclude that to get a less aggressive population, one should make them eat less saturated fat/cholesterol.
Enter Ancel Keys, a military-related dietologist (he created the ww2 K-rations, for example). Before mid 1950s, he was making rational scientific research into good/bad foods, and even published some material about the negative health effects of 'grain' ie carbs. But by the mid 1950s he made a full 180 and started attacking saturated fats and cholesterol as the cause of (especially heart-related) health problems. He started using bad science (selectively choosing countries for study to confirm his claim that it's high fat and not high carb diet that causes health issues), and using his pull to silence everyone claiming otherwise.
In 1960s/1970s he was joined by the Big Agro/Food who poured a lot of money into continued shifting of the blame from carbs onto fat, including silencing and ostracizing scientists and studies who dared to claim otherwise; this is the 'conspiracy' that we are familiar with, but I believe it started even earlier, with Ancel Keys, military, and 'powers that be'.
During implementation of the Morgenthau Plan, Germans had to live with 1200 calories per day:
Social media networks will become ever more addictive, and by using AI to increase the click-through rate on the ads, they will squeeze ever more money out of their addicts. AI will be essential to the "capture and sale of attention," as Tim Wu puts it, walking users from curiosity to the cash register more and more efficiently.
Lewis is right to focus on addiction. Especially because behavioral addictions are easier to ignore than addictions to substances slung on street corners. But they amount to the same thing: you want something, but you don't want to want it, and being unable to resist it, you sabotage your own life. Addictions turn our brains against us.
In a prescient 2010 essay, PG warned of the acceleration of online addictions, and the lag between the introduction of an addictive product and society's response to it.
Capitalism is an accelerant for addictive behavior, and we are only just realizing how unhappy people become as a result of the marketplace’s newest and most insidious products. What's worse, the necessary functions performed by our phones and the Internet are fatefully tangled with the apps that addict us. They put the heroin next to the tap water.
For anyone interested in a fictional account of American society as a tapestry of addictions, Infinite Jest will change the way you think. It's all about that buzz.
Full disclosure: I prompted Paul Lewis to write this piece.
I’ve always wondered if in the near future, working for Facebook and Google might be considered shameful, just like how working for Big Tobacco became. I remember one person from college who got a job with a tobacco company promoting Reynolds brands cigarettes to his regions Walgreens and Gas Stations. Despite making more than me (and I’m a Linux / AWS Engineer), he was ashamed, didn’t have a LinkedIn, and would tell people he was unemployed.
1: Those who do not use FB, and who make every effort not to be under their influence; and more importantly..
2: Those who do use FB and want to limit their exposure, along with the damage that have endured.
If there is a way to turn the second group into a lucrative business case, FB will make sure they have a piece. After all - throughout the history of the human race, few things have been more profitable than selling both the poison and the cure.[ß]
ß: Incidentally, we have already seen this, perhaps by accident, with the very same tobacco industry you made the comparison to. Tobacco industry sells addictive nicotine products. The pharmaceutical industry sells what they can to make money off of that addiction. Both industries are required to manage their wealth responsibly... and via an intermediary or three, own decent chunks of each other. The more money they individually leech off of their customers, the bigger the second bite is.
If you have not seen it, the BBC series "The Century of the Self" details the pre-history of these tendencies in the creation of the public relations industry by Freud's nephew Edward Bernays . It is truly fascinating and horrific -- all 4 or 5 hours of it!
Social media/big data has also made the consumer a (not fully willing or conscious) _producer_ of mass addiction, through the exploitation of their social graph data. There is a fictive "work contract": give me your data and we'll give you your buzz. This relationship is based on unwaged work. What if this work, the value of it to BigTech, were recognized? It leaves open the possibility of mass refusal. And in some sense how people use social media now is already composed of many types of refusal, some more and some less effective. To state one obvious way -- Facebook is used around the world as a tool for political organizing. The fact that this makes it an even more valuable commodity for repressive governments, starting with the US government, does not stop us from using it and finding it effective, does not stop us from getting together "in real life".
More needs to be said about the social basis of addiction. It's not only ad scientists pushing well-studied biological buttons. It's the trauma of living a society that locks up an insane number of people, puts its children on psychotropic drugs, poisons them with toxic environments and toxic fast food, separates poor children from their mothers, criminalizes their survival, abandons entire communities after natural disasters, bulldozes neighborhoods to make way for hi-rise condos no one can afford, etc. Or the even bigger trauma of living in a world that has the guns & money of this toxic society pointed at them, literally or potentially, every day, forcing migrations and threatening survival of entire populations.
All of these things come into play when we look at why virtual realities are more attractive than real ones, and lead us to have some sympathy for those who use them for networking with others and temporary escape.
If you have not seen it, I recommend reading some of Gabor Mate's work on addiction, for instance "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts".
 Interview with him: https://www.democracynow.org/2010/2/3/addiction
I'm not sure that what we have would be described as capitalism any more. If you buy FB stock, are they using that to build new machines that pay dividends over time?
You can make an analogy involving software, sure, but it really seems quite different to me. The way I think about it is this: if we all had amnesia and forgot that company XYZ existed, would it still have any value? Under traditional capitalism, yes, they would just need to advertise a bit and rebuild their customer base. But FB and google would be worth close to zero no matter how much software they have.
Infinite Jest is worth the read, it's funny but potent stuff. I'm still struck by the way it depicts the ultimate futility of addiction/pleasure-as-a-goal through the impact of the "Entertainment".
