Wow, I'm glad this was posted.
I think the way we use technology today will be looked back on the same way we look back at naive cigarette smoking in the 1950s.
Modern app design isn't about creating things that are good for the user, but about creating want in the user. This is a problem.
For example, there are several studies showing that using Facebook in general makes people less happy. User happiness just happens to not be be necessary for Facebook to be a successful business.
Go to a developer conference by one of the big tech companies, and speakers generally aren't talking about doing good things for the user. They'll use euphemisms like "increasing engagement". There's concepts like "permission priming", psychological tricks to get the user to do what you want. There's books written about how to maximize app addictiveness. It's stuff that mildly screws over the user, and it guides the product designs that affect the lives of billions of people. It's not good.
I think the more apt metaphor is lead in Roman pipes. They knew lead exposure made you crazy but they still used it in their pipes, on their plates - and it drove them mad.
After the planet has warmed beyond a point of no return, after antibiotic resistant bacteria make routine surgery a life-or-death decision, after we have squandered away our resources and used what little we had left to wage futile wars, we will find ourselves looking back at these Bernaysian psychological tricks of mass consumerism...and I wonder if we will use the same excuse then as we do today:
"But it was good for GDP!"
Besides actual lead concentration in water being disputed (per comments in the parallel subthreads), I think this analogy isn't good for another reason - Roman aqueducts were meant to solve a problem, to get fresh water into towns, improving comfort as well as sanitation. Most apps made today are not about solving problems, they're about bundling a minimum amount of features that would trick the users into doing something (paying with money, paying with daya) that profits the app creators.
I think the majority of app developers still, at least nominally, believe that they are providing something of value.
> But it is very irritating when the doomsayers don't adjust their doomsaying based upon current scientific work.
I love this line. It's like somebody just submitted doomsaying homework, and you are not taking issue with their premise per se, but taking off points for the sources they used.
Heh, yeah. It's like talking to climate "skeptics" - people who believe climate change is real but disagree on the level of human agency. You can show them graph after graph of greenhouse gas emissions being pumped into the atmosphere at alarming rates and they'll say "I'm not that alarmed, we don't know how much of an impact it will have." Meanwhile, coral reefs are bleaching, Florida is flooding, and we are experiencing record heatwaves AND snowfall. At the very least, it doesn't take much to make clear that we should still DO SOMETHING.
But what? The problem with the constant doom is that we get exhausted. At least in the US all we truly care about is war and old people (looking at where the money goes; http://whatwepayfor.com/). The problem with the doom sayers is they have no solutions or actionable items that we can say yes or no to. Its just lions and tigers and bears 24/7.
I'll give you an example. I live in Ithaca, NY, not far from some of the richest shale gas deposits in the United States. This town is also ground zero for fracking hatred. Post something awful about fracking, and people will eat that shit up whether it's true or not. I know, because I was one of them.
Then I started dating a hydrogeologist. As luck would have it, her very MS thesis was on fracking. She dispelled rumors left and right: "fracking causes earthquakes!" - actually it's poorly built injection wells and wastewater storage that causes earthquakes; "fracking injects radioactives and other poisons into our groundwater!" - nope, the fluid itself is relatively benign (except for a single phase of high-concentration HF/HCL) and the radioactives are actually pumped UP from the crust, not the other way around. And as much as we hippies like to believe - the 60s/70s never really ended in Ithaca - our town is powered by dirty, dirty coal, not magical fairy dust; natural gas would hugely reduce our CO2 emissions.
Point is, it's fair to be scared. Improper fracking CAN cause earthquakes, it CAN poison groundwater, but it is very obvious where and how it happens, and it can be regulated and prevented.
The only real problems arise when people refuse to reconsider their opinions in the face of facts.
Just looking at your first point, She dispelled rumors left and right: "fracking causes earthquakes!" - actually it's poorly built injection wells and wastewater storage that causes earthquakes
In your mind fracking is separate from building injection wells and wastewater storage? All of your examples are the reasons why fracking is dangerous. Just because people get confused about whats being pumped in, doesn't make them wrong that 'radioactives' are appearing.
I think you have been duped by the power of the p . . .
Dangerous doesn't mean too dangerous. Nuclear energy is dangerous but any projection of energy use that accommodates growing population and energy usage AND expects carbon reductions AND doesn't include growing nuclear use is simply impossible.
EDIT: Also worth noting that there is a clear correlation between the increase of electronics/battery recycling in the West and lead poisoning cases in Kenyan children where the recycling is done. America cleaned up its sooty and smoggy cities by exporting the freedom to pollute to China and Mexico. No such thing as a free lunch.
Burning fossil fuels in perpetuity is dangerous too.
The point is, fracking can be done safe, it can be done properly. The only reason we see these hyperbolic results in places like Oklahoma is that states that tend to allow fracking just so happen to be the ones that couldn't give a rat's ass about effective and proper regulation.
We've come a long way from rope seat belts, haven't we?
Nuclear power can be done safe, but we also have many examples of it not being done safe. Saying, "well it will be different this time. We will build systems to make corruption, laziness, and dangerous actions impossible!" is believing in a pipe dream.
We have come a long way from Chernobyl. Most of the people posting here probably weren't even alive when it happened. Nuclear power is so well-controlled (unless you build reactors on earthquake hotspots or tsunami zones, I mean c'mon Japan) that you can't even use regular statistical models because the only probable risks are human. Reactors are really, really well-designed these days to seal themselves off in the (super-rare) case of a critical malfunction. The real risk with nuclear right now is the boogeyman fears of a meltdown keeping us from updating our ancient reactors.
So I ask: how do we provide energy to a rapidly growing global population without surging carbon emissions using readily deployable technology? Renewables might work - if people stopped having kids for a while - but aside from truly revolutionary advances in energy efficiency, generation, and storage, we are left with an unfortunate but undeniable fact: we need nuke.
One thing that really ought to be stressed about Chernobyl is that it was a really shitty reactor design (probably just about the most unsafe reactor design ever) manned by poorly-trained and incompetent people.
With the outlier of Chernobyl, nuclear energy has a very good safety record. Shoddy and dangerous Soviet engineering has a very bad safety record. The operative variable here is shoddy and dangerous Soviet engineering.
You wouldn't say that because Eastern Bloc cars would have ludicrously awful results in a crash test, therefore it's unsafe to travel by car. You wouldn't say that the safety record of the Ilyushin Il-62 proves all passenger planes are unsafe. You wouldn't say the combat record of the T-72 means the Army should immediately retire that useless deathtrap M1 Abrams.
There are inherent dangers to nuclear power, as with cars, passenger planes and combat vehicles. However, these dangers are all well-understood and easily mitigable. In the Soviet Union safety was not a priority or oftentimes even a consideration, in America it is.
Not only that, but nuclear power is not remotely even the most potentially dangerous form of power generation. That easily, easily belongs to hydropower. The Banqiao Dam disaster killed 171,000 people.
But I'm not worried about hydropower and neither should you, if you live in the first world. Dams are, inherently, incredibly dangerous. But we understand the dangers, and we know how to make dams so that the danger is reduced to near-zero. That a dam built in Mao-era China was unsafe doesn't mean that it's impossible to make a safe dam.
FINALLY! Someone who understands the reality of the situation and backs it up with FACTS!
If people weren't so terrified of nuclear energy by movies like Silkwood or TV shows like The Simpsons they might actually look past their own emotional hinderances and do some trivial comparisons, like, say, the extraction-to-power-generation death rates of nuclear energy versus coal and oil (not to mention air pollution) of the last 50 years and come to a simple conclusion: nuclear energy is perfectly safe if you do it right.
One way to look at media like Silkwood is that one of the differences that lets nuclear power be safe in the U.S. even if it wasn't safe in the U.S.S.R. is a well-functioning nuclear regulatory, press, and legal system that lets people act on knowledge of problems and defects, and allows Feynman's hope that "reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled" to be better borne out in practice.
These media strongly questioned those institutions based on stories of cases in which they seem to have failed.
If operators of nuclear power plants manage to reduce the effectiveness and autonomy of the institutions that are working to guarantee safety, the situation gets more like the Soviet Union. One way of thinking about this is that the most useful lesson of the 1970s anxiety about the nuclear industry is less "nuclear power is dangerous!" and more "how effective and independent are our institutions, and how do we know?".
So what do we do with the waste that takes 10,000+ years to become safe, given that the average corporation has a lifespan of less than a hundred years?
Modern LFTR reactors produce almost no waste and low grade at that. Current stockpiles of nuclear "waste" are in fact immensely valuable resources as fuel stock to modern reactors.
With the outlier of Chernobyl, nuclear energy has a very good safety record.
Fukushima is another example showing that fission power is dangerous and expensive - because of the safety precautions, insurance, disaster recovery and cleanup costs, and worse it shifts those costs and dangers from the power plant to the host country and surrounding countries. It's far more expensive in those terms than most other ways of generating power save coal (which has worse problems), maybe it should be part of the mix but only if there are no simpler alternatives like hydro, wind, wave and solar.
Fusion will be far better when we work out how to contain it. It's amazing to think of the progress we could make if energy was almost free.
Come one, way more people died in the earthquake. Its not great what happened at Fukushima, but it was hardly a disaster.
Accidental deaths is a very poor measure of cost to society. For example coal kills far more with pollution than with accidents, and fission disasters render huge swathes of land uninhabitable for decades.
> unless you build reactors on earthquake hotspots or tsunami zones, I mean c'mon Japan
Prior to the Fukushima disaster, how many proponents of nuclear power considered it to be an example of a nuclear plant that was too dangerous to operate, and how many treated it as an example of modern, safe nuclear power and dismissed criticism as anti-nuclear fearmongering?
What about leaks (almost common in old plants) and the nuclear waste storage problem?
There is plenty of energy out there. Recent advances in solar and wind technology make it within reach.
Nuclear is simply not an economical solution.
Exactly as you said: old plants. We don't update them as we should to make them as safe as they can be. That's not an engineering problem, that's a political problem.
Waste storage? Same story. We have plenty of useless desert in the US, but people don't want to be anywhere remotely near them.
Recent advances in solar and wind technology might make it within reach...if we were dealing with 1-2 billion people, not close to 10 billion people in our lifetimes. All of these people want to live like we do: they want to eat meat, they want light at the flick of a switch, they want heat at the turn of a dial. Assuming prices will go down and efficiency will go up to match skyrocketing demand is greatly misguided.
Not to mention, extracting and refining the rare earths necessary for a lot of these devices is unfathomably ruinous to the environment, and recycling is just as bad (see my other comment about lead poisoning in Kenyan kids).
You have brought up 2 political problems and 1 technological fantasy. Nothing about economics. Nuclear is fine.
I don't understand the nuclear waste "problem". Anything that is radioactive for thousands of years is also not very radioactive because it has such a long half-life.
More concerning would be the chemical toxicity hazard, but that is void because nuclear waste is vitrified (turned in to glass), which makes it extremely chemically inert.
Then there's the possibility of recycling the spent fuel (waste?) in fast spectrum reactors, if we can work out how to do that reliably / economically.
It's radioactive for that long because it /is/ waste. We haven't finished extracting the valuable energy from it yet. (that's what 'waste reduction' (breeder) reactors are supposed to do; concentrate up the useful stuff and leave most of it clean enough to either decay really quickly, or so slowly that it's not harmful.)
> It's radioactive for that long because it /is/ waste.
I'm not sure what you're saying here? How does being waste make it radioactive?
If it still contains valuable energy it isn't waste. By virtue of the fact that nobody wants it I'm assuming that energy can't be extracted economically at this time?
Nuclear capacity globally 386 GW in 2016 up from 375.5 GW at the end of 2010.
"By the end of this year, cumulative global installed solar photovoltaic capacity will surpass 310 GW, compared with just 40 GW at the end of 2010"
Which of those looks like it's producing the futures capacity?
> how do we provide energy ...? Renewables might work - if people stopped having kids for a while
It seems like you haven't done the math. I have. You're ridiculously wrong.
US marketed energy consumption per capita is 9.5 kW (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_energy_co...). That's 9.5 square meters of sunlight. If we pessimistically assume that we can only site solar panels on land (29% of Earth's surface) and only 10% of that, and that we're only using the currently common 16%-efficient polysilicon photovoltaic panels (rather than, say, solar thermal collectors or multijunction cells), then we receive enough solar energy for 60 billion people at current US levels of consumption, according to units(1):
That's about eight times Earth's current human population.
You have: circlearea(earthradius) * 1000 W/m^2 * 29% * 10% * 16% / 9.5 kW
You want: billion
Is it too costly? Currently, photovoltaic modules cost about US$0.50 per watt (see http://www.solarserver.com/service/pvx-spot-market-price-ind...), so, for everyone to consume as much marketed energy as USAns, we're talking about an investment of about US$4800 per person, or about US$160 per person per year, assuming a 30-year lifespan for the panels, even if costs didn't drop further. That's only about 1.6% of the nominal world GDP of about US$10k per year per person (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nomi...).
And that's just solar photovoltaic. EGS (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enhanced_geothermal_system) and oceanic lithium (see https://www.withouthotair.com/c24/page_172.shtml) are two other energy resources of similar magnitude to solar photovoltaic, but they're being developed more slowly — photovoltaic is practical today.
Your comment would have been reasonable ten years ago, when solar PV was still expensive. The facts have changed. When the facts change, I change my opinion. When are you going to change yours?
Erratum: that's US$0.50 per peak watt. Although capacity factors vary by latitude and mounting (electronics are now cheap enough that some new utility-scale solar PV boosts its capacity factor with heliostats), a typical capacity factor is 20%, which means:
- US$24000 of panels per person, or
- US$800 per person per year, assuming 30-year lifespan, which is
- 8% of nominal world GDP of US$10k per year per person.
Worse, though, is that this reduces the carrying capacity calculation to some 12 billion, which is a number we might actually reach, although not soon. We're projected to reach 10 billion in 2083 by the UNFPA: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Population_growth
What's actually going to happen, though, is that PV prices will start dropping again; the majority of marketed energy consumption will be from photovoltaic cells starting sometime in the 2020s; energy prices will drop well below where they are now; we'll increase our per capita marketed energy consumption far above current rich-world usage, but much of that will be thermal, not electrical; and we'll use a lot more than 10% of the land area for solar energy gathering.
Despite the laziness and corruption, human fallibility and mistakes, the fast majority of nuclear power is safe now.
We don't have to do it differently in the future ("this time"), we just need to do it marginally better over time. Every new power plant built, whether goal or gas or nuclear, or solar / wind, is marginally better than the previous design because of what we've learned.
Nuclear power can be done safe, but we also have many examples of it not being done safe
You could replace "Nuclear power" with quite a lot of things we do these days. Such as "Driving" or "Home construction".
