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As someone who works in tech, I like the analogy of a DoS attack. The root of the issue is attention capitalism. Our attention is essentially a resource being exploited for profit. In that scenario, we're effectivley no longer in control of our own free will as long as someone else can profit by controlling it. On an individual scale, we can give it relatively benign labels like "distraction". But when you look at it from macro scale it's effectively a DDoS attack on our free will perpetrated by all of the companies trying to get a slice of the pie of our attention.



Attention as well as free will is a scarce resource on a personal level. I used to seriously question why anyone would buy almost identical Apple devices year-after-year; where-as I'd spend at least a day researching which Android devices were available. The truth is that it's a bloody phone. I was expending all my free will on trivialities and wasn't making choices that actually matter.

I think this problem is more complex than just the media. In general, people are spending their attention and free will on broad spectrum of useless junk. Media, especially Netflix ("what do I do with my free time?"), is definitely a major offender - my point is that it's not the only one.

The modern world has wound up being an attack on free will, malevolent or not. It's exponentially easier to make a choice from a menu of 5 items vs. a menu of 50. There seems to be a biological limit on our ability to choose and the modern world has far exceeded that.


* I'd spend at least a day researching which Android devices were available. The truth is that it's a bloody phone. I was expending all my free will on trivialities and wasn't making choices that actually matter.*

Given the everyday utility of a phone, a bad choice comes with significant economic costs of wasted time and frustration stemming from poor performance/reliability. If you don't already have a preference (eg based on trying the preferred device of a trusted friend) then it's entirely rational to spend some time researching your options, up to some significant portion of the cost you expected to save by picking an android over an iphone.

I'm into synthesizers and if you think people nerd out on phones you'll probably be horrified at the energy and passion spent debating the merits of machines that produce subtly different kinds of bleep bloop noises. I don't spend as much time on that any more, and have also simplified and slimmed down my synth choices to a smallish number of devices I really like, but I don't consider the prior time wasted; it was only through that extensive and intensive knowledge-gathering that I was able to make those aesthetically optimal choices for my own music-making pleasure. It's harder to be simple than it is to be complex. Simplicity is easy to imitate, but imitators aren't usually innovators.

I do agree with your larger point about the undesirability of a surfeit of economic choice. If all you wanted was a phone that worked and you could afford it, there's nothing wrong with just getting whatever is widely hailed as the best one out there. I know nothing about cars and care less, so if I have to get a car I'd probably just get a Honda Civic due to its reputation for low-maintenance reliability. But I understand why people who enjoy driving or have some other reason to care have strong preferences about different vehicles.


You make good points. I've been in IT now 20 years, and while I need a phone to text and make calls, I do nothing else with it. I'm thinking of ditching my iPhone for a flip phone.

I served in the military years ago. Just one tour. I got out with good memories but also some ideas. For example, I have standardized on Levi's 501 jeans, button down shirts of the same brand, and desert boots. I wear this daily. I don't have to think about what I wear. All my clothes fit as I expect, all the time. This frees me up to think about what matters--my family and job.

I made a comment further down about freewill you might find interesting, as freewill is now going to cost those of us who care about it.


Of all the people I know, us IT folk seem to be the most adverse to interruptions and/or needless complexity, caring most about the things that matter - this is strange considering that we are most responsible for these problems. People have stared at me blankly enough for me to realize that I shouldn't bring up the social evils of Facebook in general conversation, yet my IT friends are happy to talk about the subject to death.

> I'm thinking of ditching my iPhone for a flip phone.

I still don't think I could do without a smartphone. I have practically all notifications muted, but you need apps for too many things (most notably: Lyft to stay responsible).


> I'm thinking of ditching my iPhone for a flip phone.

That reminds me of my college days back in 2011 when I decided to go for a flip phone instead of a smartphone. Most of my friends thought I was peculiar for my insisting I use one and to do this day I still have that same flip phone, but not in use; just as a memento... sort of.

At the time, I wasn't really thinking about how my attention was a valuable resource or that most smartphone apps were major distractions. I just simply didn't like how inundated with features smartphones were. I always thought my laptop as my primary place of "getting-work-done" and my gaming laptop for entertainment (i.e. helluva lot of StarCraft II) and to have a phone that competed with that, but far worse, never sat well with me.

Looking back, I'm glad I did that and wish I could continue with a phone that could only text/call.

edit: Formatting


> I'm thinking of ditching my iPhone for a flip phone

If you are in any longstanding 100% iMessage group chats you will be silently excluded from them if you switch away from iPhone. Disabling iMessage will have no effect on those chats.


"The root of the issue is ... capitalism"

FTFY. The structural issues mentioned in the original article are inherent in a free market economy. Democratic deployment of capital and technology would change the dynamic substantially.

An alternate approach would be to have substantial regulation on speech by companies (aka advertising and propaganda), but even this would require major changes driven by the democratic process, e.g a U.S. constitutional amendment.


So you're saying to fix the problem of you voluntarily surrendering your free will to distractions brought to you by profit-seeking entities, we need to take free will out of the equation by introducing a system where resources would be centrally allocated and there would be no free will involved in what is offered for you and what you could consume, thus no distractions - you always read the content that the People's Democratic Central Party Committee decided you should read, and nothing but that is produced, because what't the point in producing it if nobody would read it anyway?

I guess this is one way to solve it - if you have no free will or free time outside of People's Democratic Central Party Committee directives, you certainly couldn't spend it on Facebook and Buzzfeed. North Korea probably doesn't have any issues with distractions. I heard they solved the obesity problem too, by similar means.


