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      Author here. I was talking to another lobster yesterday and this essay of mine from ten years ago this month came up. Although slightly-popular at the time, it’s no longer available anywhere. I felt it was appropriate to dig it up and republish on my new blogging system so tech folks today can take a look at the evolution of this topic.

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        Glad you did cuz the historical perspective was great. Thanks for submitting it!

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      I’ve been reading Ivan Illich’s book Tools for Conviviality (from 1973). It’s about how the progress of technology, while appearing to empower us, actually sucks away our autonomy and makes us dependents of industrial processes, monopolistic supply chains, etc. He imagines a different kind of technological progress that would instead treat human autonomy as a primary value.

      That summary might be problematic; it doesn’t feel exactly right. He thinks of our world of cars, highways, huge hospitals, credentialed experts, compulsory schooling, factories, etc, as one that steamrolls over the dignity and creativity of human beings and the fabric of community. This seems true even though we also benefit from industry. So he wants to imagine a future that reverses this, where people in communities have a more widespread real knowledge of how things work, where making and repairing are part of everyday life, and so on.

      People need not only to obtain things, they need above all the freedom to make things among which they can live, to give shape to them according to their own tastes, and to put them to use in caring for and about others.

      I choose the term “conviviality” to designate the opposite of industrial productivity. I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment

      The book was influential in the development of the personal computer, especially through Lee Felsenstein. Alan Kay seems to have had a similar perspective, and you also see it in old school “bicycle for the mind” Apple. But something changed, I guess. Maybe mostly with the combination of 3G smartphones and mainstream social media.

      In this light it seems to me like if our gadgets are like opiates, they are kind of like the “sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions … the opium of the people.” The world around us is boring—school is boring, work is boring, politics are boring, traffic is boring, apartments are boring, neighborhoods are boring, shopping is boring—so we scroll through funny weird novel stuff on the internet.

      But internet devices aren’t one-dimensional nihilistic black holes like heroin. They do open up to a wide world of amazing stuff. We can’t pretend that everyone is just severely addicted with no escape. We do communicate, learn, and create.

      I think these gadgets are going to be with us in the future, and I think industrial/postindustrial alienation is going to steam on through sheer power and scale—so we have to think about how to make our own spaces for conviviality, weave webs of learning and caring, find the good potentials within technology, and generally just work to strengthen ourselves, our friendships, and our communities…

      Right now I’m using the web to learn about woodworking, restoration, and some other DIY stuff with the goal of making stuff for myself and my family as well as contribute to local venues and community spaces, especially by doing things in ways that are affordable, safe, and fun. Watching, say, Paul Sellers on making mortise and tenon joints is the opposite of doing heroin.

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        Wow. What a great comment. Thank you.

        People seem to get hung up on the heroin analogy, but opiates in general are a very good thing! Holy cow, think of the kinds of surgery we can do now that we couldn’t 200 years ago, or the people who use them to manage chronic pain.

        The reason the heroin analogy works, in my opinion, is because it’s an external factor entering society rather recently that both empowers us to do a lot of things we couldn’t do before and has a tremendous downside potential that many would like to ignore. I’m a drug legalization guy, so I’m definitely not looking to go back to the dark ages. But you deal with these tremendously powerful new things by being honest. Then you educate. Then people start forming more complex relationships with these things. That’s what we want. That’s the goal: enough awareness and education that a new generation has a nuanced and healthy relationship with tech, probably though mores, religion, hero-worship, whatever works for each person.

        I feel really badly that ten years have passed and I don’t have a lot of good answers, badly both as an author and fellow consumer and tech-lover. Working alone, tech is my gateway to everything, and I’m a coder, a writer, a game player. I feel the pull of tech quite strongly. I have been planning and saying I’m going to quit FB for a year now. I find it impossible to do. Rather I find it easy to say I’m quitting, I’ll even delete it from a bunch of places. Then somehow it creeps right back into my life. That sucks. I have multiple friends with grown children in their 20s that tell me that they are quite afraid that their kids are not developing normally because they never physically get out and interact with the rest of the world. But why should they? As you point out, life is pretty boring compared to the universes we can make in tech.

