The Loop. How Technology Is Creating a World Without Choices and How to Fight Back 2/5
5/ Guidance Systems
Humans like the deception that they control their own lives and behaviours. [MK: specifically in a corporate setting it’s very important to create a certain corridor for one’s decision-making permissions so that a person feels empowered to the extent that it’s needed by the organisation.]
Poverty and hunger do affect mental abilities and human bodies in a big way. People are impaired by both states of existence so that they can’t focus on anything else; the deprivation consumes their whole mental energy.
People with and without material resources are experiencing distinct realities; their worlds are far apart. Hence, any self-help books asking for changes in perception (without changing the objective reality) are not helpful at all – human brains are disabled by the unmet needs.
Risk may become attractive (we all know the risks associated with smoking and those who smoke do it nonetheless). By the time such behaviour starts being deadly, the person has already reproduced, so there’s no adverse evolutionary selection of smokers vs non-smokers. The author makes an analogy of modern products being addictive like cigarettes. [MK: I wonder if the analogy of a second-hand smoker holds when describing someone being around a social media addict.]
It took 119 years to recognise that cigarette smoking is bad; how long will it take to figure out the long-term damage of the modern products also appealing to our sense of instant gratification? How can one single out a certain feature of a recommendation algorithm [insert your favourite social media service] that has messed with the head of a would-be terrorist? It’s much easier to identify the health effects of smoking than the behavioural effects of social media.
With addiction, it’s easy to blame the addicted person instead of the addictive nature of the drug and the environment facilitating and sometimes encouraging drug use; the same analogy can be applied to the social media addiction.
A self-serving bias: when something goes right – a person attributes this to their traits or behaviours; when it doesn’t – the environment and others are to blame. Depressed and anxious people have it the other way around, and it’s scary.
MK: Let’s not forget that humans were made optimists by the evolution: they tend to forget / suppress bad memories or reframe them in a way that it’s possible to live with them without being re-traumatised.
Intentional behaviour (choosing a car to buy, an example of a major decision) is shaped by a complex web of reasons, beliefs, and desires. Unintentional behaviour (a slip in judgement or forgetting something, etc.) is prone to the actor-observer asymmetry: one rationalises their own mistakes, but attributes others’ mistakes to their inner traits and character.
MK: the author later mentions a wonderful book by Robert Cialdini “Influence”, which I’ve read maybe 10 times since I was a teenager.
An example that hits close to home: ex-drinkers (same as ex-smokers) often feel the urge to drink when the environment resembles the one where they used to consume alcohol. Hence, avoidance is a working (not the only one, though) tactic. Humans are programmed to make shortcuts in decision making: make similar decisions in similar environments. It’s not rational decision making (i.e., System 1), but emotionally it is pleasing regardless of the social and health consequences.
MK: then the author for some reason uses the debunked part of the Prospect Theory stating that loss avoidance is stronger than benefits seeking (it’s not). It is true, though, that people avoid uncertainty at all costs, and this can be manipulated via proper framing of options.
Addiction (be it for social networks or gambling) is not about winning, it’s about spending time on the activity. Winning can be sometimes considered an unwelcome distraction.
MK: the book hasn’t said it yet, but it’s a very well-known fact that most mobile games rely on the so-called “whales” – the people who account for the majority of in-game revenues. The magic is figuring out who these people are (i.e., predict who can and will get addicted) and how to get them into the game and away from the competitors. Think about this the next time you download a mobile game with in-app purchases.
MK: there’s the special kind of software to figure out with a very high degree of certainty if a person can’t control their gambling behaviour at a given point in time. Me being cynical would guess that it’s less about the person’s wellbeing, but rather more about the negative PR effect and compliance mechanisms required to provide a flair of legitimacy to the gambling operation. (I’m a very strong opponent of gambling, by the way.)
Mobile apps have a huge advantage over in-person physical activities: they aren’t nearly as regulated as their offline counterparts as long as there’s no gambling for the real money. [MK: I’m taking a guess here, but I’m sure there have to be jurisdictions where even playing for the “funny money” is considered full-on gambling?]
Companies developing and selling addictive technologies and products engage in PR whitewashing claiming that there are two major groups of people: those who can control their behaviours (playing offensive with their mental responses) and the gullible others. It’s pleasing (but factually incorrect) to think of oneself belonging to the first category.