Tech, phones, capitalism, dopamine
November 29, 2016 6:19 PM   Subscribe

“The world is turning into this giant Skinner box for the self, The experience that is being designed for in banking or health care is the same as in Candy Crush. It’s about looping people into these flows of incentive and reward. Your coffee at Starbucks, your education software, your credit card, the meds you need for your diabetes. Every consumer interface is becoming like a slot machine.”
posted by latkes (39 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Came automatically to metafilter immediately upon opening my computer, expecting to be informed and entertained. Was not disappointed.
posted by sy at 6:41 PM on November 29, 2016 [27 favorites]


i feel this way about seeking funding for graduate schools.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:44 PM on November 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Metafilter: Put hot triggers in the path of motivated people.
posted by pernoctalian at 7:03 PM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Was not disappointed.

Thus suggesting Metafilter is not a Skinner box, since like slot machines those mostly leave you disappointed with individual results.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:05 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: The human brain releases pleasurable, habit-forming chemicals in response to social interactions, even to mere simulacra of them, and the hottest triggers are other people

There's a whole field called user experience that this article doesn't seem to know exists. and that fact makes it hard to pay attention to the rest of it.

Menus used by billions of people are designed by a small group of men, aged between 25 and 35, who studied computer science and live in San Francisco. “What’s the moral operating system running in their head?” Harris asks. “Are they thinking about their ethical responsibility? Do they even have the time to think about it?”

Maybe this is true of some things but it's like saying 30-year-old male primary care docs are the only way to get antidepressants and nutritional advice. Well sure yeah you can get those things from primary care docs but you're erasing giant swaths of people with their own professions, genders, ages, regions. I mean... why do that?
posted by bleep at 7:08 PM on November 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


What I am interested in is the "Hippocratic Oath" question, or more specifically, what some proposed answers to it are.

Because all joking aside, I have absolutely caught myself going into Skinner box loops waiting for this community weblog to hit me with some sweet content, or a reply to a comment I've made. And, I doubt that that was an intentional design goal on this site.

So, you end up in the world of casinos or alcohol producers. You make/provide that for most people who enjoy it, is just good fun. But how do you avoid hurting the people who have a problem?

The best that I can come up with is honesty, maybe augmented by some public education type messages. But has anyone ever changed their drinking habits in response to a "please enjoy responsibly" message?

When your Nintendo reminds you that there is a world outside, do you ever log off?
posted by sparklemotion at 8:25 PM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Related: Do Public Service Announcements Work?
posted by mecran01 at 8:28 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ah, another reason to be unremittantly cranky and angry at everything! Because when I see someone that's supposed to trigger "chemicals in my brain," the only thing that goes through my head is "Hey! They think I'm happy now! I guess it'd be impolite to point out it DIDNT FUCKING WORK."

This brain-chemical thing is the dumbest in a long long line of stupid. Ubiquitous branding! Push notifications! Web portals! BRAAAAAIN CHEMICALS!
posted by JHarris at 8:54 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


This brain-chemical thing is the dumbest in a long long line of stupid. Ubiquitous branding! Push notifications! Web portals! BRAAAAAIN CHEMICALS!

[channeling Jules Winnfield] Yeah, but, you are aware that there's an organ called a brain, and in this organ there are chemicals, right?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:04 PM on November 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Well, whatever buttons they're trying to push with their gamification tactics, it isn't working for me. Maybe I don't have brain chemicals after all. Maybe I just have a dried out sac up there, like a big ol' shriveled bean.
posted by JHarris at 9:37 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I let my large intestine do all my thinking nowadays.
posted by um at 10:17 PM on November 29, 2016


Well, that was horribly depressing.
posted by corb at 10:26 PM on November 29, 2016


Well, whatever buttons they're trying to push with their gamification tactics, it isn't working for me.

It seems that whatever Metafilter is doing with the buttons and chemicals is working pretty well.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:54 PM on November 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


sparklemotion > When your Nintendo reminds you that there is a world outside, do you ever log off?

There's nothing like seeing one's reflection in the darkness of a loading screen to remind one that they've been sitting motionless playing this stupid damn video game for how many hours now? and maybe should get up and do something that actually makes one feel happy and accomplished instead of the fake accomplishments in a video game. Or at least for me.

