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Why creators of popular technologies refuse to use them

Фото: Depositphotos

Justin Rosenstein blocked on his laptop reddit, retired from the snapchat, which he compares with heroin, and set himself limits on the use of Facebook. In August, the 34-year-old top manager of an IT company bought a new iPhone and asked the assistant to activate the parental control option on it, which prevents the owner from installing applications on the phone. He strictly monitors his likes, which he describes as “bright flashes of pseudo-pleasure,” as empty as addictive. Article The Guardian translates the edition “Нож".

Rosenstein knows what he is talking about - after all, he invented Like

Ten years ago, a young developer Facebook I stayed late until nightfall, creating a prototype of a button, which I myself called “the class button”. Today it belongs to a small but rapidly growing community of heretics of Silicon Valley who complain about the rise of “attention economy” - a phenomenon when the Internet is shaped based on the needs of the advertising industry.

Rosenstein’s like-minded people include several top executives, mostly designers, developers, project managers and other specialists who built the digital world brick by brick, which they are now trying to destroy. “People constantly create something of the best intentions, and then it turns out that they created a monster,” Rosenstein says. He left out Facebook and Google, his small company is now engaged in increasing the productivity of office workers. The main subject of concern for the author Like was the psychological impact of technology on people who snap and tap on the screens of their phones on average 2617 once a day. In addition to the habituation itself, the technology causes a condition that has received the name "long partial attention." This phenomenon dramatically reduces the ability to concentrate and impairs cognitive function.

Как has shown one recent study, a smartphone located nearby, dulls the owner even when turned off

But these effects look like little things compared to the global trend: Brexit and Donald Trump's victory demonstrate that information technology has a huge (and unpredictable) influence on politics. If earlier it was fashionable to welcome the role of instant messengers and social networks in progressive revolutions against tyranny, now it has become clear: this is a mechanism that works in both directions. What led to the democratization of one country could undermine democracy in another.

Фото: Depositphotos

In 2007, Rosenstein belonged to a small group of people who decided to add positives to Facebook, giving people the opportunity to put likes. This feature has changed everything. Coverage of the social network has grown many times, the company received a simple mechanism for collecting data on user preferences for sale to advertisers, and all others have copied its innovation.

In 2009, Lea Perlman, then the project manager of the social network, wrote a post in a corporate blog, in which the like button was announced. Now she is 35, she works as an illustrator and is also unhappy with likes (and his equally addictive counterparts). A plug-in is installed in her computer, which throws away the excess from her tape. Perlman herself tries to spend as little time as possible on her Facebook: a specially hired person is sitting there for her.

Opponents like to send their children to elite schools in Silicon Valley, in which smartphones, tablets and laptops are prohibited. Need more examples? Steve Jobs in 2010 said that his children never used an ipad. Chris Anderson, former chief editor Wired and the founder of the company for the production of drones, imposed strict restrictions on the use of all gadgets in the house, because "among the first to face the danger of technology." None of his five children were allowed to use devices with a screen in his room. Evan Williams, Founder Twitter, Medium and Blogger, I bought hundreds of books for my sons, but refused to give them a tablet.

The New York Times journalist compared the principles of these technocrats with the credo of a successful drug dealer: never sit down on your own crap

39-year-old Nir Eyal is the author of the book On the Hook. How to develop addictive products. ” IT programmers, designers and entrepreneurs pay 1700 dollars per course Habit summitin which he teaches how to manipulate consumers so that they interact with your website or application for as long as possible.

He claims that technology has become for users, if not a drug, then at least an obsession. Clicking the notification has become a reflex. Going into a social network or on YouTube for a few minutes, a person imperceptibly spends an hour scrolling and clicking. There is no chance, everything happens because that is exactly what the developers and designers conceived. Eyal explains how the reward system is built (variation of rewards in order to create desire) and negative emotions are exploited (construction of triggers).

“The feeling of boredom, loneliness, confusion or indecision often causes irritation in us, which, in turn, provokes a spontaneous automatic reaction, aimed at ensuring that this feeling is gone,” he says.