Coal has killed way more than nuclear energy so far. Please check data before having an opinion.
Coal power can be done safe, but we also have many examples of it not being done safe. Saying, "well it will be different this time. We will build systems to make corruption, laziness, and dangerous actions impossible!" is believing in a pipe dream.
Many things can be done safe, but safe is often a route that's not taken because it's much more expensive.
Relative to say, coal, Nuclear is anything but dangerous. The availability heuristic strikes again.
Nuclear is safe, affordable and the only alternative to non-renewables that doesn't require us to drastically reduce our energy usage. Because realistically, we all know that's just not going to happen.
Not to mention, throughout the 20th century, we in the first world reaped the benefits of readily available energy to drastically boost our living conditions. To deny that benefit to developing countries by restricting them to wind solar and hydro would be immoral.
Source for American recycling being done in Kenya leading to lead poisoning?
I live here and this is the first I'm hearing of it.
What about the absurd amount of water, an increasingly scarce resource, used by fracking?
250 B gallons in, 210 B gallons out. So net-net 40B gallons for the entire industry between 2005 and 2014. Call it 40,000 swimming pools worth.
The "out" is completely treatable.
"Large though those numbers seem, the study calculates that the water used in fracking makes up less than 1 percent of total industrial water use nationwide." - FTA.
"Gasland" is a bad movie.
Now, in some places, the available water is sufficiently short that it probably should not be used for industrial use at all.
The only real problems arise when people refuse to reconsider their opinions in the face of facts.
But your fact is just another one's opinion. We have had ample examples in the last fifty years where "science" has been abused with a for-profit motive (tobacco and nutrition are useful examples, as is this article).
It's not fair to blame "hippies" for ignoring "science", unless you're also willing to blame media, politics and business alike for overstating the "certainty" of scientific knowledge.
It is quite fair to blame hippies for ignoring science. Propaganda works on everyone. It is nobody's job but your own to do due diligence.
Yes, the media, politicians and so on has a tendency to proclaim falsehoods as facts - nutrition advice and policy being a great example - but our legal system requires a modicum of intent to assign liability, just as society accepts that requirement for blame. (Blah blah criminal negligence other exceptions I fucking hate how defensively I have to write on the internet these days just to get a point across without leaving a tiny detail open for someone to slam for karma).
>But your fact is just another one's opinion.
That is a very dangerous perspective. Our understanding of the universe is always changing. But eschewing accepted science without a compelling alternative because it could be wrong is a path to nowhere but President Trump.
> Our understanding of the universe is always changing. But eschewing accepted science without a compelling alternative because it could be wrong is a path to nowhere but President Trump.
Well. To be fair, it's a path also to President Hillary. Or President Cruz. Or President Sanders. It seems our politics is rife with science-ignorance and science-ignoring. I don't think it's particularly constructive to call out Trump as being different.
I say Trump in particular because of the tendency these days to see that name in uncomfortably close proximity with the words "post-truth era." And, to be fair to the man, I am less concerned with what he says than how his supporters react, and what that means for humanity's future.
> Point is, it's fair to be scared. Improper fracking CAN cause earthquakes, it CAN poison groundwater, but it is very obvious where and how it happens, and it can be regulated and prevented.
Everywhere I've seen fracking it's been almost completely unregulated. The US MMS (Minerals Management) has been called a "culture of corruption" by whistleblowers: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/10/14/oil.whistleblower/index.htm...
What makes you think fracking would be regulated in any reasonable manner, given our current bought and paid for government?
Aside from (impoverished) pockets in the Southern Tier, upstate-and-downstate New Yorkers generally approve of Gov. Cuomo's moratorium on fracking, not to mention the fact that some of the best shale gas deposits are underneath NYCs watersheds. There's no chance fracking will get a green light in this state without some pretty hardcore regulation.
Not to mention, the kinds of folks that tend to "buy and pay for" our government live and work in the tri-state area. Don't expect them to risk their health and property values anytime soon.
Equating fracking risk with poor regulation is like assuming moneyed resistance to fracking in NY will work everywhere.
Don't let the boogeyman scare you away from cold, hard, scientific fact: hydraulic fracturing, when done properly, is safe and cost-effective. The regulatory culture surrounding it has a huge effect - nobody's denying that - but the real risks are not scientific or engineering: they're political.
Nearly all frack sites involve two types of landowner - the people who own surface rights and the people who own mineral rights. This doesn't address injection wells but that triangular ( surface, mineral and fracker ) relationship "regulates" things pretty well.
Since the film "Gasland", all manner of untrue things are flung at fracking. IMO, a grain of salt is in order.
The stuff down the hole is much more dangerous than the fracking process - there is (maybe) HS gas, possibly radioisotopes, pressure, other stuff. Fracking is simply a part of the completion process of drilling.
That's a very strange form of argument. First, you are arguing that fracking doesn't cause these things, then you go on to list the specific constituents of fracking activity that cause them.
Then, you're saying that fracking doesn't have to cause these problems, but the fact is that it has. So, it's the fracking industry itself that has given fracking a bad name.
In general, it sounds like industry PR and misdirection.
Did you know that driving a car will result in your hurtling through the windshield at 70mph and wrapping your spine around a tree...
...if you drive very fast and don't wear a seatbelt?
As I have said exhaustively (because I am getting quite tired of repeating myself), the process of fracking - which has been done hundreds of times to no ill effect - is not inherently dangerous or error-prone. No more so than deep-sea drilling (anything but Deepwater Horizon come to mind? Also, another case of underregulation leading to calamity) or nuclear energy (which is extremely safe but evokes an emotional fear response; fun fact: almost 200,000 survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are still alive today!). It is the lack of effective regulation that results in pollution. I don't know how I'm particularly misdirected by PR given that I fully support NYS Gov. Cuomo's fracking moratorium, precisely because fracking companies don't want to deal with the very regulations that make fracking safe.
Side note: most of upstate NY's roads are pretty terrible. But just south of the border in PA - where fracking is ongoing - the roads are all new and well-built, because they are needed to truck the natural gas away safely, so everyone there has safer roads as a result. Can't just pick the pros and cons you like.
>driving a car will result in your hurtling through the windshield
>I am getting quite tired of repeating myself
You're missing my point. You're claiming that fracking can be done safely, but I'm not arguing that in the way that you think. What I'm saying is that there are frequently externalities brought about by the manner in which the fracking industry actually operates vs how you claim they could operate. Doubtless it's cheaper for them. Maybe the problem is that fracking can be done safely, but it's just not cost-desirable or even profitable to do so. I don't know. But you can't go jumping on people's heads for acknowledging the obvious: fracking can be dangerous.
>fracking is not inherently dangerous or error-prone.
What do you mean by "inherently"? If stringent regulations are required to constrain frackers from causing massive amounts of damage, then it seems to me that it is inherently dangerous by definition. This is where you seem to be mixing things up, as with your nuclear example. None of these things are "inherently safe". They are inherently dangerous if not conducted in a carefully prescribed manner, which is why the stringent regulation you advocate is required. So, you're really saying two different things here and trying to figure out why you're not getting your point across.
Anyway, therein lies the danger that people fear: even with the required regulation, mistakes can have and have had dire consequences. It's not unreasonable for people to have concerns.
So, It just comes off as a little disingenuous to exclaim that everyone has it wrong on fracking when the current reality is that they don't.
It is both cost-effective and desirable to have it done safely. There's risk of EPA, of the well owner and of the surface landowner. The whole process is extremely technical and among its practitioners, safety is a key consideration.
To the limit of my ability to tell, there's what amounts to a horror campaign about the evils of fracking going on out there. There's this film, "Gasland' that slings a bunch of ... inadequate information.
So, there have been no fracking accidents, no legitimate evidence of increased seismic activity, no contaminated water, no added expense for frackers to take extra precaution, contain runoff, etc.?
There's no technical reason that fracking can be dangerous or has been?
It's actually sort of unclear what the status is. The problem is that "Gasland" has muddied the water, so you spend so much time vetting sources that it's slow going.
There is a movie from .. 1940? titled "Tulsa" where Robert Preston's character "invents" fracking - a column of water and dynamite. It got safer :)
I'm sure there are incidents. But it's not like an incident goes without recourse. I think there's one case where a formation in Wyoming is physically entangled with the water table. That operation should never have been approved ( and yes, these things have to be approved ). After a decade of reading, that's the only remotely credible one I know of. Generally, water is at, say 400 feet and oil/gas/shale is at 10,000 feet.
Even then, while it's not easy to clean it up, it's doable.
J. Larry Nichols is a founder of and on the board of Devon Energy, one of the companies that pioneered fracking for shale. He's on record saying "show me one case where fracking caused environmental damage."
But, of course, he's not considered reliable by people interested in environmentalism, usually. And I haven't found a demonstration (other than the one) that proves him wrong yet. I'm a lot more concerned that oil in general will get the USA v. RJR treatment which sets off some sort of scarcity cascade that could destabilize the Third World.
IMO, gas at the pump ougtha be $10 a gallon and $5 of that should go to alts research but I doubt that's possible.
IMO, and this is also just IMO, the whole thing is a proxy for AGW fear because nat. gas is a bridge technology while we wait for Elon Musk to save us from fossil fuels. But that's psychlogizing, really.
Fracking is a pretty high-energy activity. But most of the fuss seems at least to be mostly confirmation bias by both sides.
The car analogy isn't very solid because most drivers are invested in their own safety as opposed to the fracking industry which only cares about environmental damage insomuch as it represents a financial liability. You claim that fracking can be done safely with good regulations, and I appreciate the nuance in your response, but for the most part, fracking proponents tend to be categorically opposed to regulation because additional expense is inherent to the nature of regulation (it's always cheaper to do nothing instead of adding extra steps for safety, clean up and proper disposal)
Then I would argue the biggest threat to safe and effective fracking is Saudi Arabia. As long as fuel prices are low, people are more willing to cut corners to make a profit. If prices are high, the added costs of effective regulation are an easier sell.
Otherwise, you make a great point.
Active fracking projects in the US have dwindled to low levels thanks to low oil prices driven by Saudi Arabia maintaining production at current rates. This is a well-established fact.
Your claim on the other hand is just an opinion at this point as I have seen nothing that indicates low oil prices lead to worse practices and procedures among domestic fracking firms.
Are you referring to the kinds of "regulations" that led to the entire Gulf of Mexico becoming contaminated with oil?
It doesn't matter that it CAN be done safely. No one in their right minds trusts either the companies or the government not to eventually cut corners and make severe mistakes.
FWIW, the entire oil industry knew that BP was a ticking time bomb. They were (in)famous in Houston for flouting every safety regulation and best practice the industry had ever come up with.
This is why, post-Deepwater, BP wasn't allowed into the club of Gulf producers pooling mutual aid and research efforts toward safer deepwater drilling. Everyone knew they were reckless.
Had Deepwater Horizon been a Shell or Exxon operation, there never would have been a crisis.
Not surprised by misinformation; people rarely fact-check posts that support their political position.
On the other hand it's hard to get responsible regulation when the dispute is so polarized. Unbiased information can be harder to find. You get one extreme or the other. So a delay doesn't seem so bad.
> no solutions or actionable items
Well that's not true, they have no palatable solutions or actionable items. No new toy to buy that will fix things, no low effort/high status ritual to perform. Just a bunch of changes that involve sacrifice on our parts, and involve organizing large groups of people and trying to get them to plan for the future and then act in accordance with this plan. Also some of these choices will result in immediate harm to some people for the sake of future harm prevention, so these are quite easy to argue against using the inherent uncertainty of preventing future harm.
tldr; The problem with the doom sayers is that they have no solutions or actionable items that allow me to consume more things, so we say "fuck that"
The greatest impediment to attaining fully renewable energy generation and ending climate change is that our biggest opponents in this conflict are ourselves and our insatiable desires.
The problem with doomsayers is that they are under the influence of a common, but powerful, pattern of thinking that heavily biases their perception and reasons about reality to be highly negative.
I think of it as "chicken little-ism" and, as parables so often do, it illustrates that nuanced knowledge of the psychological pitfalls has been well understood for centuries.
Yet, somehow even highly educated, professional, scientists seem to be just as susceptible to its lure as the rubes who attend Donald Trump rallies, who are convinced not "the world is going to hell in a hand basket" but that e journey has been completed.
Paul Erlich could be the poster boy for this group. He's still at work, announcing doomsday scenarios to this day.
Which illustrates the cost of giving in to this psychological bias. Should we believe him this time? Wasn't there some other parable about this kind of thing, with a wolf and a young male of our species?
Reduce our emissions. This has one potential and one actual effect.
1) Potential: If climate change is significantly affected by human output, then we may curb or counter the current climate trends.
2) Actual: Healthier environment for life on this planet. We won't have cities like Los Angeles used to be, or Beijing is now where people can barely go outside without taking a year off their life. This is, without a doubt, a good thing unless you explicitly want poorer health to be the norm.
Reminds me of a comic I see floated around Facebook from time to time of an auditorium of scientists seated beneath a banner reading "Climate Change Conference," and someone raises their hand and says something to the effect of "But what if we're wrong about climate change and we make a better world for nothing?"
What happens if we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on reducing CO2 emissions and it turns out it was all for naught?
That money has to come from somewhere. It could be spent on healthcare, getting people clean water, etc.
To me that would be a tragedy.
The reduced pollution would probably reduce at least some of the health care costs. Plus we spend way too much on wars and killing people ("defense"). Use some of that money first.
Yes. It would be tragic to cut out polluting forms of energy production that destroy rivers and lives.
That's not first and foremost CO2, though. Many other forms of pollution tend to be far worse to local environment. Addressing those might involve things like catalytic converters on ships and the like.
I found Bret Victor's "What can a technologist do about climate change" (http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/) a refreshingly action-oriented exploration of your question ("but what?"). Its interactivity and richness of presentation are icing on the cake.
Incidentally, one can imagine a parallel message of informed empowerment to address the dark sides of OP's UI "mind hijacks."
Transfer payments to old people aren't mentally exhausting.
What's interesting is what those old people spend the money on. macroscopically, what matters is what money motivates people to do, who handles the money is just a means.
Adjust our economy to a resource based economy. The Zeitgeist movie a few years back came up with some decent proposals. Sure they might not be perfect, but they seem to be looking in the right direction.
Well, no, don't look at the warnings as entertainment one might tire of (although I appreciate that news is typically presented that way); more as a warning one should heed.
Yea, climate change is ultimately a problem of risk and risk management. And the "climate skeptic" position that we can't assess the risks well is just amazing, as if we shouldn't worry because we can't tell how bad it could be, or how likely the worst effects are.
Most climate skeptic people I talk to worry but claim that we shouldn't actively suppress and cut funding to research that could contradict the man made global warming hypothesis. I agree with them.