"voluntarily surrendering your free will to distractions brought to you by profit-seeking entities"

That's one way to describe an "industry [that] employs some of the smartest people, thousands of Ph.D. designers, statisticians, engineers [that] go to work every day to get us to do this one thing, to undermine our willpower." From the article.

"People's Democratic Central Party Committee" Nice straw-man that conflates democratic socialism with authoritarian one-party rule.

There is an entire world of alternative possibilities out there for economic and governance systems. Don't throw the socialist baby out with the Soviet bathwater.


> go to work every day to get us to do this one thing, to undermine our willpower

That's ominously sounding bullshit. You decide what to do with your willpower, and if you don't like the consequences, it's your fault, not some nefarious engineers. If you don't like facebook, don't go there. If you don't like particular site, don't go there, of if you absolutely can't control yourself, install one of a thousand programs that let you block specific sites, and block that site. It's completely within your control. It's your responsibility to do it, to control your own actions and to bear the consequences.

You just don't want to bother - you want the Central Committee to take over, so whatever happens if not your responsibility but theirs. It is an extremely infantile approach.

> Nice straw-man that conflates democratic socialism with authoritarian one-party rule.

OK, let it be People's Democratic Central Multi-Party Committee is that makes you feel better. The point is not how the committee is called, the point is that it would decide how resources are allocated, thus eliminating the whole pesky free will issue.

> Don't throw the socialist baby out with the Soviet bathwater.

Somehow socialist babies have been always surrounded by Soviet bathwaters, sooner or later. If one were empirically inclined, one would be tempted to conclude that there is some strong relation between the two. But of course one shouldn't forget that True Socialism (TM) has never been tried.


What do you do then when millions of others fail to take that responsibility? Do we have a responsibility to build a system that encourages people to take responsibility for themselves and others or that eliminates means by which some are led to act irresponsibly?

Take drug addiction as an example. Sure, we can tell addicts 'well you shouldn't have done drugs' or 'just quit' to an addict. Do we then ignore those who have engineered a system to get people hooked? Many health experts point to the over-prescription of opiate painkillers led in part by a medical industry hoping to maximize profits. All the while their dependence creates negative externalities to others in society through crime and poor decision-making.

At the end of the day rationality is an abstraction of actual human behavior. We can make decisions that are 'rational' in a neo-liberal economic sense, but that we ultimately regret. When profit rules all else, businesses will exploit this discrepancy.


> That's ominously sounding bullshit. You decide what to do with your willpower, and if you don't like the consequences, it's your fault, not some nefarious engineers.

This is simply a fallacy. You can’t decide to switch off selective psychological mechanisms in your brain.

Facebook, Snapchat etc. are weaponizing and exploiting these against us/humanity in ways similar to Vegas casinos.

It is easy to not drive to Vegas, enter a casino and engage in a psychological loop designed to hack my brain.

It is not so easy to escape the all-permeating tentacles of social media and its finely tuned intermittent rewards etc. mechanisms.

Given that willpower is a limited cognitive resource, your proposition is not realistic.


What? It's incredibly easy to avoid social media. If that's the kind of hardship our generation is facing, we're doing pretty good.


Not sure where to go from here. You clearly don't believe that such a thing as structural inequality exists. Without an acknowledgement of the massive power imbalance between mass media corporations on the one hand and the citizenry on the other, there's no possible discussion here.


> You clearly don't believe that such a thing as structural inequality exists

I have no idea what the thing you call "structural inequality" is, so I can't say whether I believe it exists or not. It could be you call by this term some well-established phenomenon, and then I'd agree it exists, or it could be that you call some imaginary bugaboo like engineers taking your free will with their evil algorithms, and then, absent any empirical evidence of its existence, I do not believe in it. Hard to say without understanding the term.

> Without an acknowledgement of the massive power imbalance between mass media corporations on the one hand and the citizenry on the other, there's no possible discussion here.

I certainly see discussion going on right here, so it is possible, but if you mean by that "without you accepting my point as an axiom without proof, I am not ready to continue because my winning is not guaranteed and I have no means to prove my claims" then I agree that continuing the discussion in this situation is not the best move for you. If, however, you are ready to prove your points, you are welcome to do it anytime you like. Free will, you see :)

As far as I can see, there's no "massive power imbalance", on the contrary - the press is often criticized for catering for the basest instincts of the masses and being too easily swayed by a short-term fads and frivolities of the public. Scandal-of-the-day, however minor and vapid, often supplants more deep and important topics. If this criticism is true - and I believe evidence suggests to a large measure it is - then the public is the one to hold the power. If nobody wants to click on clickbait, if nobody comes to your site to view and click on the ads, if nobody reads whatever content you are providing - where is your power? What is your power? You can publish anything and nobody would even know about it, and pretty soon you couldn't publish anything because your servers will be shut down for the lack of payment.

I would say if we can see anything, it is that media corporations are too timid, foolish and cowardly to do anything but what the lowest common denominator demands from them. Clicks and ad impressions are kings, and who makes those clicks? The citizenry does. Nobody stands with the gun to your head and demands you to click or visit certain site. You decide it on your own power. If you don't like the result - maybe time to think what you can change?


for all your effort to type those words - you forget that people had to be forced to wear seat belts even though their very lives hang in the balance.


Since this is HN I will make an effort to not just make a sharp one liner.

The best version of the OP’s arguing is for individual ability and choice, and the ability of a person to make a difference of their own volition.

