By Scott Hamilton
This week is going to be a little strange coming from a person who has focused on science and technology for a majority of his career. I am going to make an unexpected statement. Technology is dangerous and should be avoided, at least sometimes. There was a documentary recorded and still available on Netflix related to this topic, “The Social Dilemma”. In the documentary they interview the heads of several technology companies, primarily in the area of social media. The documentary talks about the psychological underpinnings and manipulation techniques utilized by social media companies to cause addiction.
The most interesting thing I heard about the documentary was the statement that there are only two industries in the world that refer to their customers as users, the illegal drug industry and the software industry. Is there something behind this commonality? “The Social Dilemma” strongly suggests that there is a strong connection. There are claims that social media and software is more addicting than cocaine.
Tristan Harris, former Google design ethicist and co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology explains the three main goals of technology companies as the following: the engagement goal, the growth goal, and the advertisement goal. He sums up the three to state that, “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.” So you might begin to wonder why this makes a difference to you. Let’s talk about each of these goals and the impacts they have on us as we use the technology.
The engagement goal is meant to increase usage by engaging the users, provided interesting and relevant content to keep the user scrolling. We have all been trapped at some point by what those in the industry call click-bait. You are casually browsing through your Facebook feed, catching up on what all your friends are posting when you come across as message like, “You won’t believe what a New Jersey couple found in the 1840s basement.” with and equally interesting picture to peak your interest. The next thing you know you hve clicked through ten or more pages of story line each page having a couple of ads, and wasted ten minutes of your day. Guess what, they reached their engagement goal.
The growth goal gets meet from everyone commenting on the click-bait, even if you comment, “Don’t waste you time reading this.” You contributed to triggering more people to see the bait. You see these hidden ads may not show up on someone’s wall until a friend has commented on the post. Suddenly all you friends get a notification that you commented on a story, and guess what, they all have to see what you had to say. Before you know it this click-bait has attracted millions of views.
The advertisement goal in the click-bait scenario happens automatically as the ads scattered throughout the story are tailored to the reader. Facebook has monitored everyone and using artificial intelligence knows exactly what products, games, downloads, articles, movies, books and television shows are of interest to you. This makes even their advertising interesting. Often times I have scrolled through Facebook and seen advertisements for things I was just talking about with a friend a few minutes before.
As to the addictive nature of technology, I have a challenge for my readers this week. Especially if you think it is impossible that you are addicted to technology. Pick an hour each day this week and challenge yourself not to touch any electronic device, no cell-phone, television, radio, computer, etc. You see the thing that none of us realize is that our technology has become the thing we turn too, when we have nothing else to do. We used to go outside, take a walk, talk to a friend, read a book, weed the garden, make a quilt, work a puzzle or just sit on the porch swing and enjoy the fresh air.
Most of us no longer take any personal time, doing something just for our selves that does not involve technology. We have lost our ability to self-entertain. We have also lost our ability to focus on our spirituality. Idle time is a thing of the past as we have all become addicted to the constant flow of information. Do yourself a favor and take the time to make a new habit of avoiding technology for at least some time everyday and reflect on your relationships with others. You see, if we are always being feed information from our technology we slowly lose the ability to think for ourselves and allow the technology to control us. Until next week stay safe and learn something new, preferably from a good old-fashioned book.
Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.