I'm worried about bacteria that are antibiotic-resistant. So I was excited to read the article you cited.
> Don’t get me wrong—there is certainly no case for complacency at this stage.
Oh. Okay. So unwarranted optimism is... unwarranted.
I was about to post that myself: the dangers of lead acetate. IIRC, that sweetener is what deafened Beethoven as well, and I'd call it a good argument for minimally-processed/natural food...
There are plenty of natural poisonous berries. Doesn't mean we should start using them as sweeteners instead.
That's certainly true, but that doesn't mean I trust sucralose and stevia extract (or food-grade aluminum, or long-term storage in BPA-bearing plastic).
Nor do I trust certain natural additives or physical processing methods; chemical is full of unknowns, but natural can be harmful too. I try to avoid white flour and added sugar, for example, and I have my doubts about how good of an idea it was to breed all this sweetness into modern fruit...
>chemical is full of unknowns, but natural
Nature is chemicals. What you are saying is that you trust the chemical outputs of the chaotic natural environment more than the ones produces by scientists.
I'm way too late responding to this, but yes, I do; the chemicals of nature (except for recent extracts like sugar and white flour) are things we co-evolved with.
I don't know if that shows what you suggest it does. Using lead tainted water for irrigation is also harmful because plants will transmit that lead to people though their diet. Further, lead sticks around in contaminated soils and accumulates over time.
In that context, every lead source ends up becoming increasingly important.
If plants transmit the lead to those who eat them how can it also accumulate in the soil? The plants would bioremediate the soil.
It's not 100%. Suppose a plant absorbs 5% of the lead. Well in the first year you get 5% of the lead in all water used for irrigation. But, 95% is left in the soil. Next year you get 5% of 195%. Until, the soil has 20 years worth of lead and all new lead added in a year ends up in the plant. Drop that to 1% and it would take ~100 years to get the same effect.
Note, you would really get a differential equation with several terms, but more or less the same idea just after more time and balanced with water that overflows the field etc.
Ah, yes, of course. I guess at some point you're supposed to develop soil testing and stop putting the toxins in to the soil. And the air. And the water. It's not looking too good is it.
I'm so glad you mentioned Edward Bernays. It's interesting how he was very helpful in promoting his uncle's book in the US, bringing Freud some much needed cash. At the same time, Sigmund hated Bernays, and Anna, for using a lot of his psychological work to change the face of advertising into what it is today.
Bernays created the very first _Public Relations_ office (he made up the term because "Propaganda" was a bad word). He helped get more women smoking (torches for freedom!). I'm sure if it wasn't him and Anna, someone else would have come along and made these discoveries anyway.
Capitalism, Consumerism and Planed Obsolescence will be what brings down the current world.
Well yeah, that was basically his argument: propaganda is too effective to be left in the "wrong" hands, so the "right" people better get on it, and quick.
I'm sure it dawned on him that it wouldn't take long until everyone was using it and there would be no discernible difference between the good or bad.
"Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Lead pipes work just fine for most water chemistries. It was the salts of lead used as sweeteners that were much more of a problem. As they say, "the dose is the poison".
If our behavior renders us extinct, then we had a good run.
By definition, profit is the only thing that matters to corporations. A moral corporation is a profitable one, and vice versa. Everything else is a lower priority than profit and growth.
Thus, we turn everything that exists into what we measure as profit.
We are the indigenous people selling our lives and attention and time and land/planet for shiny trinkets without value.
The problem is that there are good profits and bad profits. "Good profits" create consumer surplus. "Bad profits" are rents.
I don't know if you've looked lately, but corporations do a lot of things differently than simply maximizing short terms profits now. Besides, that's mostly an artifact of mutual fund style public stock financing. In addition to going private, there is emphasis on dividends, stock buybacks, that sort of thing.
At its simplest, a thing is profitable if it can be done efficiently and people want it. That's not a bad thing.
How is incorrect antibiotic usage related to anyone claiming it's good for GDP? Seems like a pretty weak strawman.
I agree with you and the article and further...
Many companies are trying to take search, for example, to the next level by brining predictability through your history as well as your graph. It takes decisionmaking out of people's minds.
"You show a history of reading this and that book, have watched these movies and your circle of meaningful people have influenced you thus, so we have this book on its way to you now."
It looks like it's really intelligent and offers convenience, time-savings, "efficiency". You don't even have to think of what you want, it knows already. You have an appointment in LA in 3hrs, don't forget your [whatever] and the mother of the person you are about to meet is in the hospital, take something appropriate for the occasion, we also suggest the following lamentation "...".
This kind of thing is taking the humanity out of being human. People are reduced to a basic animal framework and the machine is adding humanity for you, so you don't have to bother. In taking the "tedium" out of daily living, people are reduced to a sort of best on a pedestal.
You can look at it as removing our humanity, or you can look at it as supplementing our humanity.
Prior to the written word, we had to devote time and effort to passing down information through the spoken word. By offloading this task to an external device (wall, tablet, parchment, paper, book, screen), we've been able to use that time and brainpower to focus on other items, while also increasing the fidelity of our history and what we can learn from it. People lament the loss of an oral storytelling culture. It is a loss, but we've gained as well, so mathematics, literature, philosophy. We are able to build on the past in a way we weren't before.
Prior to the plow and domesticated animals to pull them, we used to have to plant manually or practice a more hunter & gatherer lifestyle. By offloading these tasks we are able to secure our future needs, and live a life less of subsistence, and more of security in our health and future. Some people lament the loss of connection to the land, the feeling of oneness with the seasons. It is a loss, but again, we've gained as well. This free time has allowed us to study what we've written, and build upon the past.
You could make a case that using these tools (and hundreds more in our history) takes the humanity out of you, and relies on the tool for it. I would make the case that using these tools is what makes you human, as without them, what's really the distinguishing feature that separates you from the apes? To me, nothing defines humanity more than the constant improvement of our race, our reach, and our capabilities.
That I carry around a small computer in my pocket that connects to a much larger network and allows me near instantaneous connection to my family, friends, coworkers, and the largest accumulation of knowledge the human race has ever seen might seem like I'm trading away what you think makes us human, but since I use this to keep in touch with friends, be more mindful of important things to them, learn about what I'm doing to be more safe, secure and healthy, and share with myriad sub-cultures, I strongly disagree.
I'm aware of all that. We have come a long way since being "savage". My issue is we're getting to the last mile problem where we begin to undermine what we are.
My point is that I don't think "what we are" is changed by the tools we use. So what if a tool suggests we take time out for our friend? It's still our choice. It's no different than your mother, father, significant other, or random person on the street offering a suggestion if you explained the situation to them. Ultimately it's your choice what to do.
If you're unhappy with how people treat some things as worthy of their attention and others as something they can delegate to others, that's not a technology problem, that's a problem you have with cultural norms. Culture is the original hijacker of our minds, and all we're seeing is people is people acting in a way that's slightly different than what you think is acceptable based on your culture, and fighting back against it. Not because it's inherently wrong, or worse, but because it's different, and culture resists large change.
>> My point is that I don't think "what we are" is changed by the tools we use
No way. Just look at language, a tool we use for communication. It changes us radically. Listen to the RadioLab episode on on : http://www.radiolab.org/story/91725-words/.
Another example is writing. Before widespread writing and printing, many people used the 'Mind Palace' to remember things (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Method_of_loci), hijacking the place-cells in the hippocampus to vastly increase memory. With writing, that all evaporated, much to chagrin of the old monks that taught and used the technique. But then look at us now as a species.
Another example is money. The tool that is currency and a method of exchange has changed some people a lot. Greed is not a good thing. Most religions have bans on usury and intreset because of the warping effects it has on society. I may or may not agree with those bans, I mean, hey, I live better than any king from 200 years ago. Still, we are feeling those effects today in our politics after Citizens United. Money, the good tool that it is, does change people.
I'm sure others can think of many more examples. But your tools change you just as much as you use tools to change the world.
"What we are" is meant in the context of "To me, nothing defines humanity more than the constant improvement of our race, our reach, and our capabilities." which I outlined in my original comment. In that respect, the tools are just stepping stones to let us be us. Sure, we might have less specialized cells in the hippocampus because we aren't exercising a specific (conceptual) tool, but I don't see that as any different than peasants with muscles developed to make it easier to spend the day tilling the land, or a knight with muscles developed for fighting in armor, or a modern day basebal player, with eyes developed to track fast moving object and lots of high speed twitch muscle fiber.
These tools change our jobs and behavior, but they don't change our core physical being much in a way that persists (evolutionary aspects of course apply), much less change philosophically what makes us "human" (in the sense of our "humanity", not homo sapiens).
Another way to look at this, what is it to reduce someone's humanity?
Listen to that radiolab broadcast. I'm pretty sure that is the one that goes into detail about a man that grew up deaf (in El Salvador, I think) and without any access to sign language. The broadcast has a woman that went there as a grad student and, I think, ended up teaching the guy sign language. A translator for the guy describes when he finally 'got' language and from what I remember, it was life and soul changing for him. He mentions that his friends that were also without the tool of language would try to communicate through charades and it would take hours to 'talk'. I can't do this justice, but the tale is very powerful. I also can't verify that the linked broadcast is about what I just said fyi (in a coffee shop, no headphones, sorry)
Still, I disagree. The tools that we use shape our souls as much as our brains. It's that repetitive daily use that mostly does this. We come to see the world and then believe things in the way we experience it, and our tools heavily shape this view.
To reduce someone's humanity is an incredibly deep question and i don't have the space here, nor the access to beer, to do it justice. However, I like that you turned the question on it's head. Most of the time we ask what it would take to make something human. The way you pose this question: "what would it take to rob a person of their humanity?" is MUCH more interesting and very provocative.
> Listen to that radiolab broadcast.
I'll definitely do so. I don't recall off-hand if I've heard that one, but I've heard a lot of them (I've been an on-and-off listener for a decade).
> Still, I disagree. The tools that we use shape our souls as much as our brains. It's that repetitive daily use that mostly does this. We come to see the world and then believe things in the way we experience it, and our tools heavily shape this view.
I don't disagree with your assertion, I just do't think the way "see the world and then believe things in the way we experience it" is actually humanity.
> To reduce someone's humanity is an incredibly deep question and i don't have the space here, nor the access to beer, to do it justice.
It is, but my use here is fairly simplistic. Basically, I think most people use "humanity" as a stand in for the values of the day. Obviously, if something is so affected by the current culture and attitude, it's can't be the defining trait of our race, can it? Thus, most of my comments here have been along the lines of both calling out what I see as a bogus definition, and proposing my own one, base don what I see as defining traits of our race. Innovation, advancement, etc.
> "what would it take to rob a person of their humanity?"
It really is a big question, but this bit by Hannah Arendt in "The Origins of Totalitarianism" (a book I highly recommend, it's as timely as ever sadly) really struck me.. it's on page 667 in the German version, this is my crappy translation:
> Humans, in so far as they are more than a completion of functions able to react, whose lowest and therefore most central are the purely animal like reactions, are simply superfluous for totalitarian systems. Their goal is not to erect a despotic regime over humans, but a system by which humans are made superfluous. Total power can only be achieved and guaranteed when nothing else matters except the absolutely controllable willingness to react, marionettes robbed of all spontaneity. Humans, precisely because they are so powerful, can only be completely controlled when they have become examples of the animal like species human.
So I would say at least part of the answer might be: taking away the ability to act instead of just react, and the the ability to start a logical chain of thinking from new premises (which is also something she mentions, though of course in contrast with totalitarianism, which forces a certain flow of logic based on some premises set in stone; she's not writing about what it means to be human).
Great question, and I won't do it justice in this attempt. I think at the point where people are more or less extricated from decision-making, small they may be. When people are essentially just organs plugged into a network, like cows to a milking station.
All you have to do is be, you no longer have to think, slowly things are done for you and decided for you -- with best intentions, of course.
We're not there yet. But we're getting there.
See, I don't think we are. Some decisions are being automated, but that's not reducing our own choices, just freeing us to focus on other ones. It becomes less of "should I go and then what flower should I buy" and more just "should I go" and we've freed our time and attention for some other decision. Then again, there will always be those that go above and beyond for someone they care for. Maybe you remember that your mother particularly liked the flowers at the house you lived in when you were younger, so you track down the current owners and ask for a favor, whether you can have a few flowers from the front yard. Letting your mother know of the source might yield a distinctly different impression from the present. There's still room to provide attention where it matters, apps and reminders aren't taking that away.
If you look beyond reminder apps, I think things look a little different. There are good aspects to automation and some shortcomings as well.
I'm not saying people need to maintain survivalist skills. But I think there is a danger in relinquishing your will and control to data. How will people, in the future, be able to adjust to catastrophe? I have no pocket computer, what should I do? Can I eat now? What can I eat? It's so bewildering...
It's akin to an overly protective parents who one day has to face the world on their own, it can take years for them to recalibrate and readjust to their new reality.
I think that ignores that there is always a spectrum of people who want differing levels of control. Even if there apps to suggest all our actions, there will be people that use them sparingly or not at all, because they want to feel in control. This is acceptable and normal, and also leads to situations where some people do maintain survivalist skills. Our population is homogeneous in almost nothing, which is one of our strengths.
What happens in a catastrophe? People probably die. Depending on the scale, possibly a lot. Will everyone die? Probably not, but there are cases where it could happen. The ways to mitigate that have nothing to do with less automation of simple decisions in my mind, and possibly quite the opposite.
Well, like I said earlier it's not about automating simple tasks and giving us reminders, etc. --but rather, ultimately we'll take people out of the equation in most matters of import.
We'll be relegated to a state where there are a few "important people" and the rest are basically just vegged out (with a few pockets of 'natural people' here and there). People will not even notice this happen as they will slide into this state willingly and happily. Just as we slid in to a sugary diet without complaint.
It's hard to make the case for "inconvenience" in life, it's harder, it takes more energy, it's not efficient, and so on. But I think if we are to remain a useful species (not just a few useful people), we have to contrary to our inclination.
Thank God for teenagers then, little jerks will do whatever the 'wrong' thing is just to piss you off and for no other reason.
Our population is homogenous in many things, particularly in our adoption of tools.
Our population is homogenous in many things, particularly in our adoption of tools.
If everyone has apps that remind them to take time for a friend automatically (as it determined they needed it), the intention loses some of its meaning. That friend wont know if it was you that remembered because you cared and took notice, but simply the app reminded you. It's about the motivation behind your actions, its what can give a deeper meaning to them. The fact that you or another friend cared or noticed enough and remembered, gives it significance.