This is a fundamentally important right because without it, we are all automatons.

The issue is that in many cases we humans make bad choices, on a truly unimaginable scale.

This is also very much a part of being human - good choices exist only if bad choices exists.

The issue is that sometimes we can agree that people will consistently make poor choices, for a variety of forgiveable reasons.

While we could conceivably go after each individual, explain and educate them in precisely the way required to convince them that they should wear seat belts - it’s is often practically impossible to do so.

Which is why we introduce laws and regulations. All cars must have seat belts - and you must wear them.

Because as a species we are able to make meta cognitive calls or simply- decisions about decisions.

As a species we don’t want our people dying, for something as trivial as not wearing a seat belt.

It causes families to lose parents, parents to lose children - often because they were just at the wrong place and time.

Getting people to wear seat belts causes large scale good, over an individuals choice to put themselves and others at risk.


This kind of attitude from your parent commenter is extremely common, it is an artifact of ideology and the working of technological rationality into the consciousness. While the parent commenter probably believes he or she lives in a post-ideological world in which rationality has been obtained and found to be forever placed somewhere between right and left, a compromise of two extremes in which domination cannot be acknowledged because as Marx put it, Bentham reins, J.S Mill makes a strange comeback in the denial of structural effects and seeing totality. The kind of ignorance or blindness to the totality of society is well captured by P.W Bridman quoted by Marcuse:

>"We evidently know what we mean by length if we can tell what the length of any and every object is, and for the physicist nothing more is required. To find the length of an object, we have to perform certain physical operations. The concept of length is therefore fixed when the operations by which length is measured are fixed: that is, the concept of length involves as much and nothing more than the set of operations by which length is determined. In general, we mean by any concept nothing more than a set of operations; the concept is synonymous with the corresponding set of operations."

>Bridgman has seen the wide implications of this mode of thought for the society at large:

"To adopt the operational point of view involves much more than a mere restriction of the sense in which we understand 'concept,' but means a far-reaching change in all our habits of thought, in that we shall no longer permit ourselves to use as tools in our thinking concepts of which we cannot give an adequate account in terms of operations."


> There is an entire world of alternative possibilities out there for economic and governance systems.

Yeah, and in some way or another, every single one of them seem to end in a bloody dictatorship.

Thanks, but no thanks, please keep your "alternative possibilities" to yourself.


Did they? European social democratic countries (Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germnay), Britain (e.g. the NHS), Costa Rica, Mondragon Spain, etc.

Lots of workers' blood was spilled to ensure the capitalist systems we see in the US and other countries, too. All sides in the history of politics and economic systems are bloody-handed monsters.

It might, just might, be possible to learn from history and not repeat prior mistakes. I sure hope so.


None of these countries implement control over the press you propose. None of them even comes close to "Democratic deployment of capital and technology" - if I understand correctly, by this you mean both allocation of capital and permission to create and use certain type of technology is controlled by government, which is elected democratically (though how you could ensure that it is elected democratically given that it controls all the technology is a mystery to me, but let's say we found the magic way to do it). None of these countries - even one with large amount of governmental redistribution - do it. There's still a huge difference between having unemployment insurance or government-sponsored housing for the poor and government taking over all capital and technology. Like between milking the cow and butchering and barbecuing the cow.


All of those have the same political and economic systems as the US. With minor customizations, but they're all capitalist democracies, with varying levels of government regulation and control.

The world has never been in a better place, and has never improved as fast as in the last 60 years. If that's your argument to try something different, your argument doesn't make any sense.

> It might, just might, be possible to learn from history and not repeat prior mistakes. I sure hope so.

Indeed, let's not try to implement socialism again. Every single time, over dozens of times, it resulted in bloody dictatorships. Let's learn from history and not repeat prior mistakes.


>Every single time, over dozens of times, it resulted in bloody dictatorships.

It is very much worth studying why this has happened and what kind of methods can be used to avert it. Not only is Marxism-Leninism not the only form of Socialist praxis (neither is Marxism the only Socialist theory for that matter), but it's unwise to dismiss "failures" for the reason that they were authoritarian. Allende, Sankara's Burkina Faso, the Paris Commune, revolutionary Catalonia, and most recently Rojava are examples of the Socialist project experiencing some faults but not nearly as uncharitably as you are painting them here.


> Not only is Marxism-Leninism not the only form of Socialist praxis (neither is Marxism the only Socialist theory for that matter), but it's unwise to dismiss "failures" for the reason that they were authoritarian.

I'm dismissing failures because every single time it ended in bloody dictatorships, but no, This Time It Will Be Different®.

No, it won't. Funny how you talk about learning with the failures of history, but you keep insisting in trying again a system that again and again has proven itself to be horrible.

And again, that's when the world has been the best that it has ever been. In 60 years, extreme poverty went from ~60% to <10% of the global population because of free trade and globalization. Free trade was the largest income distribution process in history, shifting value from developed countries to developing countries.

Sure, there is still a lot to be done, but the current system has worked miracles. It can be improved, but proposing a dramatic change to a system that ALWAYS results in bloody dictatorships makes no sense.

Keep your disastrous social and economic experiments to yourself. Socialism has done harm enough.


>but no, This Time It Will Be Different®.

Why do you think strawman thought-terminating cliches are an acceptable level of discourse? At best they serve to be distracting and needlessly hostile.

>but you keep insisting in trying again a system that again and again has proven itself to be horrible.