Google has been using AI techniques to optimise ad targeting for 15 years now, certainly since around the time they floated (I used to work there so I know this for sure). These techniques were very successful. Nothing the algorithms did was based around weird psychological hacks, it was mostly to do with NOT showing people irrelevant junk that wasted their time and attention.
You need AI at scale to stop these systems doing stuff like showing tampon ads to men, or video game ads to elderly women. But nobody sane would describe these outcomes as even remotely the same as "addiction", even though they increased click through rates a lot. To do so makes a mockery of people who suffer with actual addictions.
This sort of article in the Guardian presents vague handwaving that sounds superficially intellectual without actually being so. The goal is to whip up hysteria to justify some crusade against tech companies, when the actual problem is not addiction but rather people who actually quite enjoy social media but perhaps feel a pressure or expectation that they should be doing something else.
Will we transcend the instincts that got us here, or will we become perpetual slaves to a finely tuned techno-capitalist system we don't understand?
Information I have is dated (~10 years) - Facebook had 'top' psychologists team working to design product behaviour.
"Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose is a book by Deirdre Barrett published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2010. Barrett is a psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. The book argues that human instincts for food, sex, and territorial protection evolved for life on the savannah 10,000 years ago, not for today’s densely populated technological world. Our instincts have not had time to adapt to the rapid changes of modern life. The book takes its title from Nikolaas Tinbergen's concept in animal ethology of the supernormal stimulus, the phenomena by which insects, birds, and fish in his experiments could be lured by a dummy object which exaggerated one or more characteristic of the natural stimulus object such as giant brilliant blue plaster eggs which birds preferred to sit on in preference to their own. Barrett extends the concept to humans and outlines how supernormal stimuli are a driving force behind today’s most pressing problems, including modern warfare, obesity and other fitness problems, while also explaining the appeal of television, video games, and pornography as social outlets."
And also "The Pleasure Trap" from 2006 by Douglas Lisle and Alan Goldhamer, which is mainly about food but much the same idea. They say humans are adapted to eat a certain variety of nutritious foods. But modern industry has made it possible for businesses to sell large quantities of tasty but non-nutritious foods which people get used to. The foods destroy people's health over time in various ways by malnutrition from missing micronutrients and fiber which leads to cancer, heart disease, stroke, and so on. Getting back to enjoying healthy eating generally requires four to twelve weeks of suffering through "neuroadaptation" to appreciate the more subtle tastes of whole healthy foods. The book is summarized here in detail:
Here are some other related books emphasizing how children are being harmed by pervasive commercial media and what parents can do (all easier said than done) include:
* "The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online"
* "Reset Your Child's Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time"
* "Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids-and How to Break the Trance"
* "So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids"
* "The War Play Dilemma: What Every Parent And Teacher Needs to Know"
Or, as I summarize in my sig: "The biggest challenge of the 21st century is the irony of technologies of abundance in the hands of those still thinking in terms of scarcity."
If you can tear yourself from your phone for 3 Hours a day and work on career building projects, you should be able to get far ahead of others in your social circles who can't break the addiction.
You no longer have to wake up early to beat the world, just wake up and not Touch the phone!
B J Fogg, who gets brief mention in this article, teaches his students to cause behaviour by making the behaviour easy and then delivering timely triggers . If you find yourself behaving in ways you don't reflectively endorse, your basic approach should be to flip the Fogg model upside down – avoid triggers and make it harder.
In my own case, that's meant disabling notifications and blocking websites and apps. I also hacked a Chrome extension which applies the "avoid triggers and make it harder" idea to Gmail . The extension has several thousand users, many of whom reclaim 30-60 minutes of focussed work each week which would otherwise be lost to compulsive inbox processing.
This is much easier than complete abstinence, but breaks down the habit-forming link between trigger and instant gratification.
And just as you say, it's something I started doing after reading about training  and inverting the priciples
I really need to do that again.
So... agreed that the 'info detox' aspect is not bad, but I suspect that just doing an info detox in your 'regular life' wouldn't give you the same boost you experienced.
Regulation is the only solution, but that’s just tossing the ball to another team and hoping for a magic win.
Even should regulation manage to handle this - it’s only the first step between this and what worse comes next.
We’re moving directly to the worst options of mine control and people are only useful for the neurological reactions you can reliably induce in them.
I like to think that, but I have not-so-distant family who, after learning I would not join FaceBook just to help them with a problem they claimed was quite important to them but would be very responsive over plain old-fashioned email, haven't sent a single email.
Perhaps there’s a set of minimally laborious actions on our part, that re-trigger the growth of old habits and mental connections.
But now that I write that I’m worried someone is figuring out a model/way to do the opposite.
Any 'higher' purpose comes from within.
That said, metaphorically we're already in The Matrix. Humans were just fuel for the system. When I see so many over-weight/obese "consumers" I can't help but think how happy the system is to have them; how well they're fulfilling their role. VR glasses will simply close the loop.
Well, if we go with The Matrix, then these battery specimens so far have only been storing energy, not releasing it.. =)
Consuming (i.e., food, clothing,fuel,etc.) is the "energy" that drives The Matrix. Humans are mere consumers. That's how they're refered to. That's how we refer to ourselves.
The fact that we're choosing ro over-consume to the point of killing ourselves and killing to planet is about as dystopian as it gets.
Sadly VR goggles might be our only hope.
And no one even notice. So perhaps there's some 1984 going on as well?
If there was a tech equivalent of "don't get high on your own supply", that was it.