With too much automation of our social lives and relationships, many actions may simply become meaningless. Maybe they would even be done away with after a while, making human interaction colder, less personal. My app will talk with your app and setup a time to do something we enjoy, without either of us thinking of it ourselves, or discussing it. We would just have to show up, as directed by our apps. These apps remind us what we should discuss or mention, given our friends likes/dislikes. Sure we might have a great time, but the app might have prioritised meeting this friend over another, as your more compatible (measured via some series of metrics). You rely on the algorithm. Your not actually thinking about who you want to spend time with and why. Would you be able to make friends without the app?
That life. As in, that's life as it has always been. There's always been people that remind others, and there are always those that remember things easier than others. What difference is there whether it's an application or your mother reminding you? You still need to make a choice whether it's worth it to you,the app isn't forcing you to do anything. It can alter the influence we apply to certain actions when deciding how much someone cares, but it doesn't take away our ability to show we care. So what if more people will remember birthdays or illnesses, the people that really care will make an effort to show that in some manner. If just remembering is no longer a bit deal, they'll do something else.
> With too much automation of our social lives and relationships, many actions may simply become meaningless.
So we stop doing those actions. We'll find new actions, or reinterpret old ones to mean something more.
> Your not actually thinking about who you want to spend time with and why.
Then you must not care about the people involved. You devote time to what you care about. Reminders aren't going to change that.
These reminders are really just alleviating cultural busywork, which is really only needed because these cultural norms developed when we lived in much smaller communities. Rememdering birthdays and meeting in celebration of all your friends was much easier when we lived in villages of 100 people. Now we have cultural baggage from different economic developmental stages, and it creates a lot of extra work just to do what's culturally expected, as it doesn't fit the environment so many of us find ourselves in. In the end, that's just busy-work, we'll find ways to make those that matter to us know it.
So you don't think "what we are" is changed by the tools we use but it is changed by changes in cultural norms? Which are clearly influenced by the tools we use?
No, I think neither the tools we use nor our cultural norms really define what we are, just what we do, philosophically speaking. I think we're a a race of culture creating tool users that strive to advance. The tools we currently use and the cultures we find ourselves currently creating at most stages in a progression, and possibly not even that, but just fleeting memes in the story of our species (if we don't dead-end ourselves).
Ah! That makes sense. Didn't see you were making a what we are/what we do distinction. Philosophically I think that distinction is faulty, same for attributing a direction to advancement/progress/evolution, so I had trouble parsing what you meant.
Whilst i somewhat agree with the sentiment, the difference now is in the amount of efficiencies or benefits gained. The gains/benefits from tools, farming, writing etc, are quite large. The gains from an app suggesting a movie or book, or reminding you to do various things in your life, are quite small in comparison. It might be merely a matter of a few minutes.
It begs the question, is it worth gaining a few minutes here and there each day for the price of dependence on apps and a degree of disconnection from what makes us human?
That assumes the suggestion is directly comparable to an action you would have chosen yourself. What about suggestions for things where you would have taken no action, or suggestions to not take an action you would have taken? What about suggestions that include information you would not have been likely to come across yourself?
Imagine your friend is in the hospital, but you've been busy, and haven't checked your normal sources of information about your friends for a few days. You get a suggestion to send them best wishes or flowers, because they are in the hospital. This both suggests a course of action you wouldn't have considered, because you didn't know it was a candidate as well as imparts useful high priority information that you want to know that was hidden behind a feed you classified as low priority lately.
Sure, many suggestions may be minimal and not help much, but do we always classify systems based only on their average use? Sometimes it's important to look at the distribution of use, and whether there are other positive (or negative) externalities.
Currently, if you didn't know about a circumstance, people forgive you and generally understand. But, if you took the time to find out this information personally, this would have meaning, showing that you cared enough to spend the time to check. When you send flowers, the act can often have much more meaning. However, if everyone has apps that remind them of such things, you would no longer appear thoughtful, there is no longer as much meaning. We are already seeing this to a certain extent with social media.
This is the point. Is it worth the small gain in time, for the loss of some aspects of meaningful human connection/interaction?
"Meaning" always exists relative to a background. If the average person doesn't remember but you do, you stand out, and your actions have extra meaning. Just because the background decreases doesn't mean you can't stand out. You can always go beyond what the app suggests; for example, in additional to sending flower you could appear in person and sing to them.
Except it's dubious whether that device meaningfully connects you to others, or distracts you from making real personal connections with the people around you through constant distractions and intermittent rewards.
How much time did it take to post this long comment ?
And how often do you engage here this same way ?
>supplementing our humanity..
This is exactly the problem. Supplementing x implies complete knowledge of what ideal x is. And what the "ideal" is nearly impossible to assess, since it require complete knowledge of future. I mean, what form of a "human being" will the most optimal through all of human existence? When you supplement without knowing the ideal, it has more chance to do harm than good.
>using these tools is what makes you human, as without them, what's really the distinguishing feature that separates you from the apes?..
Ok. But is it the only thing? What about creativity? We have language. We can create great stories and beautiful poems in them. We can look into the secrets on nature and create immensely powerful tools with that knowledge. Isn't that more of a hallmark of being a human, than mere dependency on our tools?
And is there no limit on how much we are dependent on them. Does it make sense to trade of our innate capabilities in the long term, for minor conveniences in the short?
I had a friend who could easily navigate any complex routes and had all the local routes and short cuts in his head. I respected him for that. Now he cannot find way around a supermarket without GPS. A part of him, that once I respected as a human being, is gone now.
>To me, nothing defines humanity more than the constant improvement of our race, our reach, and our capabilities.
You think our race is improving? Why? Because we have smartphones and have a massive and collective addiction to it?
>and the largest accumulation of knowledge the human race has ever seen..
It is also one of the biggest Ad/propaganda delivery channels.
Easy access to information does not make a difference is the people does not have the drive to consume it. If you give internet to 10 persons 9.5 of them will use it for social media and porn. How many of the addictive smartphone users have you seen consuming wikipedia? I have personally NEVER, not even once, seen someone reading wikipedia on a smartphone.
> by brining predictability through your history as well as your graph
I wish they were better at it. For 15 years now, people have promised that relevant ads will be useful rather than annoying. So far, it seems like the pinnacle of that is to show me the last pair of shoes I looked at on Zappos every where I go.
Ad-tech seems laughably bad. Now I just run with uBlock Origin. Maybe I'll block ads for the next 15 years and see how things are looking in 2030.
I'm convinced we are going to reach a point where people trust what the computer tells them more than their own eyes.
I hope so. Eyes are awful at discerning truth in important microscopic phenomena, and brains are horrible at remembering what the eyes saw.
Not necessarily Google, but yes some amalgamation of technology.
Your senses are staggeringly limited and your brain is a mess when it comes to determining what is "real" or not.
We use technology to fill the gaps. That's what technology is for - to allow us "see", interact with and influence the world through discrete and explicit measurement in ways our biological systems can't.
How is that not the dream? Augmenting and eventually replacing our biological capabilities with robust, high precision systems is the ultimate goal.
> Your senses are staggeringly limited ... when it comes to determining what is "real" or not.We use technology to fill the gaps. That's what technology is for - to allow us "see", interact with and influence the world through discrete and explicit measurement in ways our biological systems can't.
Sense perception to understand reality or to seek pleasure ? When we pick the phone to play a game, is that interacting with reality or with pure imagination. Same with the round about action of liking each others or seeing what new experience you posted etc.
Sense perception can be used for survival and pleasure. In the game of evolution the latter will get phase out and former will evolve. However in short term, where there is a great economic incentive to game the "pleasure seeking senses" for creating wants and consumption, there would be short term pain and confusion in masses. The question to ask ourself is that whether i succumb to this enticement or just move and let it meet its eventual end.
Country, companies are higher order concepts that lasts over generation. This lets them experiment over many people life and adjust accordingly. But we as an individual we have limited time and space constraint. Its only our mind that can help distinguish the chaff from grain and live a meaningful life.
> Augmenting and eventually replacing our biological capabilities with robust, high precision systems is the ultimate goal.
This was also true when wheel was invented. The purpose of technology is to help in getting things done. The pleasure seeking, sensory perception is just a distraction. And for many of us, the ultimate goal is to live a better life by reducing these distractions.
Your point jumps over my broader argument to address the original thrust of the article however. In that context we aren't in disagreement on this point.
I was however addressing the question of "should technology guide our existence" - and I think you agree with my emphatic response of yes but don't realize it.
And for many of us, the ultimate goal is to live a better life by reducing these distractions.
My guess is you are compartmentalizing things like social networks etc... into those "distractions." I might also, but would also place in there "hunger", "pain", "confusion" etc... the things that distract us from understanding the fundamental nature of the universe.
Our goals likely align - but on different points along the scale of time.
Funny that you mention cigarette smoking. I was just ruminating last night in bed how hard it was to put down the phone and go to sleep. I had the same feeling of addiction that I hadn't felt since I quit smoking 15 years ago. It actually caused me to have a minor panic attack, and I'm now actively seeking methods to reduce my dependency on the phone and internet information feed.
+1 Smartphone is a universal addiction as opposed to cigarette smoking. If we do not do something about this, our future humans will walk around with stiff necks as this will be coded into our DNA and we will evolve accordingly.
For these reasons, I've started to log my smartphone usage. God knows everyone else is.
It should be fun to look at the data after a few weeks of logging via a free app.
Which app are you using to do this? I'm interested in trying this as well.
For a moment I laughed hard at this, thinking it was ironic humour. But now I'm scared it's not.
I'd like to start this as well, which app do you recommend?
That's not really how evolution works.. there would have to be selection pressure that would favor the smartphone addicted
There would have to be selective pressure for people with the genetics for a naturally forward leaning head.
For most people, that's bad posture deviating from a more neutral head, so isn't genetic.
I used to think like you but after reading Sapiens I now understand how these things work.
I just uninstalled Facebook from my phone last night. I keep opening my phone to check it and remembering that it isn't there.
Overall I'm glad I did it. I can still get on the laptop when I want to check in on people and will hopefully be less distracted at work. Looking forward to reconnecting with people in real life as opposed to virtually.
If I find an app is pulling me in too often, I delete it. If I find a website is distracting me too much, I throw it on my hosts file (and redirect it to 127.0.0.1). If I find myself drinking too much beer, I stop. If I find myself craving anything in a way that feels intuitively bad, it's a good sign that I need to change something.
I feel like a lot of people respond to those impulses by going out of their way to make it normal—everyone has this problem—rather than deal with it before it becomes a monkey on your back. I have a lot of compassion for their predicament, but I also know that the answer is very, very simple: walk away and do something else.
As a personal prescription, this is great, but as a societal one it's like saying "just don't smoke, it's as easy as that!"
On a national or international scale, we don't get to deal with what ought to be, only what is. And it increasingly looks - Facebook averages 50 minutes of use per day - like the average person either doesn't know or doesn't manage to limit their consumption of these things. Super-satiation is a real problem, is in fact most of our problems from obesity to inaccurate news to dishonest politicians. There comes a point where we have to accept that this is going to take some solution larger than personal responsibility.
Yes, I completely agree. I have plenty of vices, and struggle with them all the time. I guess I was trying to convey my own current state of mind after thinking hard about this problem and where it leads...but you're right to characterize that as a personal viewpoint, and not something you can realistically prescribe for others. Everyone has to come to their own enlightenment, and I still have a long way to go.
It's not necessarily just a personal thing. We as a people haven't yet figured out how to value or not value this new deluge of distraction and information. Social rules are doing more to curb smoking now than any health warnings - everyone I know who's quit recently does so because it's seen as a bad thing to do by people. If overuse of media was treated the same way we tread people with any other addiction (social shame, professionals to help) it would be less of a problem. But a huuuge amount of people just spend their time tuning out and going down the information rabbit hole and not spending any time pursuing their goals (myself included)
The reason why such products still exists is exactly because the majority of consumers are not like you.
I think the key phrase in his post is "intuitively bad". If you enjoy programming, gardening, running, watching a bit of tv or whatever then good for you. But I think all of us have reached point with one thing or another (from too much computer Solitaire to overeating) where we realize it's not really making us much happier.
For me, the key is being honest as to when any hobbies or time / attention commitments become distractions i.e. detours. While it is possible a detour can become the shortcut, the likelihood of a "lightbulb moment" happen by refreshing X social media feed is less fertile than dedicated focus on Y.. be it a problem, project, etc.
Of course, everything doesn't need to be a lightbulb moment either. That is also part of this issue. We use all these apps to keep us constantly productive or more efficient in finding things that make us happy. The drive is to read reviews so we don't waste our money on a bad dinner or product or experience, or to follow the right people on twitter so we get lots of high quality content and less cruft. And by and large I actually think the modern consumer ecosystem is good at accomplishing this.
But we have to ask ourselves if that's a worthwhile end goal. Perhaps a bit of detour is actually what we need.
Getting people hooked/addicted is not new, it's been used in TV series and shows for decades. I'll explain it all in my next post...
He just did with this:
> I'll explain it all in my next post...
By leaving it hanging your curious mind could not resist the temptation and started to fill in the blanks, and when that wasn't enough you posted a request for more. That's why the main characters never get home or never make out — it's a lot like an infinite scroll.
> and when that wasn't enough you posted a request for more
I think that was very much intentional.
Regrettably, "they" don't wish you to know those tricks.
Couldn't agree more with the looking back part.
It's a line of thought I frequently have when trying to think critically about many accepted practices in todays society.
It usually comes in the form of asking myself "Is this practice the kind society is going to laugh about in a 100 years?" or me imagining someone saying "Haha I can't believe this is what they did in 2016! Man were they dumb".
Most prominent non-tech example in these times for me is the meat industry.
not just meat
The entirety of food production is insane.
We import workers from other countries to have them pick our fruit and vegetables.
We use tons of various chemicals to combat and kill all kinds of insects, birds, animals to keep them away from our crops.
We grow huge amounts of food in areas without fresh water sources
I was about to post the same sentiment re: smoking.
Given that we see this type of behavior in all industries (not just tech), it seems to me it's actually a systemic problem. People / organizations are incentivized universally to optimize for their own selfish interest, because they do not incur the cost of their decisions on everyone else. In this case, designing your product to maximize e.g. addictiveness or time spent per user makes sense if the downside of that is paid by the user.
I think taxing wealth / property instead of (primarily) income actually solves this problem, but that's another story...
I'd wholeheartedly support wealth taxes if I trusted the social safety net and health care system in my country. Until then, I'll hoard money out of fear: I don't have anything I'm intending to spend it on and hopefully never will. Fix health care and there'd be a high probability of the chains coming off off, at least for me.
The trick to taxes is in getting them right.
Taxes are, to a rough analog, like the vacuum hose system within an automobile engine. (Hrm: I'm thinking that this may be a bad analogy if there aren't many auto gearheads here.)
