Distraction and advertising: how we are turned daft to make money for companies

The article above (and image) is from an article by Jean M. Twenge (image is by Jasu Hu). It’s about how smartphones and how youths are deeply into it in a new way fundamentally changes how they, and us older folks, communicate with each other and with ourselves. From the article:

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

Paul Lewis’s excellent article above, for The Guardian, where he has interviewed major decision-makers of Silicon Valley who have created technology which many of us use intrinsically every day of our lives, for example the thumbs-up icon on Facebook, and how they refuse to use those very features themselves, and why.

It all boils down to making us as addicted to their products as possible, and then furthering it by re-wiring our minds to their products; by making you decide between “thumbs up”, “wow”, “sad”, “angry” and nothing more, your brain actually stops making those wondrous jumps that it makes when forced into new rooms and scenarios; it’s like being bored. Remember how boredom forced you to make up new games when you were little, as the old suddenly felt…boring? Yep. That’s what we can easily do again at any moment.

When you’re not delving into stuff, not using nuance, when you won’t read a text because it’s too long (TL;DR), that’s when your mind is shut inside a compound. Check the proof.

Much like what Robert W. McChesney and Edward S. Herman/Noam Chomsky state, it’s not only in every capitalistic company’s best interest to sell you as much of their stuff as they’d like, but also to make you think that you cannot exist without it.

From Lewis’s article:

[Justin] Rosenstein, who also helped create Gchat during a stint at Google, and now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity, appears most concerned about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day.

There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing toward so-called “continuous partial attention”, severely limiting people’s ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ. One recent study showed that the mere presence of smartphones damages cognitive capacity – even when the device is turned off. “Everyone is distracted,” Rosenstein says. “All of the time.”

The following is a very interesting part of that article:

If the people who built these technologies are taking such radical steps to wean themselves free, can the rest of us reasonably be expected to exercise our free will?

Not according to Tristan Harris, a 33-year-old former Google employee turned vocal critic of the tech industry. “All of us are jacked into this system,” he says. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”


He explored how LinkedIn exploits a need for social reciprocity to widen its network; how YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether or not they want to keep watching; how Snapchat created its addictive Snapstreaks feature, encouraging near-constant communication between its mostly teenage users.

The techniques these companies use are not always generic: they can be algorithmically tailored to each person. An internal Facebook report leaked this year, for example, revealed that the company can identify when teens feel “insecure”, “worthless” and “need a confidence boost”. Such granular information, Harris adds, is “a perfect model of what buttons you can push in a particular person”.

Tech companies can exploit such vulnerabilities to keep people hooked; manipulating, for example, when people receive “likes” for their posts, ensuring they arrive when an individual is likely to feel vulnerable, or in need of approval, or maybe just bored. And the very same techniques can be sold to the highest bidder. “There’s no ethics,” he says. A company paying Facebook to use its levers of persuasion could be a car business targeting tailored advertisements to different types of users who want a new vehicle. Or it could be a Moscow-based troll farm seeking to turn voters in a swing county in Wisconsin.

In another part of the article:

The two inventors listed on Apple’s patent for “managing notification connections and displaying icon badges” are Justin Santamaria and Chris Marcellino.


All of it, he says, is reward-based behaviour that activates the brain’s dopamine pathways. He sometimes finds himself clicking on the red icons beside his apps “to make them go away”, but is conflicted about the ethics of exploiting people’s psychological vulnerabilities. “It is not inherently evil to bring people back to your product,” he says. “It’s capitalism.”

That, perhaps, is the problem. Roger McNamee, a venture capitalist who benefited from hugely profitable investments in Google and Facebook, has grown disenchanted with both companies, arguing that their early missions have been distorted by the fortunes they have been able to earn through advertising.


McNamee believes the companies he invested in should be subjected to greater regulation, including new anti-monopoly rules. In Washington, there is growing appetite, on both sides of the political divide, to rein in Silicon Valley. But McNamee worries the behemoths he helped build may already be too big to curtail. “The EU recently penalised Google $2.42bn for anti-monopoly violations, and Google’s shareholders just shrugged,” he says.

To quote Zack de la Rocha: take the power back! Control! Wean yourself off this shit, and keep what you want and need, but not what you want like a heroin addict, but take back your mind and your health. We all need Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Google like a shot in the back of the neck, but at times, you can use it to your advantage. And get some privacy tips before you go.

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