Addiction as a successful business model

The problem is not just pornography.   Promoting addictiveness is a widespread business model.

A venture capitalist named Paul Graham, writing in 2010, said it is the nature of free market capitalism to make products addictive.

He wasn’t speaking of pornography in particular, but of everything from tobacco to gambling to compulsive viewing of the Internet.

The logic of the marketplace is that the person who makes the most addictive product wins the largest market share.

More recent Jaron Lanier, a famous virtual reality pioneer, wrote a book giving 10 Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, which is about addictive social media companies.  The business model for companies such as Facebook is behavior modification, he wrote; they cannot give that model up and stay in business.

Their artificial intelligence systems use personal information, social science information and psychology to create “engagement” — which laymen would call “addiction” — by means of advertising and propaganda.  The systems are constantly at work to increase the power of their algorithms.

Stanford University has a Persuasive Technology Laboratory, which learns how to design interactive technology to alter human thoughts and behavior in the interests of advertisers and politicians, not the individuals targeted.

Richard Freed wrote about B.J. Fogg, the head of the laboratory, and how psychological research is used not to liberate people from addictive and compulsive behavior, but the opposite.

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The “Fogg Behavior Model” is a well-tested method to change behavior and, in its simplified form, involves three primary factors: motivation, ability, and triggers.

Describing how his formula is effective at getting people to use a social network, the psychologist says in an academic paper that a key motivator is users’ desire for “social acceptance,” although he says an even more powerful motivator is the desire “to avoid being socially rejected.”

Regarding ability, Fogg suggests that digital products should be made so that users don’t have to “think hard.”  Hence, social networks are designed for ease of use.

Finally, Fogg says that potential users need to be triggered to use a site.  This is accomplished by a myriad of digital tricks, including the sending of incessant notifications urging users to view friends’ pictures, telling them they are missing out while not on the social network, or suggesting that they check — yet again — to see if anyone liked their post or photo.

Social media companies use persuasive technology to target children, Freed wrote.

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Fogg’s formula is the blueprint for building multibillion dollar social media and gaming companies. However, moral questions about the impact of turning persuasive techniques on children and teens are not being asked.

For example, should the fear of social rejection be used to compel kids to compulsively use social media?

Is it okay to lure kids away from school tasks that demand a strong mental effort so they can spend their lives on social networks or playing video games that don’t make them think much at all?

And is it okay to incessantly trigger kids to use revenue-producing digital products at the expense of engaging with family and other important real-life activities?

Source: Medium

Paul Graham said the power of addictive technology may be one reason for the rise of fundamentalist religion.   A strong and strict religious faith is one thing that has the emotional and spiritual power to break the chains of addiction.

Graham didn’t approve of fundamentalism because it is anti-science.  The only alternative, as he saw it, is for individuals to avoid addiction by cultivating stoic self-awareness and self-control.

The ideal would be to find a way to remove the economic incentives for fostering psychological addiction.

The next best thing would be professional standards that would forbid psychologists to engage in behavior modification without consent of and benefit to the individual.

For now, it’s up to us as individuals to recognize, avoid and fight addiction.


The Acceleration of Addictiveness by Paul Graham (2010)

Six reasons why social media is a bummer by Jaron Lanier for The Guardian.

The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on KIds by Richard Freed for Medium.


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One Response to “Addiction as a successful business model”

  1. Fred Says:

    It is always up to the individual. There will always be products and stimuli designed to have us all acting like Pavlov’s dog listening for that bell. To attempt to control them would require a government far bigger than we have today. But the government doesn’t want to eliminate it, so that’s moot. Rather it would use it for its own nefarious end for social control. I believe that China is the world leader in that right now.

    The internet wouldn’t be so addictive if people had a real life, but alas! This is not a culture anymore where kids would get together for a game of pickup basketball or where summer employment kept them busy earning money and learning lessons not taught in school.


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