How Tech Hijacked Our Brains

I know I've written about this on an earlier post, but I've just read an interesting article on the subject, which seems to bear out my own fears.  Basically, it was an interview with a number of ex-employees of the tech industry (engineers, etc.) who are now so worried about the monster they've helped to create that they're now employed in trying to counter the negative effects of it.  Here are some snippets of what they have to say:

"Facebook can identify when teenagers are feeling insecure or need a confidence boost and time their 'like's' to keep them hooked."

Justin Rosenstein - former 'Facebook' engineer who created the 'Like' button, and who now leads a San Francisco-based company that improves office productivity.  He is most worried about the psychological effects on people who, research shows, touch, swipe or tap their phone 2,617 times a day on average.  Technology, he believes, may be contributing towards so-called 'continuous partial attention', severely limiting our ability to focus, and possibly lowering IQ.  "Everyone is distracted," he says.  "All of the time."


"The tech industry is the largest, most standardised and most centralised form of attentional control in human history."

James Williams - former Google strategist who built the metrics system for Google's global search advertising business.  Williams' epiphany came a few years ago, studying for his PhD at Oxford, when he noticed he was surrounded by technology that was inhibiting him from concentrating on the things he wanted to focus on.  "It was that kind of individual, existential realisation: What's going on?  Isn't technology supposed to be doing the complete opposite of this?"  That discomfort was compounded when he glanced at one of Google's dashboards, a multicoloured display showing how much of people's attention the company had commandeered for advertisers.  "I realised that this is literally a million people that we've sort of nudged or persuaded to do this thing that they weren't otherwise going to do."


"All of us are jacked into the system.  All of our minds can be hijacked.  Our choices are not as free as we think they are."

Tristan Harris - former Google employee, turned vocal critic of the tech industry.

Harris believes that tech companies never deliberately set out to make their products addictive, but were responding to the incentives of an advertising economy, experimenting with techniques to capture people's attention.  A friend at Facebook told Harris that designers initially decided the notification icon, which alerts people to new activity such as 'friend requests' or 'likes', should be blue.  It fit Facebook's style and, the thinking went, would appear 'subtle and innocuous'.  But no one used it.  So then they switched it to red... and, of course, everyone used it.  That red icon is now everywhere.  When smartphone users glance at their phones, dozens or hundreds of times a day, they are confronted with small red dots beside their apps, pleading to be tapped.  "Red is a trigger colour," says Harris.  "That's why it's used as an alarm signal."


In the same paper was this:

'63% of secondary school pupils in the UK wouldn't mind if social media didn't exist.  56% describe themselves as being on the edge of addiction to social media.  71% say they've been on temporary digital detoxes to escape it.'

Digital Awareness UK/The Guardian


Food for thought.  I use the technology.  The internet has opened things up for me.  I can go on Google Earth and see places I would never otherwise see.  I can communicate with people I would never otherwise speak to or meet.  I realised a few years ago that it was becoming a bit of an obsession, though, and I limit my usage now to no more than an hour a day - perhaps a bit more at weekends.  That frees me up to do other things, like read books, take exercise, write, learn new things.  I'm the only staff member at work who doesn't use a smartphone at work.  The others all have them out on their desks, all of the time, and divide their attention between work and phone constantly (unfortunately, that's a problem of management, which is lax).  I mainly use my phone for taking photographs, anyway.  Texts can wait.  So can calls.  So can all the other frivolous paraphernalia of social media.

Sorry to go on with this subject.  But it just makes me glad to be an Aspie, and not have to be caught up in the mind control of it all.  That's how I see it.  Modern slavery, through addiction.

  • This website / community uses red dots to signify 'alerts' for new notifications too! Even as someone who doesn't own a phone or use any other social media, I feel compelled to 'clear' these red dot notifications by reading them - I can understand how it could become addictive. At least on here we have the option of turning all notifications off. (I've no idea if Facebook offers the same option.)