Not really; have you heard of Badiou's concept of the Communist Hypothesis? His argument is that Socialism, well, Communism has existed as an Idea for centuries, it is always the force to break down the "present state of things", it is the first element of society, the subversive one, to oppose the action of the State. To dismiss thirty years of research into Communism, creating branches such as anarchist Communism, communalism, feminist anarchism, Socialist technocracy and others with faux-empiricism is a little heavy handed in my view.

As for your support of the wonders of capitalism, neither I, nor Marx, Engels or any contemporary Communist denies its push to reduce poverty.

>shifting value from developed countries to developing countries.

"Shifting value" is a very strange way of saying that developing countries are being systematically exploited due to the low cost of labour because they have almost no training.

>but the current system has worked miracles

So did the feudal system, and in fact so did the Soviet system (which I do not by any means support).

>It can be improved

So can Socialism.

>but proposing a dramatic change to a system that ALWAYS results in bloody dictatorships makes no sense.

Capitalism itself was extremely dramatic, it came "soaked from head to toe in blood" as Marx put it. In fact, he dedicates two chapters of his magnum opus to detailing the bloody history of capitalism and the laws passed in Western Europe that allowed it to flourish.


> Why do you think strawman thought-terminating cliches are an acceptable level of discourse? At best they serve to be distracting and needlessly hostile.

But that's the essence of your argument. You are proposing to try again something that 100% of the times led to bloody dictatorships, claiming that this time it will be different due to some vague, hand-wavy reason.

> "Shifting value" is a very strange way of saying that developing countries are being systematically exploited due to the low cost of labour because they have almost no training.

Yeah, millions being moved out of poverty is the same as "exploited".

> So did the feudal system, and in fact so did the Soviet system (which I do not by any means support).

No. Unless one of those systems did something like removing 50% of the world population from extreme poverty in half a century. Neither did. Not only that, the Soviet system purposefully murdered millions. And the key word here is "purposefully". Every system results in deaths, the Soviet (and all socialists) fall into a special category where death is part of the governing process. See Holodomor. Killing Fields. Etc.

> So can Socialism.

I'll say "maybe" to give you the benefit of the doubt, but do we need to kill millions again to find out based on your "hunch"? No, thank you very much.

> as Marx put it

And you keep citing Marx as if he is a reasonable source, that puzzles me. He's long dead, just as his economic theories. Keep them dead.


The criticism is that it leads to "bloody dictatorships", not necessarily that authoritarian systems are bad. Before the 20th century there were many authoritarian systems (empires and monarchies) that oversaw some of the best governed periods of human history.

I'm sure you believe if you controlled a country, you would do a much better job and not make the same mistakes that lead to a bloody dictatorship and worse outcomes for the poor. Excuse us if most of the rest here don't believe that.


So sure, there are a few benevolent dictators here and there... but what's the ratio of benevolent to malevolent dictators/authoritarians? Is there such a a stat?


Do you count Kings as dictators? I don't really (the middle eastern monarchies have weathered the chaos in the region, if Kings were no different from dictators you would expect at least some of them to fall too...) but there is of course such a thing as a 'bad king'. I recalled this simplified analysis of Polish monarchs: https://archive.is/QEY1n tldr 250 out of 835 years of bad monarchs, or a 30% failure ratio by time. 18 individual monarchs out of 48, or a 37.5% failure rate by person. Very few 20th century dictatorships have even survived into the 21st century.

I've seen similar ratings for Roman emperors as well but confess I don't remember the details, I wouldn't be surprised if someone has further compiled information to address exactly this question for other European lines of monarchs, the various Chinese dynasties, Japan's weird history, etc. (https://archive.is/I42xd is a good reminder of the excesses, no form of government is innocent.)


The issue is that free will cannot be exercised under certain circumstances because for-profit have found a hack to shutdown it. Sure completely surrendering it is disproportionate, but for me it would be more akin to banning certain toxic substances in food, like too much sugar cause addiction and health problems so consumers lose their ability to make an informed choice. Here we would simply ban certain practices in media.


> The issue is that free will cannot be exercised under certain circumstances because for-profit have found a hack to shutdown it.

No they did not. You don't go to Twitter/Facebook because your free will has been "shut down". You do it because you like it. If you don't want to do it, it is very easy to stop. You won't have excruciating pain and debilitating disease if you don't read what she did next, you heart won't stop and your brain won't shut down if you don't learn one weird trick to burn body fat and make all people of your preferred gender to fall in love with you forever. Literally nothing would happen. You decide whether to do it or not. If you decide to do it, it's ok - it is your time, your life, if you want to spend a little bit of it reading about one weird trick or looking at funny cats, who am I to say no? Go for it. But please stop blaming somebody else for your decision to do it. You have free will. Embrace it.


People have tried the "Well, so stop doing it then" approach to fixing addiction. It doesn't work so well. Self-control is not infinite, and is context-dependent. I can ignore cravings when it comes to dessert, but I do feel a compulsive need to read up on everything about my latest hobby. Our brain is hard wired to be addicted to new/novel/stimulating. Naturally, different things are stimulating to different people. Programmers fall prey to this all the time. We waste countless hours tinkering with the latest shiny tech toy while our hobby projects collect dust. We click on articles detailing what we already know about the latest apple gadget, because we already read the 20 articles detailing the "leaks".

Click-bait is a real thing. It triggers a deep psychological need, varying from "let me read this article and comment on how wrong everyone is" to "this is psychological porn that completely agrees with how I feel". Companies whose business model is based on keeping your attention have gotten really good at keeping your attention. Its a form of break-down of free will. Like getting a whiff of the good stuff, when you really should know better to avoid it. Its not really that hard to understand, and I'm sure you understand it already. Whats unexplained is why you chose to blame the victim when there is an entire industry dedicated to setting up the trap.