        Personally, I feel there’s a physicality piece that’s missing, whether you leave the basement or not. Multi-function devices with alerts on them are by construction made to accumulate various tech trinkets to keep our attention and prevent the dreaded boredom and ennui that comes with intelligence, sentience, and the existential crisis. Perhaps single-function devices, or devices with only one app and with notifications turned off, could provide a tactile and physical feedback mechanism both for ourselves and others as to where we’re spending our time. It might help us figure out what things work for us and what things simply waste our time. You see a loved one with their head in their phone all day long, you don’t know if they’re learning woodworking or clicking on cows. This kind of observation of yourself and others you care about seems to be what we’ve naturally used to provide enough feedback to self-correct. But I’m only guessing.

        It is a difficult and thorny problem with lots of edge cases.

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          I think the heroin analogy is pretty good actually, because tech, just like heroin and morphine can be an enormous enhancement to our lives if used properly.

          However, what is and what isn’t proper use, will probably have to be ruled out by legislation. Just like we have heavily legislated other new “technologies” like cars, aeroplanes, heroin, sex, gambling and pre-packaged food items.

          One could argue that all of those are damaging to society, but all of those are also necessary to some extent.

          Maybe it’s that duality which should define what it means to be a human being.

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            I am generally against regulation. The feedback loop is too long, which matters especially in situations like this where conditions are changing so quickly. It tends to turn into a whack-a-mole game based on politics. Not an optimum solution. Then there’s regulatory capture and a bunch of other stuff that leads to bad outcomes.

            Having said that, I think we are at a point where something’s gotta give somewhere. Regulation may be a blunt and wasteful tool, but any tool beats no tool at all.

            In this kind of situation, what I look for is the minimum amount of change that can have the greatest impact while still allowing the system to evolve. Perhaps that’s something along the lines of “Tech providers are forbidden to collect and store personal information beyond anything the user has explicitly and physically agreed-to” The user has to see the information, acknowledge it, push a button, and confirm. The two-factor confirmation thing that many providers are already doing with email. Blanket acceptance of onerous TOS that give apps the ability to track you like a lab rat is only leading to worse and worse outcomes, and no matter how much you trust app A, once that data is recorded it’s going to end up everywhere. It’s just a matter of time.

            I don’t know. I know the data collection we’re doing is enabling this kind of rapid-feedback adaptation, and I’m fine with the system evolving over time. But what’s happening now is because of the tools we’re using, the system is evolving far, far faster than we can track, much less come to terms with. We need some explicit inspection and feedback loop in there somewhere. This seems like the smallest change that could have the largest impact.

            But like I said, I’m just guessing.

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              My reply was in the context of whether or not the analogy was sound to describe the problem (which I think it is) and I stated further that we have always solved these problems with regulation.

              But I’ll take the time to reply anyway: You argue that “something’s gotta give” and I totally agree with you on that one. In fact, I’ll even state that “one of these days a developer like one of us, is going to do something that will get thousands of people killed”.

              At the time of writing, Boeing seems to have made a good start on that one with the 737 MAX, but keep in mind that I actually attach a dual meaning with that statement. To understand that meaning, you’ll have to firmly grasp the fact that the road to ruin is paved with good intentions, that you can be held accountable for your actions and that you can also be held accountable for inaction.

              Just like Boeing’s 737 MAX, heroin, cars, gambling, pre-packaged food and information-technology were also invented and sold with mostly good intentions. In all those cases, the organizations involved acted in good faith, while closing their eyes for the consequences their actions might have further on down the line.

              You should also keep in mind, that endless spying, data-harvesting and keeping people entertained endlessly through a means of addiction to dopamine stimuli, have all happened multiple times before (see eastern Germany, casino’s and Dutch law regarding slot machines). Each and every time, it turned out that the organizations involved could not be expected to keep their activities within reasonable bounds on their own. They basically acted like a paperclip-maximizers each and every time.

              If you ask me for my personal opinion, I would tell you that I think that “something has already given” and that we are now running an experiment to see how much further we are willing to let this go on. I also think that history has shown us that “maximum effect with minimal means” methodologies usually do not work. To me (and not just me, but many other Europeans as well), social media has become “just the next slot machine” and an average smartphone is “just the next listening device” that does not add anything of value.

              It would be a wholly different story if the technology actually added some value to our lives, but right now it is disproportionally taking value in the form of time, privacy, freedom and money. As a consequence, many people in Europe are developing anti-American and especially an anti-scilicon-valley-attitude.

              If I have to summarize this into one sentence it would be: “Great that my device recommends me better music, TV-programs, games or other apps, but if that comes at the cost of never being able to have a guaranteed private conversation in a world where a single mistake can follow me for the rest of my life, I think I’ll pass on that.”