An internal combustion engine is essentially a self-powered air pump. It has a low-pressure end (intake) and high-pressure end (exhaust). It's got various bits and pieces which need powering. Chains, shafts, and vacuum hoses bleed off some of the energy output of the engine to run systems which can't otherwise be powered. Without the vacuum system, the engine as a whole runs worse.
A vacuum leak, though, worsens performance as you're bleeding off energy and not feeding it back in where it's needed.
In the same sense, taxes modify the function of markets by rasing or lowering costs, and transferring purchasing capability elsewhere. If properly structured, they improve the function of the economy as a whole. If not, they worsen it.
The engine (wealthy) generally perceive the direct costs, but not the indirect benefits of the tax system.
This just begs the question though, what is the right way to tax?
Assuming that you are redistributing wealth (as you describe above), taxing wealth instead of income has a profound effect. It creates an incentive for every individual to increase the total wealth in the system, no matter who creates it, or where it's created. When you tax income, it makes no difference to you whether the income was created wealth, or merely captured.
Whatever you tax becomes more expensive.
Whatever is more expensive, you have less of.
Your question can be restated: what's your overall economic goal?
You tax to achieve that.
I'd tax rent-seeking, and the most effective way to do that is a land value tax.
I'm seeing merits to land tax, inheritence, financial transfers, and either a corporate or corporate transfers tax.
Allowances for that which is reasonable. Disallowances for that which is not.
The economy views taxation as an outage and routes around it. IOW, prices adjust.
The thing that should be taxed is rents, Ricardian rents as written about at length by Adam Smith.
Yeah, I chalk this up to broken feedback loops. A separate but related problem, is that in most places it works roughly like G = TI, with a fixed T (tax rate), so that G (government budget) is a function of I (income). The tax just works like a resistance to accumulating wealth, no matter how much the government actually needs in order to function. It would probably help if we capped G instead, i.e. T = G/I.
"but about creating want in the user" reminded me of a quote, but it was about television advertising, which I think may be a more apt comparison:
Indeed, we may go this far: The television commercial is not at all about the character of products to be consumed. It is about the character of the consumers of products. Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country -- these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research. The television commercial has oriented business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable, which means that the business of business has now become pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient assured by psycho-dramas.
I highly recommend the book http://www.amazon.com/Amusing-Ourselves-Death-Discourse-Busi...
This is why I generally choose small open source Linux based tools over smartphone apps and the like. I just don't trust app and web developers because they have repeatedly worked against my interests.
There's nothing to trust app developers with. The mobile app ecosystem is ridiculous - most apps are so limited compared to what they could be that it boggles the mind. The primary problems: they force you to use the interface provided by the author, and they don't talk to one another.
Android phones become infinitely more useful with Tasker and AutoApps plugins. They let you work around the limitations of many apps, force them to talk to one another and to the underlying operating system. Sure, you can technically program Android, but the standard interface to that (Java, APKs) is so heavy and complicated that you can do whatever you need in Tasker quicker than you can create a hello world in Android Studio. Oh, and you can do this on the go, from your phone.
 - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=net.dinglisch....
 - http://joaoapps.com/
 - I only discovered them like few days ago, despite using Tasker for years, and I've already integrated many features from them, with clear path to using even more. They make Tasker many times more powerful than it already is. They e.g. solved my problem with creating custom commands for Google Now.
I'm really curious what you specifically are doing that's such a huge lifestyle boost for you.
I really use apps on my phone for:
3. Messaging (mostly with one other person, but occasionally a few others)
4. looking stuff up on the web
5. Reading a bit in my downtime
6. Listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks
7. Checking the weather
I suspect most people are in the same boat, give or take a few things.
I know that Tasker can do cool stuff like activate certain apps in certain places (turning on your music in the car, for example), but I can do that to. Every time I've sat down to figure out tasker program I realize that the 30 minutes I'm going to spend messing with it will save me about 5 seconds.
So I'd like to know what I'm missing.
These days I use Tasker to make my phone a dumb phone when the display is off. Wifi, GPS and BT are off, mobile data is off. I can receive calls and texts, but no data transfer.
This means that people close to me can get in touch if my phone is off, but apps that want to sync things or notify me can wait until I open my phone. I also don't have facebook/twitter installed on my phone, although I use fb occasionally via desktop browser.
Re: the article, these days the worst offender is email spam. I've stopped using gmail's auto categories a few months ago, and I still (a few a week) occasionally get stuff that would have fallen into the "promo" category. I've lost count of the number of newsletters I've clicked "unsubscribe" to when I first made the switch. I made the switch because I wanted to get out of being tied to the gmail client. Now I'm free to use any email client, and my inbox looks sane regardless of what tool I use.
I find Gmail find for blocking spam but I don't use those categories as they don't make any sense to me. I like the data blocking idea but text only is too clumsy a tool; I use texts as infrequently as I use email (essentially never unless I have to). I've trained myself to only have people I care about in my contacts lists in the various apps, and to not stop everything and tend to my phone as soon as it makes a sound.
It's about being able to quickly automate away any thing that either annoys me or that I think it would be cool if it could be done. Some things I've been using Tasker for:
1. "Quiet hours" before quiet hours were a part of Android. I had a task that automatically reduced the volume levels for calls, notifications, etc. between 00:00 and 06:00. I've recently updated it to also go full volume if a certain number is calling.
2. Automatically turning wireless on/off when I'm entering / leaving home.
3. Automatically silencing / unsilencing phone when entering / leaving work (at previous work I used NFC for that, currently I use geofencing).
4. Adding custom voice commands to Google Now (I'm playing with it right now, as I finally found a way to make it work with my Bluetooth headset only a day or two ago).
5. Overriding media buttons on headphones, making them do other stuff.
6. I'm making my phone much more chatty right now - whenever I have a Bluetooth headset connected, it starts to tell me stuff via TTS - it reads out important notifications, tells me when I'm transitioning into/out of a geofence, occasionally tells time (yeah, too lazy to look at my watch), etc. I'm adding more stuff at the moment, with the intention of turning the phone into information awareness device.
7. Some time ago my SO wanted me to remind her stuff regularly via SMS; I eventually made a Tasker script that auto-assembled a message out of randomized components (to make it sound natural) and sent it to her. (Yes, she eventually started to suspect it's automated - I think because the reminders tended to come perfectly on time, or even during phone conversations.)
8. Orgzly is an application I use a lot (because I run my self-organizing in Emacs & Org-Mode). It doesn't auto-sync and having to select "Sync" from menu annoyed me a bit; I wrote a Tasker script that automatically opens the app and clicks in the menu for me every morning (still tweaking it due to issues with lockscreen).
9. Quick remote actions. I have a task that automatically opens a SSH connection to my VPS (via JuiceSSH) and executes commands.
10. IoT. In our Hackerspace, we've set up lights to be controllable via an API. A friend made me a Tasker overlay (yes, you can design UIs in Tasker) that could be used to turn the lights on and off.
11. I've just made myself a control panel for my IRC bot. The use case is this: sometimes people from our Hackerspace want me on the channel ASAP for some reason, and they notify me about it via Pushovers sent from my bot. Logging in to IRC while on the go isn't exactly convenient, so I made a popup control panel, accessible with a homescreen shortcut, that provides me with a text field and a series of canned responses that I can use to have my bot tell them something in my name.
12. When I was in China on a business stay, every day we'd catch a taxi to take us to the company. Since taxi drivers in Shenzhen don't understand any English and can't really read latin alphabet, we used to show them the photo of the street sign with an address. Taking out the phone and finding that photo was annoying, so I got one local to say the address out loud, recorded it, and then made my Pebble activate a Tasker task that would play the recording out loud - this way I could press a button on a watch twice instead of having to pull out my phone and find the image.
13. Speaking of Pebble - I used to forget to note down work entry/exit times in China. I realized that I always think about it while I'm riding an elevator, so I made a quick Tasker logger and hooked it up to the Pebble.
The common thread in all of these is getting rid of trivial annoyances and quickly adding some features to the phone. For half of these you wouldn't probably even find an app. Tasker to Android is like Bash scripts to Linux - when you learn it, you suddenly start using it all the time for fixing stuff and implementing random ideas. It turns your device into a tool. Yes, I do the same 7 things you do on my phone, but I know that if I want to do something else - like e.g. manage a server or an on-line service - I can make it happen.
Tasker is excellent, and AutoApps looks like a useful extension.
I wanted add Locale. I find Tasker is easier to work with for edge-based transitions - reactions to events - while Locale is easier to work with for level-based states, i.e. to enable some setting when a certain set of criteria are true, but go back to defaults if they're not.
I use Locale for toggling wifi when leaving home and silencing when at work, for example.
Thanks! I've seen the name before, but somehow assumed that this app must have something to do with languages and stuff... :). I'll check it out.
- A phone has a convenient form factor (I still keep using a lot of desktop apps though)
- Small open source tools usually are incomplete and have clumsy usability
Could you let us know which open source Linux based tools you use, and what mobile/web app you let go loose.
Not OP, but a good example would be the various PDF conversion apps around. The freemium/shareware ones all suck in one way or another unless you pay (arbitrary page limits, watermarks etc), the web-based ones make batch processing very hard and have privacy issues. Meanwhile ghostscript, pdftk, imagemagick and co. just work and will continue to work for a long time. On mobile I can use these over SSH on a remote Linux box. LaTeX or LibreOffice vs. Word is a similar example, although you can't always get around using Word.
Or Photoshop, when Adobe switched to a subscription service. I use it maybe 3 times a year, a (legal) old version would be fine but you can't buy one. GIMP it is, even though it has less features.
I want to spend less time looking for new apps/services just because the previous ones went out of business or now charge monthly for 5 lines of code. Libre/Free software mostly stays around, even the unmaintained stuff is often forked/fixed/updated by someone if the fix is small enough.
Nice. Apparently it uses Ghostscript in the background though?
Another problem is that a Google search for "convert to PDF" turns up so much crap it's hard to even start looking. Same with "convert to MP4". I just use ffmpeg directly now, even though getting the command line options right is not easy.
> User happiness just happens to not be be necessary for Facebook to be a successful business.
Agreed. But the anti-thesis of that is that along with tech companies (like Facebook and Goolge), the average user is evolving too. In other words, sooner or later, the average user will start thinking exactly what you are thinking now. And thats when the user will start ditching Facebook for something open source and WhatsApp for something like Telegram.
You couldn't be more right. Looking at apps on Apple's App Store, you will often see them bragging about their app being "Addictive," or in reviews, people will state how addictive the app is as if that were a good thing.
That and "aggressive" for praising car designs. Great idea, we really could use some more aggression on the roads ...
One of the interesting side effects of social media is the social "guilt" of "unfriending". I suppose this is another form of the inconvenience associated with using a technology. Individuals feel briefly butthurt by someone consciuosly disassociating themselves after intelligently beating the system. For example, I first unfriended all connections prior to deleting my Facebook account which allowed me to stay away forever instead of coming back to reactivate my account. You might have heard of similar approaches such as the "overwhelming force" of paying someone when it comes to quitting smoking if they happen to catch you smoking. Instead it seems companies have countered this by selling electronic cigarettes which seem to be socially appealing (e.g. asthetically appealing color and pattern choices). If someone does to act quickly enough on their plan to "leave the system", they may quickly get pulled back in with a counter move on behalf of some business.
Interesting you used smoking as a metaphor and not advertising. The amount of effort and money that's gone into that is amazing.
I heard some thinking by Jake Appelbaum that it feels like you might connect with:
There's some sort of future truth in this kind of thinking that I'm still sorting out. It seems to centre around a future ability to embrace and accommodate all the ways that humans and our minds are frail, instead of all the ways that we're great. And that seems pretty counter to the prevailing western culture of choice and autonomy. Accepting this might require social concessions, where we carve out safe spaces and practices, free from the all-too-easy possibility of manipulation. I can very much imagine, in a sci-fi-esque way, how this leads into conversations that will later involve trans-humanism :/
Hopefully the above doesn't seem dark -- I'm an optimist!
> I think the way we use technology today will be looked back on the same way we look back at naive cigarette smoking in the 1950s.
> Modern app design isn't about creating things that are good for the user, but about creating want in the user. This is a problem.
This would be my feelings as well. However, you have to acknowledge that this is only one possible scenario. It could be that somewhere in the future all of a sudden we discover a puzzle piece which is as of yet unknown and boom everything makes perfect sense and the way we did things in the 00s looks incredibly quaint and idiotic.
Atm I try to ignore FB et al as much as I can but there is a slim chance that this makes me look like a fool one day.
Apps always serve the customers. When people used to buy apps, they were the customers. Now advertisers pay for apps, and people are the product. Economics are hugely important, as all behavior eventually will align with what is incentivized.
> User happiness just happens to not be be necessary for Facebook to be a successful business.
All that is necessary for Facebook to be successful is to make money for their shareholders. User happiness is only important if it impacts that particular line item.
I think this hearkens back to the "great power, great responsibility" cliche. The power of technology requires mature, responsible users and creators. But it's very difficult to be either of those.
I think the way we use technology today will be looked back on the same way we look back at naive cigarette smoking in the 1950s.
Or perhaps cars and freeways, from about the same period.
I'm glad you posted this. It is all about trying to drive habits just like cigarettes which are specially engineered.
I'm glad you posted this. It is all about trying to drive habits just like cigarettes which are specially engineered.
I had a mildly negative reaction to this article which seems different from most people's reactions here
Yelp example: I get that yelp is limiting my options but what did I do before yelp? Pretty much I just went to the 4 or 5 places I already knew instead of seeing if there was something new nearby. I tried hundreds of new places because of recommendations from Google Maps or Yelp that I likely would not have tried otherwise. Certainly not before I had this thing in my pocket that let me research at the moment of desire instead of having the plan ahead
Similarly I look for meetups and have been to way more activities that I would have gone to in the past.
On the slot machine idea: Before smartphones and apps I'd flip through a magazines and hope there'd be something interesting. Before digital TV back when channel surfing tuned into each channel immediately instead of taking 3-5 seconds I'd flip through channels hoping to discover an interesting program. When I buy a book I'm gambling it's going to catch me. When I go to a new restaurant I'm gambling it's going to be delicious (it often isn't)
I guess I don't really see the difference between that and many of the things listed on that list.
I also do uninstall apps. I've un-followed 90% of my connections to keep it my feed actually relevant to me.
Sure I do spend too much time on (in my own opinion) on the net for various things. hopefully I can keep it under control.
It got more scary for me toward the end where he seemed to be calling for government regulation. A digital "bill of rights". An FDA for Tech. No doubt he's assuming he'll be on the committees to decide what's best for everyone else.
There's definitely positive value in the services and apps that you mention, otherwise people wouldn't begin using them initially.