Visitors Habit summit In April of this year, they were certainly surprised when they heard from Eyal that this time the keynote speech will be “a little bit about something else”. From the rostrum, he talked about how technology manipulation can be harmful or immoral, and urged his listeners not to abuse the methods they learn about in the course. At the end of the speech, the lecturer shared his personal experience of confronting technologies: he himself uses the extension DF YouTube for Chromethat cleans up a lot of tricky pieces, and the app Pocket Points rewarding user for the time spent without a phone. To protect his family, Eyal set a timer that turns off the Internet every day.

Фото: Depositphotos

“The idea is that we are not powerless. We are in control, ”he says.

But is it?

If even people who develop technologies take such radical steps to get rid of them, can others restrict themselves to training their own willpower?

Tristan Harris thinks not. 33-year-old ex-employee Googlewho has undergone rehabilitation from digital addiction, has earned the title “Silicon Valley Conscience” from journalists for his public appearances against the industry.

“We are all stuck in this network, and it can steal our minds. We think every time we make a free choice, but this is not the case, ”says Harris. Billions of people using information technology are deprived of choice and knowledge - they cannot abandon telephones and computers, and no one tells them about the tricks with which a handful of Silicon Valley residents direct the course of their lives.

At Stanford, Harris was BJ Fogg's research supervisor, a behavioral psychologist, a "persuasive design" master. Many of his students, including Nira Eyal, have become popular and highly paid specialists in IT companies. Harris became an apostate and righteous.

“I don’t know a more important problem that requires urgent intervention than this,” he says. “It changes democracy, changes our ability to communicate, changes our relations.” Before he sounded the alarm in public, Harris tried to change the system from the inside for three years at headquarters. Google.

Фото: Depositphotos

It all started in 2013 with a small document, which he, then the project manager, wrote and sent to ten colleagues: “On the need to minimize distraction and respect the user's attention”. The letter became viral inside the company, 5000 employees read it, and the author was promoted. The title was called beautiful and impressive: a philosopher of products and design ethics. Now the former food philosopher understands that in fact the increase was the marginalization of his status. Suspended from working on specific things, he read how LinkedIn uses the psychological need of a person to respond to the initiative of another in order to expand the network; as YouTube and Netflix switched to autoplay of the next video, depriving the viewer of a choice whether he wants to look further or not; as Snapchat introduced an addictive function Snapstreaks, stimulating continuous communication between teenagers.

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These functions are not always universal, they can adapt to a specific user. For example, the internal report leaked to the Network Facebook showed that the company can determine when teenagers feel "unprotected", "worthless" and "need to increase self-esteem."

In other words, they know which buttons to push in the soul of a person. And this knowledge and skills are sold to those who pay more.

Advertiser paying Facebook for promotion, the seller of sweets can become - or a black PR man manipulating public opinion in favor of his unscrupulous client. Harris is sure that people from the IT sector would not have brewed this mess with an addictive design if they didn’t have a request from the advertising industry, a request to form a brand advantage in the struggle for the buyer's attention.

An example of addictive design from an employee Facebook: when developing notifications (about new likes, comments, adding to friends), they were made blue, in the style of the social network, modest and unobtrusive. But no one clicked on them. Then they were made red, and - voila! - everyone clicks.

The red icon with the number of notifications is now everywhere, almost every application in the smartphone beckons: click on me! Red color is a hazard trigger, so it draws attention to itself. But besides it, the principle of variability of the award works, the same one that makes gambling so seductive.

You don’t know what you’ll get until you hit: zero or fivefold winnings, a dozen likes, or boring mailings and spam. The probability of disappointment makes your heart beat faster, and your hand to reach for the phone.

The same principle underlies the content update mechanism. pull-to-refresh (“Pull to refresh”) - every time while the content is loaded, it seems to the brain that this is a spin of the slot machine.

Movement pull-to-refreshfirst used on Twitter, came up with Lauren Brichter for his startup, a Twitter client Tweetie- because he simply had nowhere to put the "Update" button. Now he is 32, he does not deny the similarity of his invention with the slot machine, but he assures that he did not plan such an effect: “I have two children, and I regret every minute that I didn’t give to them due to the fact that I was sucked by a smartphone ".

Brichter is surprised that the feature turned out to be a long-lived: in the era of push-notifications, it would be possible to do without it, the content can be updated automatically.