> You have free will

What justifies your certainty here? If history proves anything, it’s that people are eminently manipulable. That’s no surprise: we’re biological machines at the endpoint of eons of evolution. We’re not gods. Of course we can be hacked.


> If history proves anything, it’s that people are eminently manipulable.

Did you write this comment on your own free will or was manipulated into it by an invisible puppet master? If the latter, what would be the point of me trying to convince you of anything - you can't be convinced, since your actions are not sourced in you, but in the will of your puppetmaster! However, somehow you and me are discussing things. By that you prove that you, too, believe in free will - otherwise there would be no point in you discussing anything, after all you are controlled by your puppetmaster, and I am controlled by mine, so what's the point in us puppets exchanging words, if nothing can be ever changed by our will?

The only point of having discussions, views, principles, debates, ideas, politics - is f you have free will. Otherwise this whole thing has no meaning.

> Of course we can be hacked.

Surely. There is lots of ways to subjugate other's will - by violent force, by trickery, by fraud, by lies, we have no shortage of ways developed over thousands of years to do it. That however does not deny the premise there's something to be forced, or tricked, or deceived - and thus also something that can be free from force or deception. You can be deceived, but you can also resist the deception. You will not always win, but you'll never win if you surrender in advance.


If a person (a) has the freedom to act as they will and (b) understands what is in their own best interests, why would they act in a way that is contrary to those interests? When someone says, I really want to stop spending all day on Facebook, but I find it difficult, what do they mean? Where is the difficulty? They aren't confused about what they want. You might say they "like it" too much to stop, but what is liking something in that way if it isn't a constraint on free will.

Besides which, psychology and neurology tell us that most of the time we haven't a clue what our underlying motivations are[0]. We do not have the ability to introspect our unconscious motivations, but that doesn't mean they are immune to external influence and manipulation.

[0]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introspection_illusion#Unrel...


Firstly most people here have been pulled by a puppet master. You too are pulled by those same strings, you just are taking the N' position to the position taken by the commenters here.

But a lot of the things people are saying here are the culmination of many other actions which have been repeated over the past many years and are finally coming to a head.

secondly - you continually make an error of generalization.

Yes, one single particular individual may be able to exercise free will. But Most dont even know that their will is being attacked.

Its not like these are telegraphed villains with evil laughs saying "I'm going to take your freedom".

This is candy crush, with its intentionally neutral and happy pictures. Its facebook, with its memmories and your friends.

WHY would anyone stop that?

Sure, someone in this thread, who is a techie and has read the past 2 months of tech news, may have an idea of what to defend.

In that very narrow, individual scenario - yes, he has a choice.

Yours is the craftsmans argument, in a world which has just seen the advent of the assembly line. Certain individuals may well craft their own will.

Those few are considered flaws in the system, and the system itself constantly focuses on those people they CAN get, and who are NOT aware, or have the wherewithal or lack the interest in stopping it.

Hell, people don't want to wear helmets when they ride motorcycles; we couldnt get people to waste less water when they shower, and instead there was an active movement to deny climate change.

Programs which never sleep, eat, and cost tiny amounts of money to execute. So even if you never log in, they just lie in wait.

The armies arrayed against an individual are far greater than what a normal person can hope to deal with - unless they drop everything and focus on beating it.

And why would a normal person do that? SO that he can keep free will? Most people would give up their free will if it would guarantee that their kids have a future, that they get food, and shelter.


Can people be manipulated, or tricked to do things that they would, when sound of mind, otherwise choose not to do?

Let's just assume you answer "yes" (because to answer "no" would be unimaginably absurd)... lets also imagine that billions of dollars are up for grabs to the people/companies who can manipulate/trick sound of mind people better than anyone else... What would that world look like?

Well, we're living in it.


Another stunning victory over the evil straw man that haunts out discussions.


I have no idea why so many people choose to give any government more and more power. This is similar to a cultural nuclear weapon. Maybe it will work in the right persons's hands for an agent of good, but really, over the course of time, is limiting what people can hear going to be a good thing for them? How can you tune your personal BS meter, if you never hear any BS? Who watches the watcher?

There is no singular policy that will solve global, complex problems. Sometimes capitalism isn't the answer, sometimes it is. Sometimes regulations are the clear answer, sometimes not.


Given free hand, corporations can be just as dangerous as governments. I don't know why you would trust corporations more, since their only goal is to make money.


>just as dangerous as governments

Corporations don't have nukes or concentration camps.


The Black Hole of Calcutta is a widely known example of what can only be considered a corporate concentration camp of the (at the time privately owned) British East India Company...


That is a bad example indeed. The event of the Black Hole of Calcutta, where soldiers were rounded into a tiny dungeon which few survived, was perpetrated against British soldiers working for the East India Company by the governor of Bengal, Siraj ud-Daulah.


They could easily get them if we didn't prevent them from doing so.


Corporations have nuclear power plants that can be just as dangerous. Corporations can feed the masses miss-information, that may lead to destabilisation of a society by making them vote for the wrong person.


Corporations build unsave factories that kill 1000s when collapsing (see Bangladesh). Corporations will add addictive substances to food and sigaretes you increase sales, in the process killing millions.


I agree. The danger isn't simply "Big Government" or "Big <Whatever> Corp.". It's the concentration of power, whether by private or public entities. Private entities will abuse/buy/influence any power structure that happens to exist, to server their interests.