I think the key difference between the services and living life with "Pre-Internet" substitutes is that all of the services have been designed and engineered to elicit a certain usage.
When you use something that was designed, there's a certain set of axioms governing that thing. You've got to buy into someone else's interpretation of value. If you're aware that the other person's interpretation is different from your own, then you'll be much more likely to have the self-control needed to interpret its value for yourself. The danger is that most people don't do that and as a result fall prey to their own assumptions based on what they were told is valuable.
The trickle of pre-internet information doesn't compare to the firehose we have today. There's not one single solution and I agree that a governance of these ethical ideals will be tricky no matter what form it takes.
I'd rather have the fire hose with the bad that comes with it than what came before - severely limited information, often old or stale, often requiring travel to find it.
Having the wealth of the world's information LITERALLY at your fingertips is going to come with some bad. But holy moly is it just so much better this way.
I think his point about Yelp was more that THEY CONTROL all those new choices you explored. Yelp becomes the gate keeper that restaurants and bars must appease in order to show up in their list that you are looking at.
Kind of interesting idea about how our tools (generic) present us with limited menus, and effectively restrict our options.
Facebook has expanded (barely) the options for basic responses to posts (no longer just like, but also a handful of emoticons to express laughter, anger, sadness, etc.). Not as full an option as when using the comment box, but for quick responses it allows for greater expressiveness. At least people don't have to "like" the tragic news of their friend's family deaths anymore.
But then look at Allo, announced from Google yesterday, with its @google bot that will help people decide how to make basic, trivial responses to pictures posted to threads. (I'll try to find the link later, but the demo was with a graduation photo, and a few suggested responses like "You look great!" "Congratulations, so happy for you" or something similar).
By pushing the job of coming up with options to tools, like the choice of restaurants and bars to Yelp, we narrow our worlds. We limit our expressiveness and creativity.
I don't know that I have a point, just some thoughts.
A long time ago, when MMORPG was a new thing, I was still playing regular, "paper based" RPG. When someone asked me why am I not jumping on the shiny bandwagon I told them it's because I cannot make the decision to, in case I have the strength for it, pick up a random log of tree in the forest and kill the attacking giant with it in the game, because the choices there are limited to whatever the programmers decided to add.
The exact response I have to people that badgered me about joining their WoW guild. I was thankfully playing D&D in the years prior and that inoculated me against the MMO genre...
Nearly a decade later, I was leveling a WoW hero to lvl 20 in order to get a Liadrin hero portrait in Hearthstone. Though I think the UI is fantastic and the music score is superb, every game mechanic just seems watered down and the world seems to have all key points curiously spaced out, as if to waste your time on traveling.
When I got repeatedly bullied by the Snapping Turtles in an oasis where you're meant to plant some dried seeds, I just gave up and went back to Teleglitch. Now that's a great game!
Yep. I play some video games. But tabletop will always be better for me and my friends because of this freedom.
> By pushing the job of coming up with options to tools, like the choice of restaurants and bars to Yelp, we narrow our worlds. We limit our expressiveness and creativity.
And the sad thing is, those same tools could help us significantly extend our expressiveness and creativity. Instead of narrowing available options they could be expanding them. Think about this every time you see someone saying it's good to remove features because "99% of users don't need it" or "more features = more work for developers".
Really good essay, thanks for reminding me of that one. I believe it's been posted to HN before (I read it from a link here), but it may have been another comment suggesting it.
(about 3/4 down)
But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
hey dang, how about a category link that automatically recycles classic submissions like this?
> the demo was with a graduation photo, and a few suggested responses like "You look great!" "Congratulations, so happy for you" or something similar).
Don't know why anyone would actually use features like this. It's very impersonal and insincere
People already just like photos like that. Or say simply "happy birthday" to everyone when Facebook tells them it's time. It's a small step from this state to a slightly extended set of canned responses to pick from.
The "Happy birthday" messages were nice the first time (circa "thefacebook"), but the more I thought about it the more depressing and creepy it became. I hid my birthday, then closed my wall, and then left facebook entirely. Now it's only sincere messages from a close few, which feels like much more.
definitely agree, on the other hand it's funny to see people who put fake birthdays on facebook actually getting the "happy birthday!" messages on the fake date
So are greeting cards but those are huge, for many people receiving one is a requirement for every Hallmark holiday.
good points about greeting cards, but people usually add to greeting cards... right?
It makes for a cool demo, but impractical for real-world use.
It might be good for some laughs to have bot-only conversations.
Eventually we will have a bunch of bots commending each other on their autogenerated graduation photos, and we can go outside and have actual human interactions again.
I wonder how much uptake Allo is going to have. Personally I'm going to stay away from it - why should I need to compete with a robot to provide authentic responses?
People are going to pick apart what you say on Allo. "Did he just click on the bot response, or did he really mean that?"
This means Facebook's trending topics list is, essentially, the news.
The bit about choices reminds about the soda cup debacle from when Bloomberg proposed limiting the size of soda containers that some venues could sell.
Everyone griped about how it limited their "freedom of choice", but nobody asked about why those particular sizes were the choices available in the first place. 7-11 and others decided that they could add a $0.05 more soda and charge $0.25 more and make more money. People would buy it because look, you get 50% more for only a quarter!
Meanwhile the choice of buying less was never presented as an option.
And nevermind that most places have free refills on drinks anyways. So the total quantity of soda you consume isn't restricted unless it's take-away.
That's true, but I would assert that if you gave two people a small cup and big cup, the one with the larger would still drink more, even with free refills. More refills needed for the same amount if soda, more distance to walk, more time, etc.
> Meanwhile the choice of buying less was never presented as an option.
What do you mean here? There were always multiple sizes of soda. Bloomberg was the one who was introducing the restriction, requiring someone who wanted more than a particular size to buy it in two separate cups. I must be parsing this incorrectly.
In NYC, most soda drinkers are stopping by their corner bodega/deli and buying a bottle, then walking/taking the subway somewhere. I feel like in this particular case, the goal was to force soda manufacturers to sell 16oz bottles rather than 20oz bottles, thus reducing the amount most people consume in a single purchase.
EDIT: I'm wrong, a reply below clarified the intent and also that bottles were exempt.
Back when I drank soda regularly, I often felt like 20oz was a little bit too much. A 12oz can felt about right, but in NYC it's a lot less convenient because you must finish it immediately upon opening.
That makes total sense for bottled soda, but for 7-11 sodas (which were what was mentioned in the comment I replied to), or fast food sodas (which were mentioned often at the time the law was proposed), there were always various sizes. They got cheaper by volume as they got larger, but 1) that's the same as every product, and 2) there's overhead in cup and the labor of filling it that stays fairly flat as the size increases.
Wasn't the Bloomberg law intentionally meant to corral people into drinking less soda by forcing people who wanted to drink more to carry two cups? The law, rather than the opposition to it seems like an explicit, intentional example of the OP.
edit: I don't drink soda, and I'm not a libertarian.
I don't have a refutation for your first point regarding fast food, although according to Wikipedia, 7-11, being a grocer and thus state-regulated, would be excluded from the sizing law.
> The law, rather than the opposition to it seems like an explicit, intentional example of the OP.
Indeed. However, we must note that using techniques described in the OP aren't necessarily bad: merely that when the values of these large (not-always-tech) companies do not align with their customers, consumers are manipulated toward actions that ultimately run counter to their (presumed) values, such as their physical, financial, and emotional well-being.
If a government, which ideally represents the values of its constituency, chose to regulate using these same principles, the result could be a net benefit for society.
The law exempted canned and bottled sodas. It was targeted at things like the Big Gulp, and movie theater sodas, where the small size starts at about 24oz.
I did not know this. Makes sense but also seems fairly weak/overly specific given it basically only targets movie theaters.
Well, also gas stations, convenience stores, and fast food places. Basically anywhere that has a self-serve fountain.
The small size for a movie theater soda often starts at about 24oz. Getting less than that is not an option. There's been studies that when you put more food or drink in front of someone, they'll consume, even if they aren't particularly hungry or thirsty. Hence, the inflated soda sizes were adding thousands of extra calories that people otherwise wouldn't have wanted.
Thanks, I didn't think about the massive movie theater tankards. Seems like that could be solved by requiring that they offer a smaller size, rather than requiring that they not offer a larger one.
I've always thought that government could help a lot just by requiring that they sell tap water in cups of the same size as the cups of sugar water, and at cost. As it is, the choice is usually between a thimbleful of water, or a bottled water that is (other than being wasteful, environmentally horrible, and sending money to those same sugar water companies) sometimes more expensive than the soda.
I have joked many times that I would gladly pay more to have less food served.
I find most served dishes are too big for me, and end up sharing w someone.. but sometimes that's not an option, so it will be good not to waste half of the food, even of it cost more to me.
With a little planning, you can eat the food that tastes best freshly-cooked, then take the remainder home for left-overs.
If I'm eating solo, I'm always taking food home with me.
Does anyone else feel the slot machine effect here on HN is the karma displayed on the top-right? After a submission or comment, is that number the first thing you check when you come back to the site?
Often, yep. Sometimes watching it go down is quite a trip too.
It's something an article I came across used as a conclusion while looking into how commenting communities can become friendly, turn into cliques, and then into "Join the Consensus or Die" cesspools:
>Numerous comment sections and message boards and forums probably have ups and downs between Community, Clique, and Cesspool outside of this example — I know I’ve seen it on Ars Technica as well. It looks to me like a general extension of human social habits, like an evolutionary necessity where feeling part of a group is comforting. Experience makes me believe getting upvote currency is a pathway to the pleasure center of the brain.
Yes, the "unlike-button" is the means to police the crowd and just have everyone behave on a consensual manner. Interesting enough, it only works on anonymous crowds b/c on social networks where you actually know the person, a downvote can actually have real-live consequences.
Reddit almost stumbled upon the golden formula. They have a feature that shows a comment is "controversial" in that it's being up- and down-voted a lot. Those comments should be featured top and center.
Coming from one of the founders of Stack Exchange, no less.
On Reddit, HN, and SE, I'm always checking to see if I have any more points and any replies first.
Or, conversely, they'll do whatever they can to make it go down. I'm guilty of buying a small ICQ number.
Only looking for a change - which means somebody may have replied, and I'll want to be polite and check that out. I don't remember anything but the last 2 digits short-term.
Same here with the exception of arbitrary milestones I try to reach out of geeky habits like 42, 69, 1337, etc.
Pretty much this, I find some of the best internet conversations can be had on this website and there are very intelligent people here so I check a few times to see if someone responded more than for karma. I don't think my ideas fit into the mainstream too often so the karma doesn't do much for me lol I also drop accounts and start new ones.
I will add to the comment I posted on the articles website and incoming shameless plug. I am usually logged out when I read HN so the karma thing is not that big of a deal but I tend to open multiple articles in new tabs, problem is I feel like I missed out if I don’t finish reading them that’s why I designed a reading time estimator as a chrome extension. I think if you put the true cost upfront and the user knows how much of their time it will take they will be hesitant to start reading the article. Its open-Source and you can contribute here https://github.com/usergit/read-time and the extension link https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/read-time/nccohhim...
I don't make submissions, only comments, but I like that no one else comment score is displayed for me, and I only feel the need to check my own comments page to see if anyone's replied to me.
On reddit I'm much more likely to check how my comments are doing.
So based on what this author is saying, what is a more ethical design pattern for karma? or is there no ethical karma design pattern?
What Slashdot did comes to mind...replacing the actual number with an enumerated set of descriptions. It was fairly easy to get to the top classification of 'Excellent', so once you achieved that, there was no reason to check it. It also cut down on the 'karma whoring' that led them to make the change in the first place, so it was a positive in multiple ways.
Hard to tell, my first guess is that hiding the karma points will help. Perhaps replacing it with a comment reply alert.
Nope. However, I used to be addicted to /leaders when it was in the header (and made efforts to post and comment here every day) but points mean absolutely zero to me unless they place me in a ranking compared to someone else's so I don't care much now.
almost every "social news" site is guilty of this.
reddit even has two types of imaginary internet points: link and comment karma. reddit also has endless scrolling, a bar that shows daily "reddit gold" goals, and oranged envelope to see unread messages(slot machine)
I've always just created a new account for any comment I make here. In the beginning this was simple privacy consciousness. Paranoia, if you like. I just didn't want a long-lived trail of comments, however apparently benign, to be trivially associated with my actual persona.
As the years went by, though, I found that the lack of score consciousness was itself a noticeable relief of cognitive load from my earlier status-conscious state. The actual feeling was similar to when I desynced my work email account from my smartphone and disabled all but SMS and incoming call notifications.
I used to do that, for similar reasons, but stopped and stuck with the random account I happened to be using at the time.
The reason? Nothing more than HN has the least solvable captchas going and I was tired of a dozen attempts every time I create a new one.
I still think of it as a throwaway though, so don't care about the karma or pay heed to it. Ironically the comments I expect to go heavily negative often attract the highest positive response.
I have wished for a way to turn that number off. (yes, I could make an extension to hide it I guess)
Apparently google has an Ethicist.
Huh. Zero mentions of the thing that manipulates people by design.
I guess I don't blame him, because even with a blind spot to ads it would seem Google still doesn't give two shits about his input. He explicitly calls out a problem YouTube feature, which he certainly would have voiced internally before externally. And he doesn't work at Google anymore.
Google must want results from ethicists the way tobacco companies of old wanted results from in-house scientists.
> Apparently google has an Ethicist.
Well, had. From his bio snippet at the bottom: "Ex-Design Ethicist & Product Philosopher @ Google"
It sounded to me like a euphemism for hanging out on the roof waiting for your non compete agreement term to run out.
I don't know that competition is so heavy in the technological ethics industry.
Non-compete agreements are illegal in California. He was probably waiting for his stock options to vest.
Apparently google has an Ethicist.
I'm not sure if I should rejoice that Google has one, or be worried that Google has just one.
More than one. There was a British AI company they bought on condition of hiring an AI ethicist.
So there's at least one other than the former Google ethicist who wrote this article.
He mentions "thousands of other techniques" that exist, if you read the article. I'm sure advertising is a subset of those.
Also no mention of politics, despite going on at length about the 'illusions of freedom'. Granted, going there would force an admission that the world just kinda works like this all around.
Ads don't always manipulate, they can also inform. Lets say you're looking for a new headset and have a mental buy price. The ad shows you the set you want at the price you wanted. Click, buy, and no manipulation.
> no manipulation
Because the ad is definitely a neutral source of information.
I enjoyed the article.
The most important takeaway for me was " now companies have a responsibility to reduce these effects by converting intermittent variable rewards into less addictive, more predictable ones with better design"
I think most of the techniques listed actually cause pain for users, the same way addictions do. I think a lot of people are aware at some level that they are giving up to temptation and it makes them feel worse about themselves.
