Today I read an article from the Guardian about the people who developed things like the “like” button on facebook, and the “pull down to refresh” function we use on a page we want to update – in other words, technology that keeps us hooked.
These people, the ones who developed this technology, are choosing to disconnect those very functions on their own apps; in fact, they are disconnecting from tech more and more in general. They are questioning themselves on whether they have brought more harm than good to the world with their work, which they originally really believed in.
The group that developed the “like” button wanted to “send little bits of positivity” across the internet. But getting those bits of positivity have become for many people a compulsion – if not an outright addiction.
I see this in my own behavior, of course – like almost everyone I know. The rush of getting “likes” is well-documented. But what I hadn’t thought about is that there is a corresponding rush in *giving* likes. It FEELS like we’re really engaging, really supporting each other, really putting something positive into the world. It feels like we are really receiving that, too.
And we are. On many levels, we really are doing those things. I don’t want to take away from the good that I think these apps do.
But we need to remember that we are also constantly being marketed to – and, to put it more strongly – we are almost constantly being manipulated (or at least someone is attempting to manipulate us). The article and those interviewed question how much choice we actually have to resist the directions in which we are “guided.” Even resisting ads and suggestions is forcing us to make a decision about something that we might not have wasted brain time and energy on in the past.
One phrase stood out to me in the article: impulses over intentions.
We live in an “attention economy,” James Williams says. Platforms run with ad revenue, and ads need to catch our attention.
“The attention economy incentivises the design of technologies that grab our attention.” he says. “In so doing, it privileges our impulses over our intentions.”
I think that is such an important thing to keep in mind. Are we being driven by impulses (dopamine, passion, reaction, habits), rather than by intentions shaped by values and true choices about how we want to live?
Yesterday I revisited Annie Dillard’s quote about how the way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives. Impulsive daily actions and interactions lead to impulsive lives.
I know I can react quickly sometimes online. I know I can become compulsive about checking in on facebook, twitter, news sites, and email. I know that I am trying to truly connect and communicate through my online actions (as I know many people are), but I also know that when my drive to connect online is stronger than my drive to connect face-to-face, or than my drive to work on my art or writing, I’ve stumbled. And it’s really, really easy to stumble in a culture that makes money on us stumbling.
The article makes references to how our politics are being shaped by this encouragement to act on impulse, with compulsion, in reactionary ways. It has happened in Britain; it has happened in the US.
On a day like today, with yet another mass shooting, do we dare consider whether this more impulsive society we are cultivating (led by our passions and reactive selves) might be impacting the number of mass shooters taking action as well?
I also see more and more people seeking out things like mindfulness, holistic health, community engagement, and supporting local businesses – things that counteract that compulsive reach for dopamine. I would love to also see more people seeking out the arts and stories, both as participants/makers and as audience/viewers/readers.
These are the things that I think can rebalance us, and keep us on track and in touch with our intentions. These things are absolutely necessary. They are necessary for us to be healthy individuals, and they are necessary for us to have a healthy society.
Intention or impulse? I’m going to ask myself that question more often. How I live my days is how I live my life.
And I recommend reading the entire Guardian article. Let me know what you think.