Digital Narcotics

Increasingly over the last few months, I've caught myself scrolling through my facebook newsfeed for periods of time and not even remembering what I had just been looking at. Just a blank. 

I didn't even remember getting there. I blacked out - through just a little bit of code and psychology. 

So, last week I went through the parental controls on my phone. I deleted the twitter app. I said goodbye to LinkedIn. I put Facebook on the chopping block. I feel a little embarrassed that it's taken me this long. 

It was reported by The Globe and Mail, though disputed by Instagram, that "it's common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding "likes" from certain users", which to me, sounds a lot like manipulation. 

Recently, Sean Parker said that Facebook is a "social validation feedback loop" that exploits "a vulnerability in human psychology." What would we call that?

The Verge reported that "Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works"

It begs the question of where the line of responsibility is when you're designing and optimizing something to be engaging. In areas like game development and social networking, where things are more open-ended, it's most difficult to judge. A single mantra, like a "more open and connected world" may be naively shallow. 

I read somewhere (probably on social media) that in Silicon Valley, "engagement" is a euphemism for addiction. There's probably a lot of truth in that.

To me, it might be a question of intentions. Is someone trying to get you to do something that is against your own well being? There's a lot more questions we're only now beginning to ask. Applying critical thinking skills to new concepts and situations where we have incomplete information is surprisingly hard.

I'm still going to use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn when I want to - primarily on my laptop - but for now I'm trying removing myself from the layers that are most manipulative. Any addiction is hard to break - even when it's just a little bit of code and psychology.