Digital addiction and the illusion of free will


I’m currently reading Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. I’m interested in the subject as a way of empowering myself to detect and defend myself against the psychological traps employed by the Facebooks, YouTubes, Amazons, and so many more.

By chance, I came across an interesting documentary on this topic. I recommend watching it as an entry to the subject, to raise awareness and protect yourself against the persuasion methods used in technology:

Free will

Now I’m not trying to be dramatic, but if you’re not in full control of your thoughts and free will, then you’re an addict. And your thoughts are so easily influenced, while free will is a very shaky concept at best.

Check Sam Harris’ Free Will if you haven’t spend time on the topic yet. He walks you through what you think free will is, making you see that really your actions can all be explained as reactions (don’t dismiss it based on my poor explanation here). How I see it, this pretty much makes you programmable, in the context of persuasive technology.

The more I learn about how successful digital products operate, the more it becomes clear you really have to actively to take control of what goes into your senses. Or it is the Internet of Things, only you are the Thing being controlled.
And I really thought it was all about usability to win users.

South Park also has a great episode that breaks down how games employ addictive tactics.
So I don’t think these are big secrets or some conspiracy. But we just wrongly assume we are more in control then we really are.


Sean Kennedy used to have a great suggestion, to protect against the assault from ads: wear sunglasses. Now he was talking about classic billboards, which trick your senses with colors to get your attention, which the shades distort by affecting the colors you see. But I like the idea, of counteracting against the endless unsolicited hidden sales pitches.


For the digital word, Tristan Harris has what seems a great initiative with pratical suggestions. He also appears in the documentary above, and his blog post is also really relevant How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

If you can’t stop refreshing reddit or some news site, The News: A Users’s Manual can liberate you.

Obviously, AdBlock or privoxy. Don’t buy into the sad “we make money this way” line from websites. It’s about you being influenced, being subconsciously convinced you want things in your life you don’t need. Don’t treat this as a trivial thing, they somehow deserve.

Last year I also removed all app alerts from the lock screen on my phone. The only thing I see are whether someone texted or called, since it is a phone. But all the other things, status updates, email count, are gone. This minimized the number of times I check my phone in a day. Plus I also got to use my personal inbox as a TODO list again (by not checking it all day, messages staid unread and it was clear in the evening which mails were not handled yet)

Digital addiction and the illusion of free will

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