              Unfortunately it has become nearly impossible to “pass on that” and therefore I think that legislation is not only unavoidable, but also the only viable option. The times where you could “move fast and break things”, are slowly coming to an end, but it might take yet another decade before the natural progression puts a stop to things. Legislators are usually slow and use blunt tools, but I don’t think they are going to wait that long this time around before they will use their blunt tools. Especially because it all is stuff we’ve seen before, but now it’s all combined into a new package.

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                Yep. I’m not aware of anything we disagree on – aside maybe what legislation should look like. I’m willing to be a large sum of money that the more complex that legislation looks, the more it will enable the big players will stay in the game and use this as an opportunity to prevent anybody else from coming along later. Usually once you secure a monopoly, you’re the first person in line to ask for lots of controls to “help protect” people.

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                  Not necessarily. The big players will stay in business for a long time, but if someone discovers a better ranking algorithm for webpages, that, in combination with a few bad bets (like neural networks, Tensorflow and online advertising), will be it for Google’s main product.

                  For example: Apple’s spotlight feature on the Mac and iPhone is a much bigger threat to Google than they would like to admit. If another search provider has better results, Apple will quietly mix them in with Google’s search results without significant hesitation and the users will never see Google’s front page again. They’ll probably throw in some privacy-features too.

                  As for examples of the bad bets: At this rate of progression, in a few years, the web will be unusable because of all the advertisements that are constantly getting in your way. The adblocker guys are not going to stop. They’ve even built an entire browser based of Google’s own code and even non-tech-savy people are finding their ways to methods of blocking them. Even mozilla has integrated a decent adblocker into the recent versions of firefox! The hightime days of online advertising, are over as people are discovering that sometimes they actually have to get stuff done from time to time.

                  As for why Tensorflow and Neural Networks might be a bad bet, I quote one of my old professors: “If Neural Networks or some other AI-thingy works, that’s great, but it usually means that there is something else going on as well. Most of the time you can get the same results with domain knowledge, other metaheuristics (searches, MIP’s, etc) or a combination of both.”

                  Another significant problem is that we usually can’t explain properly what those models do. This works for a while in a bubble-like episode where nobody asks questions. Right now money is plenty and machine learning and online advertising are a hype, just like e-commerce in the 90’s or blockchain is right now. But when money is not as richly flowing as it is right now, a lot of accountants will start to evaluate their cost/income flows on their advertising campaigns and wonder why their sales are declining. At that point they will demand an explanation for why their ads are being served to users whom are “not in the mood to buy” or on irrelevant pages.

                  It doesn’t matter how much regulation is pushed through in favour of the giants, because there is no amount of regulation that could shield them from the market-forces I have described above…. And I don’t see why any government other than the US would force their citizens to search the internet through just a few providers…. But I do see governments keeping their citizens away from the few big ones they don’t like.

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          Personally, I feel there’s a physicality piece that’s missing, whether you leave the basement or not.

          That reminds me of another book, The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram from 1996; here’s a quote that connects back to the concept of conviviality:

          Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of human-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves, it is all too easy for us to forget our carnal inherence in a more-than-human matrix of sensations and sensibilities. Our bodies have formed themselves in delicate reciprocity with the manifold textures, sounds, and shapes of an animate earth – our eyes have evolved in subtle interaction with other eyes, as our ears are attuned by their very structure to the howling of wolves and the honking of geese. To shut ourselves off from these other voices, to continue by our lifestyles to condemn these other sensibilities to the oblivion of extinction, is to rob our own senses of their integrity, and to rob our minds of their coherence. We are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human.


          Humans, like other animals, are shaped by the places they inhabit, both individually and collectively. Our bodily rhythms, our moods, cycles of creativity and stillness, even our thoughts are readily engaged and influenced by seasonal patterns in the land. Yet our organic attunement to the local earth is thwarted by our ever-increasing intercourse with our own signs. Transfixed by our technologies, we short-circuit the sensorial reciprocity between our breathing bodies and the bodily terrain. Human awareness folds in upon itself, and the senses – once the crucial site of our engagement with the wild and animate earth – become mere adjuncts of an isolate and abstract mind bent on overcoming an organic reality that now seems disturbingly aloof and arbitrary.

          And as always I think about Christopher Alexander’s preface to Patterns of Software (Richard Gabriel’s book), where he asks us to consider whether a computer program can make a person feel helped “on the same level that they are helped by horses, and roses, and a crackling fire”—not to say it can’t, but to encourage that aspiration.

