The new Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma is an inside look at technology’s role in the manipulation of our mind and creation of new behaviors. While the title refers to a social dilemma, the film portrays more of a social existential crisis—and the very fabric of human society is at risk. The Social Dilemma puts us in front of deep Silicon Valley insiders as they expose their own roles in developing chronically addictive and behavior changing technologies.
The record shows that social media is an amazing resource for entrepreneurs. It allows us to showcase our talents and creativity, get clients and expand our personal networks. But we have to stay vigilant and not allow the persuasive designs embedded in the structure of these apps to steal your attention. Checking our impulses to open our email first thing in the morning or take our phone to bed at night, can help with staying more focused on a daily basis. Here are a few insights from The Social Dilemma that can help entrepreneurs maneuver through the manipulative minefield of technology.
Hitting the Jackpot
Many people outside of Silicon Valley are completely unaware of the subtle ways our minds are open to manipulation and how technology companies willingly exploit those weaknesses. One of the most intrusive design techniques used by these companies is the infinite scroll structure of almost every social media platform.
Our brains compare the act of scrolling to pulling a lever at the slot machine, for example. Every time that action leads to a positive result—a dopamine hit or lucky 7 jackpot—your brain subconsciously wants to spin, or scroll, again. Scrolling through social media is like being under a spell, you are just unconsciously moving your fingers in hopes that you will feel something with the next scroll.
Growth Hacking Your Brain
There are teams of “attention engineers” who try to make these products as addictive as possible. “Growth hackers” were commonly used teams designed to hack user psychology in order to grow engagement. Their job is to implant addictive tendencies in the human mind. The Social Dilemma interviews one of the first growth-hack leaders at Facebook, Chamath Palihapitiya. He is now reformed and dedicates his life to making people aware of this massive problem that he helped create.
He says a large part of the manipulation comes in the form of A/B testing. Basically companies like Google and Facebook roll out thousands of tiny feature changes to user accounts and run experiments on you to develop the most optimal way to get you to click or share a piece of content.
It’s like we are rats in a maze, unconsciously choosing or not choosing the cheese that is digitally presented to us. As the companies are getting better and better at learning how to get us to choose the cheese every time, we lose more and more control of our own decision making. But just in case you didn’t think brainwashing was dystopian enough, The Social Dilemma dives into another emerging Silicon Valley market which involves the sale of human beings for profit.
Selling Humans for Profit
For the first 50 years of Silicon Valley, the industry made products like hardware and software and sold those products to customers. The business model was so much more simple back then. For the last 10 years, the industry has been in the business of selling their users. Users are the new trillion dollar hardware and everybody wants a piece of you.
There is a saying in the industry that if you aren’t paying for the product, then you are the product. Apps like YouTube and Facebook cost nothing to use but we pay in our data. Millions of data points on our preferences, relationships, annoyances, likes and choices are being gathered and sold to advertisers who are going to use all of that information to manipulate and persuade you with incredible accuracy.
Every time we swipe open our phone, we have to consciously fight with the algorithms, design techniques, and brain hacks that are actively fighting to keep our eyeballs on the screen. But all hope is not lost. There are still decisions we can make as individuals to take our power, and our mind, back.
Try to sit without distractions for a few minutes. See how long you can go without looking at your phone. By exercising small moments of self control, we will start to notice the subtle hacks technology has been embedding in our brains. As Palihapitiya also pointed out, “…we are at a point in time where people need to hard break from some of these tools and the things that they rely on. The short term, dopamine driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how we operate.”
Have you checked out The Social Dilemma yet? Let us know down in the comments.
This article originally published on GREY Journal.