These days I never see that any more. My screen is a projector lighting up white paper on the wall rather than a bunch of glowing elements behind glass, which becomes a mirror when it's mostly black.
posted by egypturnash at 11:44 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Step one of the JHarris free will illusion complete.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:59 PM on November 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


It seems that whatever Metafilter is doing with the buttons and chemicals is working pretty well.

Favorite added![!]
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:17 AM on November 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


Menus used by billions of people are designed by a small group of men, aged between 25 and 35, who studied computer science and live in San Francisco.

Yeah, no, they're not. The business end, where design decisions are made, is a lot more egalitarian these days. It's not too uncommon for business teams to even have more women than men, at least in all the companies I've worked at. Business expresses need and works with technical teams to write up specs, and that's when the young'uns come in as coders/programmers. Once the solution's coded, and ideally been unit tested, functional quality assurance / testing comes in to check that the solution works as specified. Business testing can take place before or after functional testing; it's better after so that if any bugs are found, it can be cross-checked with the functional tests (did functional testers miss a spec item? or did the business team find an issue that wasn't part of the specs?). Then, if it's a really good place, actual user testing happens. Anyway there are a few different iterations possible and various mashups of iterations and also cheap implementations where it's only tech doing everything, but the latter is increasingly rare nowadays.

Also, San Francisco? While I realize Silicon Valley is a major hub, the rest of the world also exists.

All that said, it's only a minor hitch in his thesis. Without a doubt, the psychology of persuasion is part of design. A lot of it isn't very sophisticated psychology, either.
posted by fraula at 2:03 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


the meds you need for your diabetes

how? i couldn't find any details in the link. i am pretty damn tired of injections (not diabetes, but still). i'd love some way to make that rewarding.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:50 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


It’s about looping people into these flows of incentive and reward. [...] the meds you need for your diabetes

I guess the incentive for taking your diabetes meds is "they keep you alive" and the reward is "you don't die", but I'm not sure this is in the same league as a Starbucks coffee. You are not hooked into calculating and injecting the correct insulin dose as some sort of scam by "the man" to keep you addicted.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:15 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Menus used by billions of people are designed by a small group of men, aged between 25 and 35, who studied computer science and live in San Francisco.

UX is a mostly-female field, in my experience. When it's present at all.

What I am interested in is the "Hippocratic Oath" question, or more specifically, what some proposed answers to it are.

Well "do no harm" is probably impossible when building something that may be used by hundreds or thousands of people. Maybe utilitarianism is the way to go.

But that's often going to conflict with the client's goals. In situations where a company's goals are heavily disaligned with the common good, we traditionally fall back on legislation. But that's a blunt instrument to crack a psychological nut.
posted by Leon at 4:26 AM on November 30, 2016


Reading this article makes me feel like I've seen the man behind the curtain. It felt very timely. For [reasons], I've been off Facebook for nearly 2 weeks now and don't miss it one bit. In fact its absence feels a lot like freedom. But there are still some residual issues.

Leaving FB revealed just how much revolved around it. How it provided something akin to a framework to hang the day on. I hated realizing that I'd given up so much of my autonomy to it.

Now instead of scrolling through FB to kill time, or start my day, or whatever, I have to think, and choose something else. That's the adjustment that I am still making. But I've never once considered returning to FB to "fix" any of it. I hope I can maintain that resolve.

Friends who gave up TV awhile back said a similar thing. When you stop engaging with trigger devices or objects or substances or people, there's a subsequent disconnection, an untethered-ness, that feels... wrong. You sorta founder. You don't miss [thing], you miss that with [thing], you didn't have to worry about managing your boredom or feelings. That discomfort is what sends you back.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:49 AM on November 30, 2016 [22 favorites]


All I know is that I have been clicking this goddamn button all day and I STILL haven't gotten a food pellet!
posted by briank at 5:06 AM on November 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


Too much passive voice in this article. As if we didn't have an economic system that requires there to be specific people to own and direct all of this.
posted by eustatic at 5:56 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Those who design this technology think that they somehow remain immune to it. The joke is that it's our own lives we're striving to ruin.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:02 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Fortunately, I'm too clever to fall for the chemical hit of commenting on MetaFilter!
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:39 AM on November 30, 2016


...dammit
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:39 AM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


Those who design this technology think that they somehow remain immune to it. The joke is that it's our own lives we're striving to ruin.