On the contrary, when an app makes a prediction and nails it, I tend to appreciate it much more, and feel it helped me rather than lured me. My only gripe with predictability is it usually entails giving up a big portion of my privacy.
In my idealist mind somewhere in the future, personal privacy will be a default state of mind for service providers. Total self privacy combined with life analytics (Lifelytics?) which empower streamlining ones routine is a dream I hope I witness come true.
Exactly. I have wondered for a while why I find predictive AI services frightening and even disgusting.
I realized that it is through apparent unpredictability of my actions that I perceive my own free will (or at least the illusion of it, depending on one's philosophy). If a computer can acurately predict my actions, it feels like my free will is taken away from me. And free will is one of the few things that truly sets us apart from mere automatons. (At least IMHO.)
If your free will can be taken away by a machine predicting what you'll be interested in, you never really had it in the first place
My 2 cents on this(opinion) and how I am struggling to cope with tech usage in my life.
I noticed that I spend a disproportionately high volume of time "consuming" than "creating". Recently I have been making efforts to create more. writing, drawing, painting. Something, anything so that the brain can spend some time coming up with new things instead of just reading/passively participating.
Technology has empowered a lot of us to create more, but it has also played a huge part in 'consumption', since it is so easy to swipe up and get the next article and the next and the next. Not to forget passive reading where I just skim through without actually paying any kind of attention to detail.
Yeah, consumption vs. creation is a great way to sum it up.
By and large I've cut WAY back on my video game playing (like, from several hours a week down to maybe a half hour of mobile gaming in bed at night) and tried to replace it with "healthier" activities like learning guitar and gardening.
Oddly enough, I don't feel like I have any more free time in my life. I'm wondering if I've filled the gap with more consumption via Reddit/HN/reading books enough to make up for the difference.
And that's the rub, because a lot of the stuff I read online or in books isn't garbage. HN has some interesting topics, my Reddit feed is lots of interesting stuff for the most part now, and I'm reading a great book on investing. Ultimately though those are still consumptive activities.
This is not specific to technology and can essentially be traced back to capitalism for every industry. Businesses have nothing to gain by making product decisions around "will this help the customers well being". If it does not help them sell more, do more, make more it does not matter. All consumer facing companies apps, games, food, travel they are all gamified to grow the business regardless of whether there is a government agency to influence them. I'm all for making product and business decisions around these ideas but these psychological tricks have been applied to consumers for decades long before the Internet.
I was really interested in the article until I read: "I spent the last three years as Google’s Design Ethicist...". In the article he is focusing at the application level but the issue is at the form factor level.
One simple example: if you give to a child a Simon game app based on the original Simon game  he/she will probably end up switching to YouTube and watching stupid videos but if you give him/her the "limited" form factor version of the game the child will have more fun.
I think that's another article. I would be interested in seeing someone think through different form factors for mobile computing that could go hand in hand with the application level ideas presented here.
I had to reread the OP a couple times but I finally got it.
Give a child a smartphone with Simon, even opened to the app, and they'll wander off to YouTube or something else.
Give a child the game Simon which only functions as the game, and they'll be enthralled.
Simon the app will have to compete with other installed apps for attention. Simon the physical game, once in hands, is not as easily replaceable.
Limited because your mobile phone is a generic computer while Simon is a specific game.
Anybody else struck by the irony of the glaring "Don't miss Tristan Harris's next story" dialog at the bottom of the article?
Note the verbiage exploiting Fear of Missing Something Important.
When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:
It's so much more about politics (elections of all levels) rather than about technology!
“what’s not on the menu?”
“why am I being given these options and not others?”
“do I know the menu provider’s goals?”
“is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelmingly array of toothpastes)
It's actually more about philosophy: free-will and the illusion of choice.
Yes, but if you don't align well-enough with a genuine human desire/need, your brand will slowly but surely rot away. See Buzzfeed.
If by "successful" you mean unethical, manipulative, and popular, yes. I happen to define success as providing actual positive value to the world because those are my aims. If your goal is to be an asshole but not get recognized as the source of the assholery, then you now know how to succeed at doing that.
Nothing new here. If anyone is interested to learn about these mechanisms in death there is a great book "Hooked" by Nir Eval.
The real problem here are the users. If they keep unconsciously falling for the same tricks over and over again, rather than taking a stand and rejecting manipulative products, there is no incentive for product makers to create product which are _not_ manipulative. You can compare it to eating junk food, rather than choosing healthy options.
As with addictive drugs, the real problem doesn't wholly lie on either side. You can't blame the users entirely for the fact that people choose to supply a harmful product for profit, but neither can you wholly blame the suppliers for being tempted to do so when users lap it up. Regardless of the blame question, it will improve when (if) both sides change their behaviour, or when either side changes unilaterally and forces a change from the other side.
Addictive drugs is a good comparison. The supply stills exists because it's profitable and because of suppliers who don't have any moral problems with providing the supply in the first place, for the sake of profit. I remember I watched a documentary on Mexican cartels, and their excuse is simply because they don't know any better.
In the case of technology, it seems a sacrifice has to be made, to refrain from using said manipulative strategies, and thus losing profit.
I still don't quite understand your point about consumers. Assuming that you have free will, it's your own choice to either use those products or not. You can't blame companies manipulating your behavior if you opted in in the first place.
This is classic game theory.
You lose as a company if you don't build in these addictive features. So everyone does it because as he made clear, attention is the currency of business currently. All of these companies, and new companies would have to agree not to build these behaviors in.
The idea of an FDA or bill of rights for technology is great in the holistic macro sense, but I think unrealistic as it is not aligned with the interests of companies.
It's the same with any externalities, be it pollution or labor exploitation - things that have clear nexus with bad outcomes but struggle to gain traction around limiting because of overwhelming business interests.
I agree a FDA for tech addictiveness probably won't happen. Now a Chrome extension to block much of it similar to adblock. That would be doable.
Shame beats it. See up-thread. Once people start seeing mindless staring at phones as the public health equivalent of smoking, things will improve.
As someone who spends much of the day staring at screens (more macbook than phone) I'm not sure that's going to happen in a hurry. I guess it's hard to distinguish the mindless staring from learning something useful. I can't even figure which category my own time reading the latest Trump craziness falls into though probably more the mindless category. (see also http://www.theonion.com/blogpost/admit-it-you-people-want-se...)
Hm. Maybe we need a system for mail and messaging which puts most items into a bin to be read later. Once every N hours, it shows you the "later" items.
(One real headache is the demise of third-party messaging clients. You can't write a Twitter client any more, or a Facebook client, or a WhatsApp client, or a Slack client. This is a big problem, because the vendor clients work for the man, not for you. With email, you're still in control, but not with the proprietary systems.)
I imagine that this could be done on android by batching notifications for display at specified intervals. Not sure about iOS (without jailbreak) though.
There are companies that have whole teams of "addiction specialists" that some video game companies hire to give talks to their producers. I know this from personal experience, they are literally trying to make you addicted and have that goal in mind.
> We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights.
I think that the only way we can do this is for out technology to make our values impulsive.
The challenge is that there is no one set of "values" that we can agree on as a people.
That's not such a big problem. I think we can get good an inferring values from behavior and using values in marketing. Then if you download an app that has positioned itself with certain values, the designer can reasonably assume that you hold those values.
Disagree. People are terrible at aligning behaviors with stated "values."
Economists look at this dissonance as "revealed preferences." While it may be the best thing we have to describe behavior, it's not well aligned with self-image - which is really what stated preferences aka "values" are.
As a result, designing systems around revealed preferences might be advantageous in the short term - it conflicts with people's long term self concept.
This ends up being a normative economics (< a rare thing any more) and philosophy question.
Some people in the AI safety community have explored this idea of consolidating values, as the seed goals for artificial general intelligence - but it proved to be impossible.
I'm super familiar with the problems of revealed preferences (that's literally chapter 1 of my PhD thesis). But we don't need to naively interpret every action as an expression of 'values.' For example, consider netflix playlists. I shouldn't infer your values from what's in your playlist, but I probably can inver your values from the movies that go in to your playlist but never get watched. You wish you were the kind of person who watched that documentary on the failing school system. That's a value inferred from behavior.
I don't know about the only way, but this is a stunningly thought-provoking comment.
How can one separate the inherent addictiveness of social approval (which we evolved to cope with) from the added addictiveness due to slot-machine rewards?
(Discrete measures of approval, like a count of Likes, add their own variance in addition to the inherent variability of how much people liked something. That discretization is a property of the digital system, and adds the variance of a binomial distribution.)
So when you say something IRL, you can gauge a lot of fine gradations of approval in the way people react. But online, where you get a small count of upvotes, the quantization adds variance and makes it more addictive.
The added variance is most significant at small sample sizes. People whose submissions get hundreds of votes might find the process less addictive than people whose submissions get a handful of votes.
Would HN be less addictive if the upvote process was more analog, somehow? Say, by adding up the duration people held down the mouse button for?
Btw, if we're talking about variance, reddit adds variance on top of the real comment scores, and they say it's to "fight spam". Maybe the real reason is addictiveness.
> That’s why I spent the last three years as Google’s Design Ethicist caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked.
Every time I see the doodle, I have the feeling I'm being hijacked. After playing with the doodle I often forget what I came to Google for. Just saying.
It saddens me whenever I go out wit my friends and I try to have a conversation, that everyone is glued to their phones and can't have face-face conversation.
Exactly. This is one of those things many people assume and it causes them problems. The assumption that people these days always stare into their phones. Some people do that, some do it a lot less, some barely, and some never. Reality offers more choice.
Maybe OP should write a post on intersection of common assumptions with marketing tricks. There were a few embedded in here. Our assumptions get us just as often, though.
Even sadder is when you see this happen to families, with the kids' eyes glued to the phone screen instead of interacting with their families
Yep. The typical American family dinner is the Digital Dinner if you can call it that
Are cellphone signal jammers available for purchase by common people?
Great post, the whole Yelp part really spoke to me as I have been working on my own side project to help me find better food dishes. I am trying to wrap my mind around this slot machine concept as I really do not want people using my project like this.
Any suggestions on UI would be greatly welcome.
First thought: I gotta get off all of these apps. I always knew they were messing with me, and now I know how!
Second thought: Our UX designer needs to read this ASAP... it's basically a "best practices" guide for making a social app that shows "traction".
I had the same first thought, but I think it needs to be tempered somewhat. Some apps you can turn off notifications on. For example, Gmail on my phone I have turned off notifications for my work account, but not my personal account. I've also filtered what comes into my "Primary" inbox heavily so I only see emails that have some legitimate urgency on the phone. Everything else disappears into tabs and labels that I check when I want to.
If Gmail didn't make that set of options available to me I would delete it off my phone. I have yet to receive such an important email that it would have had horrendous results to not know or reply immediately. I keep the limited set of emails I do see simply because I enjoy the convenience and politeness of being able to reply to my parents, wife, and friends from my phone.
> Imagine a digital “bill of rights” outlining design standards that forced the products used by billions of people to support empowering ways for them to navigate toward their goals.
This scares me
I loved the part about the "friction required to enact choices" bit. Like how it's outstandingly easy to get a bank account, and how as a part of the law regarding privacy, they're required to provide a method for you to opt out of them selling your data, which involves them sending you a paper privacy notice, and to opt out you have to send them a written letter (no form is provided), to an address you have to write out yourself, and at your own cost.
That always infuriated me.
It should be as easy as signing up.
I think Germany has some legislation (or a court decision) that requires that customers be able to void their contracts over the same communication channel where the contract was initially created.
The author apparently has his own agenda, after seeing the time well spent link all over the article.
One nitpick: maybe it's just the grocery stores near me, but the Pharmacies are almost always located near the front right by where you walk in. Milk is often in the back however.
Milk in the back or side makes sense though. The milk and dairy area is usually front-facing doors from the huge walk-in refrigerator.
It wouldn't be smart to put a huge walk-in fridge in the center or front of the store, given the recurring shipments from cold storage trucks to fridge.
... However locally, our Kroger(s) has a small case that holds 15 gallons of milk, and a shelf of common bread up front and center.
There was an interesting episode on Planet Money a little while back about why milk is in the back of a supermarket. They had two people give very different explanations: Russ Roberts (an economist) argued that it was just simpler to maintain the cold chain with milk (and meat) in the back of the store since that's where trucks unload, and Michael Pollan (a food writer) argued that it was a behavioral economics trick to make people walk through the whole store.
That said, I've also noticed that in many larger store they have a small case of frequently bought perishables at the front of the store.
Former merchandiser here. Staples are always furthest from entrance and then separated(ie: bread one back corner, milk opposite) to make most people walk the entire store to get what they need. And that 'convenience' case in the front... take a look at the expiration dates on the products in said case, that product needs to be sold faster than the stock in the back.
Edit: PS: That economist, it's his job to rationalize the action monetarily. I/we/most people realize, if returns could be increeased, hamburger would be in a cooler next to the checkout.
Its startling to see how evil insinuates itself into normal people gradually so they don't even notice. The store managers probably think this is a standard practice so its ok. Not a pointless waste of customers' time and energy in the cynical hope to manipulate them into buying what they don't want. I plan on resenting my local mega market in future every time I make the hike to the back of their block-long store for a half-gallon of 1%.
Sadly, the store/department managers have no say in the matter. It's all laid out at corporate. Most managers inside the brick & mortar roll with it no matter how nonsensical some edicts are, some were/are bitter. They all know they are ultimately expendable.
Mine has the pharmacy just inside the doors and a cooler right next to the checkout counters filled with milk. You do, however, have to walk past a big cooler full of delicious cheese and fresh sushi pretty much as soon as you enter the door :)
The menu options metaphor applies so well to government. Especially given our current predicament.
I just finished reading "Deep Work" by Cal Newport - great book. The central theme of the book is that you need distraction-free focus to do your best work (especially relevant for programmers I think). Social media goes against this - constantly checking HN, Twitter or FB breaks this focus. He basically recommends to quit altogether. A good start is to try and go a full day with checking any social media - it's harder than it sounds.
Same here and I've just started reading "Hooked" by Nir Eyal which is kind if a counter/companion to "Deep Work". Following Newport's logic I am looking at optimising engagmement (for a paid/freemium app/SaaS website) as "help people stay in their flow state, make the interactions smooth and non-demanding, then get out of the way". Part of the book seems suggests that having tools is fine as long as the tool doesn't too much extra baggage or make to process of using it too much about itself (drawing you away from the goal/original focus).
He had me until the end.
"People’s time is valuable." True
"And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights." LOLOLOLOL
Are you laughing because privacy and other digital rights aren't currently protected as rigorously as they should be?
There are a lot of people out there protecting digital rights and privacy right now. "Protecting" something is an entirely different thing as it being "protected" already.
