Thanks for this startling piece Brian Pennie.
Have you read “Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now” by Jaron Lanier ? If not, add it to your #tbr list my friend.
“Social media platforms are designed to be addictive.”
“Imagine you’re a child, and whenever you say please, you’re instantly given a piece of candy. Unsurprisingly, this would prompt you to say please quite often.
Now imagine that, sometimes, saying please fails to result in the desired sweet. Given this occasional failure, do you think you’d start saying please more or less?
Though it may seem counterintuitive — after all, if an action fails to produce the desired result, why engage in it? — research suggests you would probably start saying please much, much more.
Behaviorists discovered this phenomenon decades ago, and it holds true for both animals and humans: moderately unreliable feedback is often more engaging than perfectly reliable feedback.
As we all know, social media want to keep us engaged, and they do this by taking advantage of this bit of behaviorist knowledge.
Facebook’s first president, Sean Parker, called it a “social-validation feedback loop.” Sometimes, someone will like your post or photo — but not always. And it’s this element of randomness that gets people addicted.
Furthermore, social media algorithms are usually designed to incorporate a bit of randomness, too. These algorithms are called adaptive algorithms, and they’re constantly adjusting themselves in order to be as engaging as possible.
How do these algorithms adapt? Well, let’s say an algorithm shows you an ad three seconds after you watch an adorable cat video. Sometimes this algorithm will conduct a little test. It might show you the ad two-and-a-half seconds after the video, for instance, to see whether that makes you likelier to buy the product in question.
If showing you the ad two-and-a-half seconds after the video doesn’t prompt a purchase, then it might try three-and-a-half seconds — but what if this doesn’t have an effect either?
In order to keep from getting stuck at three seconds, the algorithm sometimes makes a semi-random leap. It will try, say, waiting five seconds, or one. This randomness ensures that the algorithm never stops adapting.
And just like random social feedback, algorithmic unpredictability also contributes to social media’s addictiveness. Indeed, social media are so addictive that many parents in Silicon Valley send their children to Waldorf schools, where electronics usually aren’t allowed.
Addiction can cause a kind of craziness, one that can make you lose touch with the people and the world around you. And social media is turning us all into addicts.”