Well that's the rub with capitalism, right? It's going to get ruined, you just get to strive for where you are on the income ladder when it happens.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 6:40 AM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


It seems that whatever Metafilter is doing with the buttons and chemicals is working pretty well.

The c. 1999-2000 web was hitting a lot of sweet spots for me, too, before the business assholes showed up in force.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:59 AM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


The c. 1999-2000 web was hitting a lot of sweet spots for me, too, before the business assholes showed up in force.

Web 2.0 Fckrs
posted by leotrotsky at 7:18 AM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


Those who design this technology think that they somehow remain immune to it. The joke is that it's our own lives we're striving to ruin.

...but for a beautiful moment in time we created a lot of value for shareholders.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:20 AM on November 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


Well that's the rub with capitalism, right? It's going to get ruined, you just get to strive for where you are on the income ladder when it happens.

You end up with a high score but living like a rat in a maze. The winners of the rat race are, in the end, still rats.
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:23 AM on November 30, 2016


Question for folks in the know: Is it accurate that women make up half or more of the UX and 'business' (not sure exactly what that means but I think I get the general idea) side of what we broadly call 'tech'?

Even if that's the case, isn't there still a great mismatch between the ethnic makeup of tech companies staffing and the general population? And isn't both engineering and upper management still dominated by white men (with perhaps a smattering of white women and South Asian men)? Or does my sense of demographics from reading about the biggest companies, like Facebook and Google, fail to reflect the industry as a whole?
posted by latkes at 7:30 AM on November 30, 2016


A strange game. The only winning move is...

Well, you know.
posted by Celsius1414 at 7:45 AM on November 30, 2016


Well, it's not as if we haven't always operated by these systems - brains have worked like this for a long time, right? OK, here's a new manifestation, defined by a new technology and interaction modes. Isn't the real question about systems that produce "good" results given the decision making tools we've evolved with?
posted by emmet at 11:28 AM on November 30, 2016


The Binge Breaker: Tristan Harris believes Silicon Valley is addicting us to our phones. He’s determined to make it stop.

While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites engineered to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” “You could say that it’s my responsibility” to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.” In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.
posted by joedan at 1:45 PM on November 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


You know what? Even though Vegas has all these designers trying to hook people on gaming machines and the internet has vastly increased the opportunity people have to gamble, gambling addiction rates are steady, not rising as you'd expect.

I wrote a bit about this here though the editor did cut the section about prevalence of gambling disorders not increasing, it seems.

Anyway, point is that this is complicated and thankfully, it's harder than this makes it sound to actually get people permanently addicted to anything.
posted by Maias at 3:13 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Well yes, I will reply to the above--

It's not that I claim to be immune to these kinds of things. It's that, after a lifetime playing video games and such, I think what might be the case is is that I've built up a tolerance to them.

I don't get any little thrill from a character gaining a level. My characters have gained thousands of levels. I don't really care so much if I've earned an "achievement." I've beaten NES Athena for crying out loud, nothing you can throw at me is likely to be harder than that.

As a result, when someone tells me something like "Yaay, you've gained a level!", or pops up a slot machine, or uses sparkly visuals and sound effects, it sounds like they're pandering to me.

My ultimate point is: there is no associative mechanism you can use to try to encourage human behavior that we cannot get used to and come to loathe. We jolly well can learn to recognize when you're trying to play us, and we will resent you for it.
posted by JHarris at 6:47 PM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Even though Vegas has all these designers trying to hook people on gaming machines and the internet has vastly increased the opportunity people have to gamble, gambling addiction rates are steady, not rising as you'd expect.

That's interesting. So there is not an increase in the number of users of these machines, but is there any data on whether these new gaming machines are successfully extracting more money from their base of users? I guess the idea in this article is that the design of the new gambling machines is being exported much more widely, outside of the gambling industry, so it would be interesting to know if those techniques actually work for their intended purpose.
posted by latkes at 9:10 AM on December 1, 2016


JHarris, as a game designer who studied motivational mechanics, I wish I shared your optimism that humans by and large will recognize when they are being manipulated by them. Designers and other people who think critically about them are probably in the minority, and while it's true that exposure over time likely reduces their efficacy, there's always a new audience coming down the pipe, and always new methods being developed.

Also, it's basically impossible to think about the times when we are manipulated and don't recognize it. I'm sure it happens to me frequently.
posted by Durhey at 11:09 AM on December 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


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