Depends who he means with "we". Being a Google Design Ethicist, you'd expect he means Google - which isn't exactly well-known for protecting privacy.
I think you missed the last bit of the text:
> Ex-Design Ethicist & Product Philosopher @ Google
Well, that's true. Though we don't know exactly why he quit.
It's not "technology" that is hijacking people's minds, it's specific companies who are doing it. You don't blame the magician's hat for fooling you.
The problem, as usual, is that technology is slave to the boring, insipid demands of capital to get us to click on ads and purchase more snow-pants.
Tristan Harris, the OP of this medium post, listed a table of comparisons between what's today's engaging/addictive/time sink product characteristics vs. time well spent products he advocates on his main project site. Of all the 11 points, two of them has the most profound sociological impact or inertia:
* Success Metrics: measure success by net positive contributions rather than interactions
* Business Model: use non-engagement based advertising rather than engagement advertising.
I fully applaud Tristan's vision and mission but skeptical of how quickly companies, VCs and society can adopt it.
This is not just a problem at the consumer level. My entire career I have been told that I couldn't do X because it wasn't "industry standard" or "best practice" or some other code word for "not on the menu."
As a manager it's an interesting balancing act. There are reasons things are done the way they are done and sometimes they are "because we've always done it that way" but more often it's because we've done it enough to understand something someone new to the company or industry doesn't. It's hard to know where to let go and where to draw the line.
I try to provide an environment where new people can 1. Try an idea and watch them fall on their face because they didn't understand best practices. 2. Then try to encourage understanding of those best practices and how they can be improved and change slowly to minimize impact or unexpected consequences.
I applaud your willingness to let people try new things, but the way you describe it seems to assume that all new ideas are bound to fail. They aren't. Different is not necessarily better, but better is necessarily different.
My point is that most new ideas do fail. People coming in don't realize that and it creates quite a bit of resentment. But people learn from mistakes and giving them the opportunity to fail is a good thing.
After that they can take the time to learn why best practices are best practices. From that understanding we can talk new ideas.
I've had so many employees come in convinced their idea was the best idea and then be frustrated and resentful that we wouldn't immediately start using it reciting the mantra that we do it "because it was always done that way".
Interesting read, but is the author being serious when they suggest that the FDA should be setting standards for how software UX is designed? I can't even begin to imagine how much of an unmitigated disaster that would be.
No need to worry -- FDA people are probably addicted to those software as well, if not worse
The article does a good job of showing examples, but strangely, it doesn't connect this in any way with the vast related research in psychology and economics. This makes me skeptical of the claims of expertise...
> But grocery stores want to maximize how much people buy, so they put the pharmacy and the milk at the back of the store.
Early competitors of Google thought that accurate search results only served to drive users away from their site and search was therefore an unimportant part of an overall "Internet company". It would be interesting to see a grocery chain with the philosophy of "find what you want really fast" rather than "make it really difficult to find what you want so you spend longer here" - it could be very successful by the same analogy.
I can't see a way for this style of design to be feasible that doesn't rely on a subscription-based business model.
As long as users allow free + advertising generally be the way to for build a dominant tech company then I would assume anyone that tries to compete by not optimising for advertising (eg. reducing friction for users) will lose. Which is a damn shame.
Based on my limited knowledge of the history of news media, theres a cycle between free + advertising and paid + high quality. Intuitively it should apply to other verticals too, and I hope that, in reality, it does.
For many kinds of services it can work in parallel. For example, there are ad-supported mail providers like Google, while I consciously chose a subscription-based mail provider (posteo.de) whom I trust to act in my best interest.
The only thing where this would not work so well is social networks, due to the network effect.
A note of slight relevant interest: fastmail.com's native client doesn't actually have a manual refresh button. You only get a notification for a new mail if the server pushes one to you.
A manual refresh button apparently doesn't help, because now you stumble from the "constant interruptions" trap into the "slot machine" trap...
I think this is not necessarily right -- the existing technology limits peoples choice and directs them to behave in a certain way sometimes, but it's not like people don't know they are being manipulated or that they are being provided limited choices, but they live with it what's available if what's available is satisfactory enough. But if it doesn't really satisfy them, people do go out of their way to get what they want...mostly. Atleast that's what I see from a data-point of 1.
It's called "railroading" and it's been around forever. The only new trick is to add more options that still railroad you in the same general direction.
The problem is human minds are smarter than you think and they tend to disengage when they sense this and they strongly want to get off the rails. The user does this by quitting and/or deleting the service. Over time you realize it's best to give the user all their options and they are more likely to stay using your product.
I've certainly been railroaded out of specific retailers, away from specific products, and off of specific Internet / tech sites or concepts on account of this behavior.
I draw attention to the negatives and expressly flag, block, or otherwise mark the antipattern.
HN's increasing practice to deprecate anti-ad-blocking, clickbait, and the like is a positive counter-signal.
Very eye-opening read.
few random thoughts:
> Hijack #7: Instant Interruption vs. “Respectful” Delivery... By contrast, Apple more respectfully lets userse toggle "Read Receipts" on or off
Unfortunately iPhone has a new feature to reply to messages immediately even in the lock screen, looks like everyone is guilty of this
> “now that you know I’ve seen the message, I feel even more obligated to respond.”
always tried to purposefully not respond right away even when it said I read it already, but it does feel weird/rude
Replying from the lock screen is good though?? You reply from the lock screen, so you don't unlock the phone, so you don't start doing other things than replying?
oh yeah that feature is definitely very useful it just reminded me of what the author mentioned about replying
I'm not sure I follow why the fallacy applies. But for lots of smartphone apps there is an economic benefit. Making your app mildly addictive increases your weekly active users as well as the amount of time they spend in the app. These are two gold star metrics used by lots of VCs.
He is implying there is no economic benefit to the users, not for the app in general but for engaging with particular bits of offensive design. If a user actually sat down and consciously decided whether or not to take a particular action, they likely would have gone the other way. See autoplaying videos. You probably didn't want to watch that next video, but if Google/Netflix gets their way you'll do it anyway for any number of psychological reasons. But that next video was not something you wanted, potentially it's value to you is zero or negative because of opportunity cost. That won't stop you from watching it though, if they can manipulate you and distract you from making that decision consciously.
The broken window fallacy isn't concerned with the local economic benefit for the app developer but the total economic benefit of society. A user who is addicted to an app may be using that app far past the actual utility they are deriving from it -- the app developer is encouraging them to mismanage their opportunity costs and in aggregate creates negative productivity across the total body of all users. It might be good for the VCs, but is it good for society?
That's just the basic, innate value of increased activity time, too; not to mention other things like the more time people spend in the app the more likely they are to generate some other form of economic activity.
The ads intermittently injected into the user's stream benefits the company.
Cigarette sales benefitted cigarette companies. That doesn't mean they benefitted the economy because the costs of smoking were eventually passed on to health insurance and/or taxpayers. Money that could have been spent elsewhere.
Yes, sorry, I misinterpreted your previous comment to mean that there was no benefit to either party.
Would it be possible to build an app interface which interacts with these apps yet works on behalf of the user? I might be willing to pay for something like this.
I'd say it's worse, because now that we don't pay for things (ad support ftw?) the service providers have a much stronger incentive to keep you on the site than they do to make you happy. They've slowly but surely developed methods that do exactly that, leaving us all wondering why we spend so much time on sites/in apps that we don't actually enjoy.
This isn't going to change.
I wonder what impact this knowledge would have on the public's perception of Silicon Valley (and the tech industry in general) if it got very popular. The current thinking seems to be something akin to: Oil & Gas Industries bad, Tobacco Industry bad, Fast Food Industry Bad, Big Pharma bad. Startups Good! Silicon Valley Good. Tech will fix everything. But it's the same old game.
Much of this content is associated with the field of Behavior Economics. For instance, in Hack #1, the author is speaking of what academia has called "Choice Architecture". For more about that, you can freely access multiple studies published by Thaler and Sunstein.
tldr; : don't use social networks on your smartphone or you're going to miss out on real life.
> One major reason why is the #1 psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards.
I first came across this concept in a Hello Internet podcast, and it's amazing how much you see it in just about everything on the internet once you've heard of it.
> What if your email client gave you empowering choices of ways to respond, instead of “what message do you want to type back?”
Communicating directly via writing or talking is the only thing here that is not driven by limited choices.
It reminds me of the koan about the expressiveness of the command line compared to point and click:
One evening, Master Foo and Nubi attended a gathering of programmers who had met to learn from each other. One of the programmers asked Nubi to what school he and his master belonged. Upon being told they were followers of the Great Way of Unix, the programmer grew scornful.
“The command-line tools of Unix are crude and backward,” he scoffed. “Modern, properly designed operating systems do everything through a graphical user interface.”
Master Foo said nothing, but pointed at the moon. A nearby dog began to bark at the master's hand.
“I don't understand you!” said the programmer.
Master Foo remained silent, and pointed at an image of the Buddha. Then he pointed at a window.
“What are you trying to tell me?” asked the programmer.
Master Foo pointed at the programmer's head. Then he pointed at a rock.
“Why can't you make yourself clear?” demanded the programmer.
Master Foo frowned thoughtfully, tapped the programmer twice on the nose, and dropped him in a nearby trashcan.
As the programmer was attempting to extricate himself from the garbage, the dog wandered over and piddled on him.
At that moment, the programmer achieved enlightenment.
I found it funny when the author also uses manipulative tricks:
- he finishes the article with two links (one direct and one indirect) for the same website;
- he (or the software) underestimates the time needed to read the article.
I spend most of my internet time on HN. It makes me wish HN tracked this and, each time I load the page, prompted me with a "Do you really want to spend the next n minutes here?"
This is another perspective on what Nick Carr noticed in his brilliant "The Shallows", and it is invaluable. I am glad Google is not entirely evil.
Technology doesn't hijack our minds, people do. It's an age old practice of blaming the tools.
The logical next step might be to ask well then how do we fix people? (aka, society). Maximum freedom in society means maximum freedom to be manipulated by others.
Perhaps ironically, the closer we get to solving world hunger and eradicating diseases and so on the closer we become to overpopulation and overcrowding our little planet that once seemed so large. Our ineptitude at cooperating with each other and our ability to manipulate each other so easily is probably the only thing stopping highly accelerated human progress, and thus our own demise.
Absurdism looks more appealing every day.
Did you read the article? The whole point is that there is a design intended to encourage "people" to act in ways they didn't really intend.
I read the article. The first line of my reply was in response to the title, the rest was in response to the rest of the article.
Did you read my post?
I have an overarching theory about people: their solutions create problems.
e.g., According to some, Norman Borlaug saved a billion lives by developing semi-dwarf wheat. But according to some, semi-dwarf wheat is killing our guts and making us generally unhealthy.
/me furiously redesigning our app to be a slot machine....
I could not help but notice the block at the end that asked one to "Read Tristan's next blog" with a button to Follow him.
Perhaps we are in need of a cultural shift that emphasizes
"doing it right" instead of "making all the money"
timewellspent.io contains a perfect example of indirectly hijacking our agency: the video play button.
That little triangle has almost become impossible to resist. My two-year-old can spy it from across the room and he runs over and begs me to click it.
What if we stopped using icons that have programmed our brains?
isn't it better to use a universal icon for simple actions like this? e.g. pointing to wrist for the time, floppy disk icon for saving a file, etc
I agree. It's better for design that compels certain actions.
But its worse for helping users control their impulses.
I personally feel the users should bear the overwhelming majority of responsibility for controlling their own impulses.
But the author's own website contains design objects that encourage certain impulsive behaviors and I was pointing that out.
First world problems. This post was really disgusting.
"Oh, no, I have to look at pictures of bars...Manipulation!",
"Oh, no, they are offering me to tag myself on a picture - systemic oppression and manipulation!"
"Nooo... Fuck, now have to say 'You're welcome' "
Fuck this author. A spoiled, rich cunt complaining that someone will auto-play a video after a countdown on his newest iPhone.
... In the meantime, slaves in Africa are digging material from the ground for $1 or less per day, so that he can get his iPhone. Slaves in Asia making his clothing or assembling his devices. Domestic, desperate part-time slaves delivering his food (Postmates) or driving him (Uber/Lyft).
Have you considered that the manipulation of people's minds in consumer societies might actually be part of the reason why there is so much exploitation of people in more vulnerable communities?
Just a small nitpick, all slaves make $0 per diem. It's sort of the main benefit of slavery.
Not true. Slaves are a cost to the owner, so they get food, accommodation, clothing, transportation paid for by the owner. In modern day, owner doesn't pay for you directly, but does it by giving you the money, so you get yourself all the things slaves used to get directly. You really are nitpicking and not seeing the bigger picture, because it's kinda uncomfortable.
The word "slave" is bound to the loss of freedom to walk away. You probably mean "exploitation". Don't use the word "slave" for that, because unfortunately there are still enough "real" slaves in the world who can't walk away.
And don't bother to make the argument they can't walk away for economical reasons. It's still a whole different thing.
I tend to agree with you about there being a distinction between unpaid and paid slavery, however I am not sure it's as useful or as clear a distinction as you imply.
For example - one way in which slaves can be held captive is by having them work in a remote place where they don't have the resources to travel across the space between them and the rest of society - e.g. A camp in the desert, or jungle, or a plantation on an island.
It is not clear why this kind of captivity is distinct from the captivity that arises when the barrier to cross is economic and social rather than physical.
If people are being used as laborer a in a position where they cannot accumulate enough resources to leave, what difference does it make what kind of wall keeps them there?
Slaves could walk away by 'purchasing' themselves. Or by escaping and not getting caught. Or by being freed by masters/authorities for various reasons.
This is the key thing. Slaves in the past couldn't walk away for economic reasons as well (i.e. many of them couldn't purchase themselves and become free). Also, today, if you're a US citizen, in order to renounce citizenship, you need to have another citizenship, which usually takes many years to get. So, it's very difficult to escape US Taxman, which takes half of your income (i.e you work half of the time for the Taxman).
> "And don't bother to make the argument they can't walk away for economical reasons. It's still a whole different thing."
Slaves today are little bit more free than those in the past. But, not by much.
Again, you're nitpicking with the term 'slave'. It's like saying 'cats don't walk', because they don't walk as humans. You don't have to walk as a human to be labeled as 'walking'. Likewise, you don't have to be literally in chains to be labeled a 'slave'. But, people who benefit from slave labor, like the author of the post, don't want the term 'slave' be used, because it would expose him a scumbag.
Music is what's wrong with youth these days.
Why back in my day, yadda yadda yadda.
Likes was 666 wen I went to the page... that hijacks me.
Novelty, not technology. The same cognitive behavior is exploited on restaurant menus.