How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

Tristan Harris, Medium, Jan 05, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes
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This title of this post should be "How to use technology to hijack people's minds." There's nothing inherently technological in these methods; they've flourished for thousands of years (as the reference to magicians should tell us). Here are the tricks (paraphrased with some quotation and links added):



  • disempowering by design - if you control the menu, you control the choices

  • intermittent variable rewards - you immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing

  • fear of missing out -  it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important

  • manipulation of social approval - I imagine him making a conscious choice to tag me but I don’t see how Facebook orchestrated his doing that in the first place

  • manipulation of social reciprocity - creating social obligations for each other (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill)

  • bottomless bowls - to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore

  • maximizing interruptions - to heighten the feeling of urgency and social reciprocity

  • bundling your needs with theirs - make the thing customers want (milk, pharmacy) inseparable from what the business wants

  • nudging - make choice inconvenient to focus on one outcome or another

  • foot in the door - asking for a small innocuous request to begin with and escalate from there


Originally published in the Observer last June.

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