Prevent Tech From Hijacking Your Mind! (Breather Episode with Brad)


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I enjoyed an excellent article on the titled, “How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist”, written by Tristan Harris. His bio says: Co-founder, Center for Humane Technology, Ex-Google Design Ethicist, CEO of Apture (acquired by Google), Philosopher, Entrepreneur, Friend, Human.

Quoting from the article, “Tristan was a Product Philosopher at Google until 2016 where he studied how technology affects a billion people’s attention, wellbeing and behavior. Started a Center for Humane Technology and the movement called Time Well Spent.

The article identifies 10 ways in which technology is hijacking our minds and quite likely ruining our lives, along with ways we can identify these issues and take corrective action. Tristan starts out making the astute observation that we usually only reference the positive attributes technology (e.g., “Google Maps gives you precise verbal and map directions for wherever you want to go; Yelp give you restaurant reviews”), instead of how this stuff things might be potentially harmful (e.g., using GPS technology compromises your natural sense of direction). Harris compares app design to how a magician operates, since both seek to exploit our “blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception.” That’s a nasty accusation, but you will learn how accurate it is when we proceed through these 10, gnarly, scary and highly disturbing ways in which tech hijacks your mind. Briefly, the list is

  1. The illusion of free choice: “technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones.” Harris says they may not align with our true needs. A simple example, the bike shop is having a sale. You don’t need any gear but you are enticed to shop because of the sale.
  1. The slot machine concept of intermittent variable rewards: Slots are highly addictive, as are mobile devices, because we are getting fresh and surprising stimulation each time we engage. Could this be the same for abusive relationship dynamics where you keep coming back for more abuse hoping that maybe today will be a good day?
  1. FOKU (fear of keeping up. Foku too!), FOMO (Fear of missing out), FOMSI (Fear of missing something important). This is why we don’t unsubscribe from boring stuff (might miss a sale!) or turn off boring athletic events on TV (might miss a comeback). It’s also why we suffer from disastrous consequences of consumerism mentality and keeping up with the Joneses. Check the book Affluenze for more on this.
  1. Social Approval: We like when we get more followers and when people accept our friend requests. “So when Marc tags me, he’s actually responding to Facebook’s suggestion, not making an independent choice. But through design choices like this, Facebook controls the multiplier for how often millions of people experience their social approval online."
  1. Social Reciprocity (Tit-for-tat): Quoting from the article, “You do me a favor — I owe you one next time. You say, “thank you”— I have to say “you’re welcome.” You send me an email— it’s rude not to get back to you.”
  1. Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay: Remember when you could go to YouTube and play the video of your choice and be done with it? Not any more. Ditto for Netflix. Bottomless bowls refers to a famous experiment where people ate more soup when the bowl had a secret trap door to auto-refill it from the bottom.
  1. Instant Interruption vs. “Respectful” Delivery: App makers like to, “heighten the feeling of urgency and social reciprocity. Harris says this is, "maximizing interruptions in the name of business creates a tragedy of the commons, ruining global attention spans and causing billions of unnecessary interruptions each day.” His Time Well Spent movement addresses the issue by demanding better design features with social media.  
  1. Bundling Your Reasons with Their Reasons: Harris observes that the top two reasons for visiting the grocery store are to buy milk and visit pharmacy. Hence, this stuff is typically located in the back of the store, so you pass buying options. Ditto for the registration desk in casino hotels.
  1. Inconvenient Choices: Harris describes just how difficult it is to cancel a New York Times subscription. Ever tried to delete a Facebook account? Many hoops to jump through.
  1. Forecasting errors and “Foot in the Door” strategies: The apps and social media sites have assorted devious ways to lure you in and keep you there for a long time. Think of the clickbait that accompanies so many innocent Internet articles. Harris explains that this is why he offers an “estimated reading time” at the start of all his articles. He is respecting your valuable time as a reader and says, “In a Time Well Spent internet, choices could be framed in terms of projected cost and benefit, so people were empowered to make informed choices by default, not by doing extra work.”

This tech hijacking is a serious matter demanding your serious attention and discipline. Hopefully, the show, this written summary, Harris’s original article on The Medium, and the website will help you fight a valiant battle against tech hijacking your life.


Brad is trying to increase awareness of our behavior patterns and addiction to technology. [00.33]

We're always focused on the benefits of what the APP does. [06:44]

Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities, and limits of people's perception so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. [08:09]

Free Choice is an illusion you think you have. [09:39]

We easily become addicted to intermittent variable rewards. [10:32]

We are afraid of mission out. [12:41]

Social approval and social reciprocity are fundamental human drives. [15:04]

The concept of bottomless bowls, infinite feeds, and autoplay is another way they get you. [17:17]

Companies know that messages that interrupt people immediately are more persuasive. [19:29]

Another way apps hijack you is by taking your reasons for visiting the APP just like grocers or casinos do. [20:43]

Giving you inconvenient choices is another trick to hijack you. [21:59]

People don't intuitively forecast the true cost of a click when it's presented to them. [23:00]

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