At least with a corporation you understand their goal completely.


Not really, unless you can listen to every meeting or conversation and read every document.


> is limiting what people can hear going to be a good thing for them?

I mean we currently have the exact opposite problem. We can definitively answer that people hearing everything and anything is quantifiably a bad thing for a good-sized portion of the population.

See here[1] and here[2] for some quick examples.

>Who watches the watcher?

Transparency is not antithetical or exclusive to any system that allows information to be properly editorialized. Dystopian hypotheticals kind of fall flat on their face when we have practical problems that run completely counter to some far off totalitarian future.

The worst part about the media landscape for me is not the massive maze of crap you have to wade through, it's that there's enough people willing to lend credence to some part(s) of that maze of crap. It can often remove any hope of a reasonable foundation for a conversation on whatever topic.

I think the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle[3] applies well to this topic.

>The amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it.

The current U.S. political landscape is a perfect example of this. We have people buying into certain political mythologies (either outright lies or just plain conspiracy theories, in regards to certain political factions and general policies) with no factual basis and it's wasting what is essentially valuable political capital at an alarming rate. And disappointingly, the actual conspiracies we do have evidence for are disregarded by the very same population that seems to be completely incapable of discerning and analyzing information (or misinformation) in general, across any field. Say, I don't know, climate change.

[1]: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1065912917721061

[2]: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.2331/epdf

[3]: https://www.slideshare.net/ziobrando/bulshit-asymmetry-princ...


The baffling conceit here is that people in government are angels and people in business are evil. They’re still people, with all the same motivations.


No it isn't. It's the more prosaic observation that governments are more accountable by procedural mechanisms than privately owned firms. How well those mechanisms work is subject to wide variance; nobody believes that North Korea actually operates in a democratic fashion,. but there are many countries that self-evidently do. The concept of a constitutional republic (as opposed to all of its real world implementations) is one of maximizing the citizenry's ability to participate in the decisions that affect them.

Most corporations not only function but are structured as autocracies, in which junior employees have no rights over their conditions of employment other than departure.


The most level headed statement instead of immediately going with some Libertarian thought terminating cliche and it's being downvoted.


I'd be lonely without my downvoting groupies :-)


This has to be one of the most heavily-couched calls for Marxism I've seen all week.

"Democratic deployment" will still suffer from well-applied demagoguery, the people themselves are still prone to manipulation - even when their choices are abstracted away in a command economy.


Did I deliberately avoid the M-word? Maybe.

A solid counter to demagoguery is economic justice and education that encourages critical thinking. People are much less prone to be swayed by that sort of thing when their health, shelter, and food are not at risk.


"People are much less prone to be swayed by that sort of thing when their health, shelter, and food are not at risk."

You seem to have disproved your own thesis, then, since there aren't that many people who have their health, shelter, or food directly affected by this race for the attention economy. (Yes, I said "aren't that many" and not "zero", but it's still not that many.)

What basis do you have for believing a centralized government with the definition of all morality and power adhering within it wouldn't simply turn the full force of this engineering on its citizens? After all, isn't it just that important for us to use these tools to maintain proper consciousness? If you don't believe that, don't you think the leadership will? And don't we actually have historical (USSR, to the extent it was technologically possible) and modern regimes (China, do an internet search on "china citizen score") doing just that right now? Before walking down that trail, you ought to make very, very, very sure it leads where you think it does, because several hundred million people who have walked it before you have discovered it doesn't.


there aren't that many people who have their health, shelter, or food directly affected by this race for the attention economy

That seems highly questionable to me. Large numbers of people in retail and service industries disrupted or threatened by technological change are arguably impacted by it.


Tone: Honest. How does attention economy abuse impact people in retail and service especially?

(I get that the internet at large is impacting them immensely, and the list of such people and professions hardly stops there, but I don't immediately see the connection between them and attention abuse specifically.)


I'm probably casting ym net a bit too wide, so as to encompass all non-specialist internet-driven retail. Amazon uses these techniques a lot, I feel, albeit in a more subtle way. But I agree that's outside the scope of the original article's journalistic focus.


I believe concentration of power and the lack of transparency is what causes the problems in both systems. A "centralized" government that works for the people is possible, as long as we avoid those things. Make the democratic process as direct as possible, don't create any positions of great power. Have all decision-making be completely transparent, so the little power that people have, they are unable to abuse without getting caught. If no one has a lot of power (be it in the form of political power, or money), no one has the power to control people.


Should I read this as "solid counter to socialist propaganda is actually building socialism"? If so, I wholeheartedly agree. As somebody who actually lived under socialism (until it collapsed), I am inoculated against it forever. However, I think this is way too cruel punishment for a weak souls swayed by a false promise of socialist demagoguery about "justice" and "education" and inevitably finding themselves in abject poverty, monumental totalitarian tyranny and thorough thought-control likes of which had never been seen by humanity before. I'd recommend learning from other's mistakes instead, unfortunately 20th century has enough material for that.


Hey, I just wanted to thank you for articulating some of the thoughts I've had more eloquently than I can or have time to do. It's good to see HN not just sounding like an echo chamber and seeing someone speak up against socialism/communist sentiments commonly expressed here.


Is it really all that common? HN often feels like a techno-utopian libertarian echo chamber to me.

Maybe if we both feel this way, it's actually a balanced group? Or maybe it just comes in waves depending on the topic.