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      I’m a young person starting my adult life, and I’m deeply troubled by this. Education has never been better, average intelligence has just peaked, and people of my age have never had so many opportunities. On top of that, there are some urgent problems in the world, most notably global warming, whose heat (no pun intended) my generation and our offspring will feel the most.

      And what do I see my generation doing? Looking at cooking videos on Facebook. And when I talk to them about cooking, they say they barely know anything, and they can’t be bothered to learn. (Ok, that’s not all they do, but most of the other stuff isn’t any more constructive)

      Mainstream technology has made us used to getting simple, pleasant stuff spoonfed to us, without any challenges or confrontation. And that’s what we’re programmed to prefer. But the world is a difficult and complex place, so I don’t feel comfortable with how many people are growing up with such a simplistic mindset.

      When we discuss social media and games in this context, it’s really not all bad. Instant messaging is great, and to an extent these platforms really can bring people together. Games can be stimulating and sociable. But currently it’s working out to be more of an intellectual sedative than anything else, as this essay says.

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      “Intelligence is going down”, based on what research? Contrary to the anecdote on reading, print book sales have increased https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/75735-sales-of-print-books-increased-slightly-in-2017.html

      In regards to “social organizations like churches […] see fewer and fewer members attend their meetings”, couldn’t this be due to trends away from religion?

      In regards to having figured out heroin, we haven’t. We still have a huge opioid problem. Just because the names have changed doesn’t mean the issue is solved.

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        Claims of intelligence is going down is almost always rooted in a fear of youth. The newest generations are as always more educated than those before. There are a good many who might argue that the trend away from religion is a byproduct of that. IMHO this article’s title and message is especially insensitive in the heart of the opioid epidemic. Saying technology is heroin in a time when many of us have lost someone to opiates is frankly disheartening. It’s fine for the author to repost, it’s another for people to parrot it blindly in the current context. I think that talking about behavioral disorders as though they are the root cause at the time of economic recession, fails to consider the greater climate of abuse, neglect, and the stigmatization of mental illness that afford for disorder.

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      It started with an interesting description of the old times and ended with the common fear mongering call to some sort of action. Too bad.

      The author and lots of other people bundle entertainment done with a computer together and call it “technology”. And say “technology is bad, mkay!”, instead of realising that they meant “too much cheap entertainment is bad”.

      You don’t compare heroin or cocaine with Facebook, you compare them with sugar and “junk food”.

      You compare old people playing cards and swearing all day while drinking wine at the bar with them playing stupid apps on their phones.

      I’d rather live in a world where everyone accepts computers as part of life, both the entertainment and the business side. I don’t want to see another time when girls are not given access to computers, just because they are seen (like maths and logic) a “male thing”. I don’t want to explain to everyone that even though I spend all my working time in front of the computer, I am actually making a living and not just playing stupid games.

      So if in the process the first-time users are getting a bit stuck with understanding how to make most use of it (like I’m sure anyone growing up in the 80-90s), I’m ok with it; at least there will be also a time when, say, instead of believing lying politicians, people will look things up online and get to check for themselves.

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        Your errors here are numerous. I’ll just pick a few.

        “Ends with fear mongering” I prefer something more along the lines of “drama queen overstatement”. There’s no reason to be afraid. It exists. Here it is. It is simply a system that we can acknowledge and do what we want to do with. It doesn’t begin or end existing based on anything we could say here.

        Bundles too much together: the thesis is that various forms of media consumption over the centuries have competed to control more and more mindshare. It has nothing to do with the content of the media itself, it’s about the overall consumption. If you stayed plugged into a computer all day long but were able to do ten times the mental work of your grandfather, would that be a good thing? I don’t know. In fact let’s say yes. Then, according to the author, you would be something other than what was traditionally known as human. Why not evolve?

        Good/bad consumption. Once again, you’re going off-the-rails far too easily with some abstract notion of content quality. It would play out the same way given any kind of “food”. The nature of the systems have nothing to do with my or your idea of what’s good consumption or not. There’s a selection criteria, there’s an evolution over time, this is what these systems are evolving towards.

