Angelic Paranoia

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How tech hijacked our brains
Sunday 5th November 2017 8:39 pm

I read an article in The Week last week with this title, from a longer version in The Guardian that I couldn't be bothered to look up. The gist of it was that the tech companies have (inadvertently) made their products addictive. People who worked on or created these things talked about the steps they've needed to take to wean them off it.

What got me was right at the beginning, talking about Justin Rosenstein, who created the Facebook like button:

He was particularly aware of Facebook "likes", which he describes as "bright dings of pseudo-pleasure" that can be as hollow as they are seductive.

The reason it got me is because I have no idea how Facebook tells you that someone liked your post. I had entirely forgotten Facebook has a like button. This is mainly because although I have a Facebook account I last posted it to it nearly two years ago and I don't remember the last time I read it (except to go to a specific page).

The article does point out that Twitter, Instagram and other apps also have like buttons. Which I also mostly forget exist, even though I use them. This is partly because they're mostly for following comedians, as far as I'm concerned and since I have a protected Twitter account I don't interact with them. Sometimes I remember it exists for something that's particularly funny. And at some point I might see a notification when someone likes something of mine, but I wouldn't say that it gives me "pseudo-pleasure" even without the ding.

Another part of the article says:

YouTube and Netflix autoplay videos and next episodes, depriving users of a choice about whether or not they want to keep watching

Which is interesting because YouTube automatically playing the next episode in its not entirely logical list made me close the app/browser, until I discovered you can turn it off. Having been pre-warned about Netflix's autoplaying, the first thing I did when I got it was to turn it off. If I have an hour free and sit down to watch an episode, the last thing I want it to do is to start a new one. Although I feel like that's academic given that I always stop at the beginning of the credits, so as far as autoplay is concerned I've never finished an episode.

The other thing was about "pull to refresh" on mobiles:

In an era of push notification technology, apps can automatically without being nudged by the user. [...] it appears to serve a psychological function: after all, slot machines would be far less addictive if gambler didn't get to pull the lever themselves.

I think I've used that feature once: because the app told me there were new posts, so I refreshed to see them. Otherwise, as far as I was concerned it was just a replacement of the F5 key because mobiles don't have keyboards. I could live without it - you could just close the app and re-open it. Whereas I have only found one browser (which you can't get any more) that allows you to use gestures for paging up and down, and home and end. Which I would say were essential.

It seems like all this addictive stuff only applies if you interact with something a lot - or read such a ridiculous number of feeds that you'll never get through them. Which I feel like is actually not the vast majority of people. Or is it just that I use technology in a different way to most people - after all, I don't have a smartphone and don't need or want one.


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