The foundation of Marxism is public ownership, not a centralized command economy. Other approaches exist, eg participatory economics.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Participatory_economics


One can argue that public ownership necessitates central planning in practice.

My cursory searches have failed to find a sovereign state that has successfully implemented parecon. Feel free to cite a counterexample.


One can argue anything, but so what? I don't think anyone has even tried implementing ParEcon so far, as it's a relatively new approach and has some problems of its own. My point is that central planning is not the desideratum of the left that some people here are claiming to be.


>require major changes driven by the democratic process

Marxists tell people what's best for everyone; they don't do what people want.


Funny, I would say the same thing about advertisers.


Yes but no one claimed advertising was 'driven by a democratic process'. Marxists keep telling people what they want, and of course lying to them, even as the bodies are piling up. At the centenary of Russian Revolution, with 50 million dead, it's hard to believe one can still see hammer and sickles around the place. Yet one can.


That's exactly why the democratic process part is so important. Without the peaceful exercise of power via democracy, all that's left is violence, and nobody in their right mind wants that.


Why would you want democracy when by definition The Party speaks for all Workers?


Except advertisers won't put you in gulag if you don't buy their product.


Don't give Oracle any ideas.


This is precisely correct. I think the replies to you are missing a very central point (speaking as if the accusation of advocating Marxian Communism was a serious charge, too). Perhaps the important authors about the relationship between media and capitalism are the Frankfurt School, in particular Herbert Marcuse's works. I'm reading his book One-Dimensional Man at the moment.

He's advocating exactly what you are: democratic deployment of technology. How this relates to media is very interesting, and the idea that these problems exist merely quantitatively different in a possible Socialist society is a fundamental lack of imagination for qualitative change.

The other people replying to you forget a key component of history - that rationality is not fixed. Technology has the capability to change what humans consider rational, rationality is a process, a movement in which different societies have different views. The current rationality of late capitalism is what Marcuse terms technological rationality. That is, the rationality of production. This kind of rationality is the production for the sake of production, for the sake of profit. After all, what is more rational than developing machinery, streamlining it, making it more efficient, increasing the role of mechanization in society? Hardly anyone would disagree that these are wonderful advancements - however with them, they have brought rationality of production which pervades society everywhere. This rationality is actually irrational, but few see this. Advertising, planned obsolescence, extreme marketing, the working of the market into the education systems are all simply parts of the production process. Just more costs.

Artwork is affected by technological rationality. The old pieces of art often had an alienating component, that is to say, they displayed a clear break from the state of things, and a hope for a different kind of future, the outcast, the mastermind thief, the unemployed person, etc. all fulfilled a role that was outside of the system of rationality, acting against it; even when these roles were not glorified, they existed as an opposition to the system. Marcuse notes that in modern artwork, this notion has largely disappeared; the villains and outcasts are no longer outcasts, they are within the system but in the bottom rungs, and their opposition cannot be seen as clever, but it is only misguided. Their opposition to the bourgeois system from within is always shown as a false opposition, a threat to our notions of freedom conferred by technological rationality.

When you hear Bach, Freud, Marx etc. in the supermarket, he is stripped of his alienating or any kind of critical dimension. An element of his truth has been taken away by the new consideration in the light of technological rationality, reduced and sublimated into the totality.

Socialism, what you are advocating, carries with it a very different set of rationality in which man is liberated from the freedom of being a free economic subject, free from the bounded freedom of the welfare state. The welfare state, which many proponents of "soft capitasm" advocate is another form of repression of the individual, but in different forms. It is administered living, the restriction and control of the free time made available by technological advancement and control over the intelligence necessary to comprehend self-determination.

When we advocate Socialism, we do not mean a central party committee deciding what to read, we mean the liberation of people from the restrictions of the new rationality which insists in its own mode of living through our leisure time, our work time, our sexual enjoyment and artistic pursuit.


Good grief, man, stop brainwashing yourself!


The root of the issue is human greed


> In that scenario, we're effectively no longer in control of our own free will as long as someone else can profit by controlling it.

This is a self contradiction. You always have the choice to turn off or tune out the distractions and focus your attention on more important things (which is the essence of free will). That people don't feel like doing that is a psychological problem not a problem with capitalism or profit seeking.


This is wrong because it looks exactly one layer deep and ignores the greater complexity.

Of course the answer to a DOS is to not accept the incoming requests. It's tricky to distinguish between the malicious requests and the legitimate ones, and doing so doesn't cost nothing. One way to break the defense of a DOS is to DOS the system that does the sorting.

Further, The "requests", in this case bids for our attention, exist on a spectrum from "legit" to "malicious"-- or more precisely "information I will endorse having gotten in long-term retrospect" to "information I will have wished I had no gotten in long term retrospect." So we're already fucked, because you can't even make that determination in a meaningful sense.

When do you eventually settle on a filter that is an approximation of the above, you'll find that it's trivial to DOS that filter too since we're made of meat and exist in a low trust environment.

You can live in the woods or whatever, but since you're posting on HN, I assume you haven't chosen that. And you can look at the other posts in this threads for examples of just how intrusive and unavoidable the bid for attention actually are.

And all this is only the first layer of complexity: the difficulty/impossibility of individually choosing to "free will" your way of this issue. The next layer is that we're not even talking about individuals. We're talking about Capitalism, by which I mean we're talking about systemic issues.

That's a whole different can of worms, but the headline is: in response to global, systemic issues if you find yourself saying a variation of "it's simple! humans just need to be different/better," then you're doing it wrong. You're missing most of the relevant dimensions, so you will not solve the problem, nor is your voice likely to be particularly helpful in the discussion about potential solutions.