        Don’t take me back to the stone age, you dang luddite! Fair enough, there’s no clear solution offered – nor do I think there should be. Heck, you can’t admit there’s a problem, why would a solution make any sense to people who feel this way? The goal of the essay is to show these things, explain why they exist, predict how they will evolve, and invite the audience to make their own judgments. As the author, yes, I think it sucks. But it sucks because I end up having to argue with a bunch of people who don’t even want to acknowledge what’s going on. They want to talk about good and bad technology consumption, argue at the extremes, and basically do anything they can to pretend something else is going on. That’s why the essay needed to be written, and that’s why I dug it up and republished it.

        Twenty years from now, we do can do this all over again, and the trend will continue to be more and more evident. If we understand these systems, we can begin talking about what their evolution means to each of us as individuals. Maybe one person decides to become a cyborg. Another shuns all tech. Still a third person comes up with a set of personal morals and standards regarding their tech use. There doesn’t have to be a moral right or wrong here. In fact, we want to flip this thing around: understand the systems involve and take more direct control over where we’re going with them. In my opinion, going back to the stone age is insane – but so is sticking our head in the sand. We gotta find a middle ground here.

        Thank you for your comment. It’s good to see people feel passion about these things. I’m sorry you didn’t understand what I was saying. Hope this helps.

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      This is really good but technology can augment our abilities the same way drugs can so it’s not clear to me that this is all doom and gloom. The evolution is happening not just for addictive technologies but how people deal with them as well and those that figure out how to use it to augment their capabilities instead of just being passive absorbers of technology get a non-trivial advantage in the rat race.

      It’s too easy to forget the vision of computers and networks as a memex. We can work towards that vision instead of being mercenaries for Facebook and Google. The world has enough ads and AI and not enough memexes so let’s fix that.

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      None of the article is visible without javascript enabled, so it would seem that the author has taken so much heroin that they are incapable of displaying text!

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        In addition, scrolling works really weird. There is no scrollbar? Using j and k (which I mapped in my browser) doesn’t seem to work, either?

        Also the top and bottom banner take up like 25% of my vertical screen space (12.1” laptop, zoomed to 133%).

        (FYI @DanielBMarkham)

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          Also the top and bottom banner take up like 25% of my vertical screen space (12.1” laptop, zoomed to 133%).

          Same here; impossible to read on mobile, especially since firefox’s reader mode doesn’t work.

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      Reposing here what I said on Tildes, because it’s relevant to the discussion.

      This article has good historical context and presents an interesting case, but I have to say, the title and the conclusion are both representative of a very problematic assumption that underlies a lot of wrongheaded actions and opinions we see in society and even in government.

      “Using a phone” is not a meaningful activity. The computer, handheld, laptop, or desktop, is a tool to do something. If that something is press the Skinner box-like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc refresh button, sure, that’s probably not good, but I can’t see any parent or psychologist in good faith saying that the literal hundreds of hours I spent playing Kerbal Space Program in high school had “a damaging – and perhaps permanent – effect on [my] developing brain”. It taught me the calculus, and some orbital mechanics and aerodynamics, which I’m currently having formalized in college.

      Confusingly, the article makes this point and then retreats from it, with the flippant assertion that “World of Warcraft beats Wikipedia hands down.”

      Really? Ever been stuck in a Wikipedia rabbit hole? The same thing used to happen to me with my parents’ 1980s Encyclopedia Britannica before I was ever allowed to use a computer. That stuff is just interesting.

      The problem is not instantaneous mass communication. The problem is that large companies are harnessing instantaneous mass communication to fuck people over. Stop using corporate social media and the problem disappears.

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        The problem only disappears if critical mass (adoption) is somehow reversed. I can quit social media, but I can’t avoid it when dealing with other people. The mass adoption and inextricable integration into daily life is the part that changes the equation from a matter of personal taste to a matter of ecology.

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          I think we’re talking about different problems. If the problem is “technology addiction”, you absolutely can avoid addiction while using corporate social media when it’s absolutely necessary, just as I took Tramadol after surgery and never became addicted.

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            If we parse this finely, the problem per se is not even tech addiction, but the observed negative results thereof. These negative results may only be observed in a specific formulation of tech addiction; they may not even be causally linked to tech addiction. That’s why I insist on pulling the context (read: bigger picture, including lateral factors such as other people’s behavior, which I can’t control) into any discussion of individual tech addiction. We don’t get addicted in a vacuum.

