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

Tristan Harris, Medium, Jan 05, 2017
Commentary by Stephen Downes

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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