But psychology is stronger: imagine how fewer players would splurge on slot machines if they had taken the opportunity to press the button themselves or pull the handle?

However, the designer himself prefers a softer comparison: with the button for closing the doors in the elevator. The doors will close themselves after a couple of seconds, but some people still like to press it.

Lauren says that for many years he has been thinking about whether he has benefited his work. He limited his online communication to correspondence in a telegraph with his wife and two friends, disconnected all pushes, blocked several sites, but could not leave Twitter: "I still spend time reading stupid news about which I have already heard." He always charges his smartphone in the kitchen, plugs it into the socket on 7 evenings and doesn’t touch him until morning.

33-year-old Chris Marcellino is co-author of the patent Apple on the technology of instant messages displayed on the screen in real time. He worked on the team responsible for software for iPhone, and specifically, according to him, he did not strive for any addictiveness - the developers were inspired by extremely positive prospects: to give people the opportunity to communicate, quickly learn important news, save on calls. Now he is completing training for a neurosurgeon, which gives him the opportunity to argue: technology activates the same neuron chains as other human desires — to find food, warmth, sex, or drugs. The principle of dopamine reward works in all cases.

“But the desire to keep people's attention on their product is not evil by definition,” adds Marcellino. “This is capitalism.”

Apparently, this is the problem. Venture capitalist Roger McNamee, who at one time received super profits on investing in stocks Google and Facebook disillusioned with companies: he believes that the fortunes that their founders earned on advertising have distorted their original noble mission. McNamee believes that the main milestone in this process is the emergence of smartphones, with which the stakes in the race for the attention of consumers soared to the skies. "Google and Facebook declare themselves as a boon, arguing that they give people what they want. But tobacco companies and drug dealers can say the same about themselves. ”

61-year-old McNamee was at the forefront of this process. It was he who introduced Mark Zuckerberg with his girlfriend Sheryl Sandberg, who was then responsible for advertising in Google. It was Sandberg, which the media made an icon of female success, that turned Facebook from social media to another giant advertising market.

The businessman carefully selects the words: "Google and Facebook good people lead, whose good intentions have led to terrible unintended consequences. The problem is that companies can do nothing with the harm they do if they don’t give up on current advertising models. ”

But how to make corporations abandon advertising models that have made them the most profitable enterprises in the world? McNamee sees a way out in strengthening state regulation, including in terms of antitrust laws.

Rosenstein believes that laws based on moral imperative should be applied to Internet companies - similar to those that restrict the actions of fuel and energy and tobacco companies: “If we think only about maximizing profits, we will quickly fall into a dystopia”

35-year-old James Williams worked as a strategist at Google at the same time with true-minded Harris. Now he defends his Ph.D. in Oxford on ethics of incentive design. Williams says that he experienced a purely existential insight — when he couldn’t concentrate on anything because of gadgets — and he suddenly realized that technologies serve the opposite purpose than the one for which they were invented. “87 percent of people fall asleep and wake up with their smartphones. For the whole world, they have become a new prism through which people perceive politics, ”he says. The same technologies that are used to hook users on advertising hooks stimulate uncontrolled consumption of content.

“The economy of attention places our impulses above our intentions,” the scientist states. And this means that sensational is given priority over deep and detailed, all they rule

Journalism is increasingly serving the interests not of society, but of technology companies. In order to survive in an era of constantly curtailed coverage, media must be sucked out of the finger of a sensation, produce clickbate and make an attraction from any content.

The problem of fake news and voter manipulation does not exist at the level of a bunch of evil uncles with bots: the very economy of attention brings waves of characters like Donald Trump to the crest, who skillfully play with the emotions of supporters and opponents, turning anger to their advantage and creating protest. Williams began writing his dissertation even before the events of 2016, when the world was shocked by Brexit and Hillary Clinton's loss, but when they happened, he stated: what used to look like a distant alarming trend became the manifesto of a new political reality.

Technology not only harms our focus and influences politics — they make us less rational and more impulsive, says Williams.

We live with a battered will, in a state of constant cognitive disgust.

If democracy is the will of the people, and our will increasingly does not belong to us, are we able to recognize the moment when democracy will die? And if they are not capable, how do we know that this has not happened yet?

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