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              We probably need a good working definition of “addiction”. I believe I heard somewhere that addiction is doing something repeatedly that you enjoy at the time but later feel like it was a bad thing. An identifying pattern is deciding not to do it again or cut back, then doing it again anyway. So it’s not just “wasting time playing games”. It’s more like “Waking up at 30 and realizing that you tried to stop playing games over and over again so you could go to college but you were never able to”

              Based on this definition, you could be plugged in 24/7 to tech your entire life and not be addicted. It’s not the tech. I don’t think it’s broken people – or people who make bad choices. Especially with AI getting involved, even if AI is way oversold, the system will optimize around keeping you plugged in. You begin to lose agency.

              We don’t get addicted in a vacuum.

              It’s informative to look at command centers in old sci-fi movies and early battleships. People did complex things (supposedly) involving lots of tech .. .but the audience and the other crew members could observe what’s going on from 30 feet away. It allowed for a social connection and some cross-checking.

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        You are correct it is a tool. It’s a wonderful and amazing tool. We’re lucky to have it.

        Stop using corporate social media and the problem disappears.

        This sounds like over-generalized BS to me. That’s funny, since it seems to be the same point you were making about my article. (grin)

        There’s a thought experiment to be done here which clears things up. Imagine a world with no social media. No BigCorp tech fucking people over. Everything online is something that’s good-for-you and edifying. (Also pretend that the phrase “good for you” has some meaningful and not vague meaning)

        That’s a lot of pretending! But we can do that. It may be easier for me since I saw the entire thing evolve from nothing.

        Gamification doesn’t go anywhere. Optimizing for site stickiness doesn’t go anywhere. The dopamine-click-reward response doesn’t go anywhere. Multi-function devices don’t go anywhere.

        There was a reason I went back to Beethoven to start this – and it’s not that life was somehow the halcyon salad days of yore. I wanted to start in a place that had very, very little in the way of social manipulation. That’s it. If I could have went back further reliably, I would have.

        Robert Greenburg makes the case in several of his books that the act of signing a composer’s name to a piece of music is what made music evolve. The case is also made by others. I agree. As soon as anybody started creating anything and sticking their name on it, they started using that content to manipulate consumers. Doesn’t matter if it’s music, sculpture, or my stupid jokes on FB. We create things for various reasons we have and we look for feedback to hone how we create those things. Over long periods of time this becomes manipulative. If the selection criteria for artists creating any material is audience interest? We figure out how to get audiences interested and keep them.

        Even if the net were full of orbital mechanics, you’d just end up with blogspam posts “Top Ten Reasons Uranus Looks Bad! You won’t believe #3!” We compete. Even science writers compete. You can change the venue of that competition, but it never goes away. Wikipedia might be a good example of how to create and maintain content without all of that manipulation. But I don’t want an internet that all looks like Wikipedia. Do you?

        People have their own political drums they like banging on. Big government, BigCorps, Social Media, evil clowns. I’m happy with that. You guys carry on and have fun with it. Just don’t pick up the drum you like banging on and think it’s solve this problem. This is a systemic problem. Systemic problems don’t have good or bad guys, and they don’t tend to react well to intricate manipulation. Screwing around with systemic problems without understanding the feedback mechanism involved just makes things more complex while the actors all route around the complexity introduced. I’m happy with whatever political solution folks want – but this evolutionary process started centuries ago. Mark Zuckerberg or whoever really don’t have a lot to do with it. They’re just the lucky folks that stepped in at the right moment with the right product.

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          There’s a thought experiment to be done here which clears things up. Imagine a world with no social media. No BigCorp tech fucking people over. Everything online is something that’s good-for-you and edifying. (Also pretend that the phrase “good for you” has some meaningful and not vague meaning)

          I spend a lot of time trying to push myself, my personal world, my “filter bubble” if you will, in this direction. I use uMatrix, uBlock Origin, PawBlock, et cetera to close off large sections of the web for myself. You say none of the other problems go anywhere, but you’re wrong.

          When you use Facebook only to communicate with people you don’t have other contact info for, and Reddit only to post and reply to support questions or disseminate and discuss blog posts and articles, the Web becomes a lot more like it was built to be: a document platform.

          We compete. Even science writers compete. You can change the venue of that competition, but it never goes away.

          I didn’t suggest that. Competition can be healthy when it’s not tied to survival or critical to self-esteem.

          Wikipedia might be a good example of how to create and maintain content without all of that manipulation. But I don’t want an internet that all looks like Wikipedia. Do you?

          That sounds dope. Wikipedia, arXiv, high-quality blogs, and PhpBB-style fora are the best part of the Web.

