Two decades ago, a doctoral student at Stanford named B. J. Fogg predicted with frightening accuracy a world where human behavior would be controlled by machines. Checking our phones 150 times a day, are we sure thoughts are our own and not products of carefully planned propaganda by the creators of these applications?
This addiction is not an accidental evolution. It is structurally embedded into a world where a click suffices practically all our demands. This dependency draws its strength from the standard psychological formulation of incentives and rewards. Users seek quick rewards and find it frustrating to engage in challenging activities, thereby the creators of an application simply nullify the difficulty. A game like Candy Crush is strategized on this formulation, but what if the world we live in is as well?
Applications are made as interactive as possible for its users and cater to their every need. However, the absolute ingenuity arises when the creators bestow the user with a sense of control. When a post on social media receives many likes or comments, the individual is often empowered with a false sense of productivity or happiness. Fogg phrased this phenomenon as captology, a dimension where computers act as persuasive technologies and influence the way an individual very essentially thinks.
The social media addiction
Human beings by their inherent nature enjoy belonging to a larger community as opposed to individualism. It is these same communities that the individuals then seek validation from.
Social media is a carefully painted world where the right picture is taken at the right time, though users develop an emotional attachment to it in search of validity.
For example, a significant number of young women today attach their validity to the number of likes or followers they have, which affects their happiness. This behavior often sadly resorts to women, objectifying themselves to garner more followers or likes.
A significant number of young women today attach their validity to the number of likes they have, which affects their happiness
Sites such as Facebook that help connect provide you with social validation and the newsfeed can be personally designed. However, this newsfeed is carefully filtered to make it addictive (with memes or interesting videos), which also includes third parties and promotions.
Tristan Harris argues that digital technology is diminishing the human capacity for making free choices. He goes on to say: “Whoever controls the menu, controls the choice.”
The question does arise for multibillion giants such as Google, whether it is ethical for a certain group of individuals to hold power over the choices made by millions of its users.
Whoever controls the menu,
controls the choice
The power of the internet is such that it can quench nearly all your desires and it is near impossible to not take a part in it. From buying cheap plane tickets to communicating across the world, we are dependent on the web and its controllers.
Is the world becoming a gigantic space of incentives and rewards? Are our decisions truly our own?
Unfortunately, the only certainty that does remain is the difficulty we would face in leaving this trance like world.