I never denied it was complex, I denied that it was an attack on free will which is impossible. I think it is a real psychological problem and I think blaming capitalism or the "the system" or "the man", etc. are themselves rationalizations and misdirection that prey on people susceptible to suggestion or manipulation, i.e. emotionalism, to advance political agendas.


That raises interesting questions -- how much free will does an addict have? Are those who exploit an addiction for profit complicit in that addiction?


>Are those who exploit an addiction for profit complicit in that addiction?

When it comes to drug law, precedent would show that they are far more culpable than the user/addict.


Behind every addict there's usually an enabler in some form. Sometimes there's a nasty feedback loop. Of course that doesn't negate human agency or its importance, however it makes for a convenient excuse. Agency seems unevenly distributed, but it also seems to vary within a single individual depending on what sorts of things they face and what excuses they have to avoid exercising it. Humans have a wide range of adaptations. In the modern world where even the very poor can live better than the wealthiest in olden times, exercising much agency isn't that important.


In London there are adverts on the steps I walk up on the underground. The busker spots are "sponsored". It's like the Clockwork Orange "aversion therapy" in terms of making you watch. I'm very aware of what the media is doing but it has to get through on some level. Much of advertising is telling you that you are incomplete and product x will complete you / cement friendships etc. Of course that is crap, but even just being told the first part has to have an effect.


First company that integrates something like Google glasses and adblock gets my money.



The sentiment sounds like a good idea, but a nitpick. Google glass is not "mixed reality" or whatever the best term is. It's just a small display you can glance over to. It covers/integrates with nothing.


Exactly. If you can't consciously choose to turn off your phone and go read a book, you never had anything that remotely resembles free will.


There is a spectrum.

If you want to guess the outcome of a coin toss, no strings attached, you're completely free to choose heads or tails.

But a lot of bright minds are working very hard to convince you to pick up that phone and not the book. You're being told to pick tails by a man with a gun, offered a reward if you do and pain if you don't.

Perhaps this man is quieter for you, or maybe you have never let him in. But he is very real for a lot of people.


> You're being told to pick tails by a man with a gun

No, you are not. A man brandishing a gun and telling you do do something is threatening to kill you. Nobody at instafacetweet is going to kill you for ignoring their products or limiting your usage.

What we're dealing with isn't an armed strongman, but a clown. The clown really wants your attention and has a lot of tricks up his sleeve to get it, but regardless of the difficulty, ignoring him is not dangerous.


That's easy to say. But what if family, friends and work are so tied up with your phone that doing so would hurt too much? Sure, you can change your work and friends, and cut off your family, but that's hard.


It can be hard. It may be less painful to do it slowly and gradually over time rather than some sudden pronouncement.

To some degree, any time anyone says they "can't" do something like this, they are saying they don't want it bad enough. I have done a lot of rearranging of my life to get things to work in a satisfactory fashion. This includes but is not limited to changing my relationship to how I use my phone. I used to be a big phone person. I now do most stuff online. After a long time of doing very little with my phone, I am slowly doing more with it these days.

But there is also this: If your family, friends and work all are basically making you crazy, they would probably do so even if phones did not exist. So, this might be an indicator of deeper problems.

Or it might be an indicator that you aren't being driven as crazy as other people, so it just isn't really that important to you.


For most, I think there are easy ways to massively reduce time spent on their phone without an adverse effect on career or relations otherwise, but that's predicated on a want to. Besides, I see plenty of people who are on their phone all the time, yet their life is almost void of physical interaction with others. I think it's very common to overestimate the importance of being "on", and even more common to think it has a positive effect on their lives.


I challenge you to cross London without seeing or sensing an advert or artificial call to buy something. Mind the gap and the buses with your blind fold on. Don't forget your nose plugs.

It's true, you could do it but would it be a life?


I would go further and say the root of the issue is adversarial markets. Essentially our markets allow me to manipulate you to do what I want, since our laws are default allow.

But this doesn't need to be the case, we already deny certain things that historically have been terrible for commerce. Like intentionally misleading weights and measures. We know that if you don't legislate and regulate businesses will change their weights to short change people.

But is there any qualitative difference between selling 0.9kg of corn as 1kg. And brainwashing people (and the volume of advertising, product placement, forum shilling is brainwashing). Brainwashing people that some suger water will make them more popular. In my mind there is not, markets work because aggregate decision making gives us good choices. When it works even bad decision makers are lifted up since the average good decisions have already killed off all the companies with bad offers.

But in our phishing for phools economy we mostly have successful manipulators to deal with and huge quantities of free hyper-stimulus to lead us there. We will not be free of this without legislation. The powerful must be banned from spending on marketing. That's it, we cannot have effective market based economics when google and facebook can find all your secrets and set an AI to convince you to act in their interests. And that's coming sooner than I'd like.

I would personally go further and say that everyone should be banned from marketing & product discovery should be nationalized (trip advisor, amazon reviews are trying to solve a problem that is trivial for government).


Seems to me the only answer is web decentralization plus improving peoples skills for critical thinking and problem-solving communication.


Would a technical solution (web decentralization) really be necessary if a political solution (adequate regulations) was available for these issues?


I am very dubious that could happen, for two reasons.

One that the big centalizers have too much political influence, at least in the US, and let's not forget places like China and Russia where the governments to control the web.

But even if you passed some strong regulations, the centralizers would likely keep coming up with new innovations that would break the spirit of the laws.




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