          In a certain sense, this is a really good point, and you’re right: corporate social media is a useful proxy for capitalism that doesn’t scare people off when you talk about it. The real solution to the problems you very astutely identify as the underlying causes of this addictive nature (gamification, optimizing for stickiness, etc) is to build our software as far outside of the constraints of capitalism as we can.

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      Plenty of people regularly use technology (and heroin) and lead completely normal, sociable, productive lives. This article leaves so many questions begging it’s not funny.

    10. 2

      Clearly the author has never done Heroin or heck smoked a pack of cigarettes.

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        In my teenage and early 20s, when this was first published, I had a problem with World of Warcraft exactly the way the author describes. I also struggled with nicotine addiction. The problems he describes are very real - and they continue today.

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          Indeed. Several years ago I also had a gaming problem, which eventually got “fixed” by my university workload. I recently sold all my virtual items, and was shocked by how much they were worth… I dread to think how big a loss I made. They got me, they got me good. And I don’t want the same to happen to others.

          Yes, pleasures are an important part of life, and a lot of tech revolves around that. But our brains aren’t programmed to moderate positive impulses.

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        Having known people on heroin, there’s definitely parallels between that addictive behavior and how people use modern tech. They can even look similar. The heroin addicts would lay around staring at TV’s doing nothing but getting high. Had trouble interacting with people, kind of zoned out, or not liking bright lights. Folks motionless staring at a screen with a controller in hand getting highs on meaningless level ups for hours on end often look and act kind of similar. Both decline creative skills. Unless it’s a creative game which is its own debate.

        With social media, there are interactions between people by design. They seem like a degraded mode of what social interactions or writing can be vs what focused authors or stage debaters do. They’re optimized to quickly throw out something small (talking points) to get Internet points in terms of upvotes, likes, shares, etc. The rewards reinforce the social behavior that works in those apps. The more people do that, the more their brains get optimized for receiving and delivering that. I’d argue that combo is hugely bad for society given the complexity of most issues we face. The corporate media was doing it first. Now, we get to do it to ourselves on social media, too.

        To top it off, it’s extraordinarily hard to get people to stop using these products once they start. They also go through withdrawls. I doubt they’re as severe as heroin for most people. They’re there, though. The analogy fits if we keep in mind heroin is a more extreme version of the current phenomenon. Author even states that themselves.

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          Yes. Addiction to social media has been normalized. Nobody bats an eye at the teenagers sitting around all staring at their phones together, or the couple at a restaurant both lost in their screens.

          It’s just downright weird. Everyone seems mostly okay with their addiction.

          I grew in a time when I kept my computer use to myself, taking away the lesson that a balanced life was good. Now the general public (who’d have judged me for my nerdy tinkerings) acts socially inept in public due to said technology, and I’m supposed to pretend that it isn’t profoundly strange.

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            The tech geeks have managed to shape mainstream culture in their own image, and it ain’t pretty.

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          Absolutely, and it’s all designed to suck people into addiction. Social media, YouTube, many online games… their business models want people to spend as much time as possible on their platform, to show more ads, collect more data, sell more virtual items, etc. So from a (greedy) economic perspective it’s the “right” thing to do.

          See also this older Lobsters post: The Tech Industry’s Psychological War on Kids (yes, it’s Medium, but this one is pretty good). It’s by a child psychologist describing how his profession’s knowledge is being used in unethical ways.

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            Yeah, that’s one of the articles I was thinking about when replying to voronoipotato. Thanks. Relevant quote:

            “This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with drug-like power to seduce young users.

            These parents have no idea that lurking behind their kids’ screens and phones are a multitude of psychologists, neuroscientists, and social science experts who use their knowledge of psychological vulnerabilities to devise products that capture kids’ attention for the sake of industry profit. What these parents and most of the world have yet to grasp is that psychology — a discipline that we associate with healing — is now being used as a weapon against children.”

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          Technology or really any pleasure in life isn’t a replacement for treatment of mental health issues. Pointing out escapes as the problem is part of the problem, imho. While you might have an opinion formed on anecdotes making a parallel between the two is dangerous for several reasons.

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            It’s not an anecdote when a wide chunk of society are as absorbed, hooked, non-productive, and anti-social as folks taking heroin. That’s more like empirical data in the making. There’s also my anecdotes on top of it. We’re also saying tech is causing mental health issues (addictive behavior), not a replacement for treatment.

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              Actually it is an anecdote and mental health professionals are rightly cautious about what they consider an addiction. It’s not things that people simply enjoy doing more than you.

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                I’m one of the anecdotes. I’m capable of both enjoying things and knowing I enjoy them too much. Being able to detach oneself for introspection is important. Health professionals have already defined properties and negative effects of addictive behavior. Some of what people are doing with technology matches some of them. I mean, I’d love to see a large study of it by experts to see their side of it. They might be doing it.

                Until then, I have to combine existing terms and methods with the behavior of millions of people to call the trend something. Getting absorbed in meaningless activities that take up more and more of their time while diminishing their mental capacities and wallets seems like an addiction. Even many of them say they’re hooked even if they didn’t want to be. No surprise given people designing the games intend for them to be addictive. Some even hire psychologists or leverage prior work on that (esp conditioning).

                If it wasn’t addictive as they wanted, why are so many people hooked on it mainly benefiting the supplier? And giving up more of their benefits all the time like being forced to watch ads on game platforms?

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                  So you’re trying to claim something is habit forming, I won’t debate that. There’s a medical definition of addiction and again it’s not strictly wanting to do a thing. I don’t want to make claims because I’m not a mental health professional. However as I understand it the danger of labeling it as an addiction is that it leads people to think it’s a root cause and not symptomatic of other mental health issues. This is the danger of labeling technology as Heroin. You can try to claim all you want that it’s heroin, but it’s imho pretty insulting to people who have had to been there for real addicts. I have no trouble setting aside my phone for a day or a week or a month, yet I use my phone pretty regularly. I don’t know that I could say the same for actually addictive things.

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                    “There’s a medical definition of addiction and again it’s not strictly wanting to do a thing.”

                    I’ve been describing how people feel like they have to do a thing whether they really want it or not. They get hooked in, it causes them problems, maybe those around them, and has negative effects on their mind and body. Let’s compare it to medical definition. Fits a-e for quite a few people.

                    “but it’s imho pretty insulting to people who have had to been there for real addicts”

                    I just ran it by one who got off heroin. They saw the comparison long as it’s hyperbole given heroin being on extreme end. We agreed small amounts of marijuana is probably better comparison in terms of actual effects. Author is trying to make a different point, though, that ties into how opium was introduced into society, modified their behavior negatively disguised as a positive, and eventually we had to legislate it. On that end, it fits better than marijuana given it’s about societal impact more than the strength of the actual drug.

                    “I have no trouble setting aside my phone for a day or a week or a month, yet I use my phone pretty regularly.”

                    Then you’re not addicted to it. A lot of people can’t seem to get off it. They even ignore their jobs or children to do non-achievements in virtual worlds. They might be addicted to it. Different effects for different people. Like recreational drugs.

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                      The argument you just gave implies that there’s either no constructive use for the technology or that there is a constructive use for heroin. In this way there is likely a much closer analogy that still communicates the habit forming nature of social media for reward seeking individuals and the predatory nature of the corporations involved. That’s really my whole beef. Talking an individual who survived is perhaps not as constructive as talking to a parent of one who didn’t in this context.

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                        The argument you just gave implies that there’s either no constructive use for the technology or that there is a constructive use for heroin.

                        Where do you get this strange framing? No, my argument is comparing a known property of one thing, addiction, to another thing. The broader article also talks about how there’s a high which people thought was beneficial to both. Then another connection. Those are a bit more abstract given the high and ramifications of heroin are stronger than Farmville. Your framing is arbitrary. Addictiveness of this, of that, and consequences is what I’m mostly doing. I need no other properties or arguments for their existence to compare this single property.

                        “Talking an individual who survived is perhaps not as constructive as talking to a parent of one who didn’t in this context.”

                        It’s interesting you bring up social media. I’d not normally think of them as a survivor as you said. The next generation after me has to be connected to friends to achieve things in life. At least, that’s what they think. They follow each other on these outlets. The reinforcement mechanism is so strong as to possibly become part of their identity. Trying to quit social media might be really, really hard for these kids with the few that achieve it or dodge it considering themselves something like survivors. There’s definitely going to be a high cost for many of them.

                        Still, this is an abstract comparison. The magnitude of heroin rewards and withdraws on individual is much higher than most of these other addictive things. There’s a partial, but not full, comparison.

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                          I mean I grew up on social media, and I quit some of them and didn’t quit others. However like totally quitting all social media is like quitting talking to your friends.

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      a heroin addict’s take, from his 1993 album that anticipated vr addiction: https://youtu.be/YwX-lMsmdNk