The illusion of choice and fear: how we manipulate technology

When in the morning the first thing you grab smartphone, it’s not really your decision. When during operation constantly distracted by notifications, it is also not your decision. You in full manipulate, and you don’t even notice. About it writes “Lifehacker”.

Иллюзия выбора и страх: как нами манипулируют технологии

Photo: Shutterstock

When we use a particular technology, it is quite optimistic about the opportunities it gives us. Tristan Harris co-founder of the Center for humane technologies and the former ethicist of design at Google said about the other side of this, and as technology exploiting the vulnerability of our mind?

He felt blind spots, weaknesses and the limits of perception of people, the magician can influence them so cleverly that people will not even notice how to lead by the nose. If you find people with the right “keys” that you can play them like a piano.

Exactly the same is done with our mind the creators of products. To get the attention, they play with the psychological weaknesses of a person — consciously or not.

Trick No. 1. If run menu, then run, and your choice

Western culture is built on the ideals of freedom and personal choice. Millions of people fiercely defend the right to freedom of decision-making, but in an emphasis do not see that they are being manipulated. All this freedom is available only within a given menu — and its something we certainly did not choose.

Magicians and work. They give people the illusion of free choice, but in fact only throw in the options that guarantee the illusionist win.

If you give a man a ready list of options, he rarely interested in that was not included in the list and why it is such options, but not any more. What would make the one who made the list, whether these options meet the need, or only detract from it — hardly anyone asks about that.

Imagine that on Tuesday night you met friends and decided somewhere to sit. Open an aggregator of reviews and start to look for, what’s interesting is nearby. The whole company instantly stick his smartphone and begins to compare bars to explore and rate the list of cocktails. Well, as it helped to solve the problem of “sit”?

The problem is not in the bars, and that the aggregator by using the menu replaces the initial requirement. “Sit and chat” turns into “find a bar with the cool photos of cocktails”. Moreover, your company falls into the illusion that in the list are all the available options. While the friends watch the screens of smartphones, they do not notice that in the Park near the musicians staged a live concert, and across the street there is a cafe that serves crepes and coffee. That’s because the aggregator they are not offered.

The more choice you give us technology in every sphere of life, be it information, events, locations, places to go, friends, dates or work, the more we believe that the smartphone provides a comprehensive list of options. But is it?

A choice that helps us to solve some problem, it is not the same that the selection from a large number of options. But when we blindly believe everything we slip, the difference is easy to miss. The question “With whom to hang out tonight?” turns into a selection from the list of people with whom you recently communicated. “What’s going on in the world” turns into a news feed. The question “With whom to go on a date?” is solved by scrolling through the photos to Tinder, although you could go with friends to some local event or just to go in search of adventures in the city. Finally, “I need to reply to this email” comes down to choices, what to write, but there are many other ways to contact a person.

Even our morning starts with checking notifications. We Wake up and immediately take in hand the smartphone — you never know, missed something important. But does the notification list what is really important to us?

Creating a limited list of options from which to choose, technology to replace our true preferences to those that are convenient to them. And if you look closely at what we have to offer, you can realize that all of this does not meet our current needs.

Trick No. 2. Personal slot machine in every pocket

As the application to catch? It should be a kind of slot machine. The average person checks the smartphone 150 times a day. But really 150 times — it is a conscious choice?

Works here the same mechanism as in slot machines: reinforcement with periodic rewards. If you want to put the user on your product, link the action to obtain the same reward. You pull the lever and immediately get a prize or get nothing. The more changes the size of the reward, the stronger the addiction.

And that it really works? How. Slot machines in the U.S. bring in more money than baseball, the movies and amusement parks together. According to the Professor at new York University Natasha Dow Shull, dependence on gaming machines occurs in 3-4 times faster than from other types of gambling.

And now the ugly truth: billions of people are slot machine in your pocket.

We play when we take up the smartphone and check whether fresh notifications. We play when we open the mail — well, there’s a new letter? Play when you watch the tape Instagram: I wonder what photo will come up next? Even when you leaf through the pictures in Tinder, is also a game: you suddenly find someone you will be able to create a pair.

Apps and sites use rewards simply because it works for the benefit of the business. But sometimes this effect occurs by accident. For example, email is not the product of some evil Corporation. Nobody gets profit from the fact that millions of people regularly check email and don’t find there anything new. The designers at Apple and Google didn’t want to turn your smartphone into a gaming machine. It just happened.

Now big companies need to take responsibility and to nullify this effect by making the rewards less addictive and more predictable. For example, they could give people the opportunity to choose when they want to check what is new in the applications and send notifications only during this period.

Trick No. 3. Afraid to miss something important

To manipulate the minds of the people, apps and sites are told: there is a 1% chance that you will miss something important. If I can convince you that you are the source of significant information and provider friendly contacts or potential sexual partners, you do not get off. You don’t delete your account and don’t unsubscribe because you will be scared to miss something.

So we signed on the stupid emails — you never know, suddenly the following message will be something interesting. Keep in the “friends” people with whom I have not spoken suddenly miss something important from them. Sitting in the application for Dating, even if not planning to meet anyone because you’re afraid to miss the same one or the same one who us interested. Hanging out in social media to not miss the news that will be discussed all around.

But if you take a closer look at this fear, it appears that we are in any case anything but miss.

You might not see a message from an old friend, if you do not sit in Facebook for several hours, to miss the perfect partner with Tinder, if not flipping the pictures of 700 times a day, not to respond in time to emergency call — you can’t be on 24/7.

Seriously, we don’t live to twitch constantly and be afraid to miss something. It’s amazing how quickly the fear goes away when you get rid of illusions. Try at least for a day to go offline and disable all notifications. Most likely, nothing terrible will happen.

We don’t miss what you don’t see. The idea that you can be overlooked appears until you exit the app or unsubscribe from the newsletter. Before, not after. It would be great if technology companies should take this into account and helped to build relationships with others in terms of a well-spent time, not intimidated by us by the illusory opportunity to miss something important.

Trick No. 4. Social approval

Each of us is easy to catch on bait. The desire to belong to a group and receive recognition on her part — one of the strongest motivators for any person. But now social approval to run a technology company.

When a friend said to me in the pictures, I think it’s his conscious choice. In fact, it led to such action the company like Facebook. The social network manipulated the way people point at other people’s photos, slipping candidates, which can be noted in a single click. It turns out, my friend did not make a choice and just agreed to what is proposed by Facebook. Through such decisions the company manages millions of people, playing on their desire for social approval.

The same thing happens when we change the profile photo. The social network knows that in this moment we are most vulnerable to the approval of others — it is interesting because what friends say about a new picture. Facebook can raise this event in the news higher that more people “liked” or left a comment. And every time someone does it, we are back in the social network.

Some groups are particularly sensitive to public approval — to take at least teenagers. It is therefore essential to understand the impact we have designers when using this mechanism.

Trick No. 5. Social reciprocity, or quid Pro quo

Helped me I should help in return. I say “thank you” I say “you’re welcome”. I received an email — it would be rude not to answer. Are you signed up — if you don’t do the same in response, it is not very polite.

The need to reciprocate the actions of others — another weak spot. Of course, technology companies do not miss the chance to exploit this vulnerability. Sometimes this happens by accident: emails and instant messengers, by definition, involve reciprocity.

But in other situations, companies deliberately exploit our weaknesses, to benefit.

LinkedIn — probably the most obvious manipulator. The service wants to create more social obligations between men, that they may return to the website whenever receive a message or a request to add to contacts. You can automate intros on linkedin and make it easier these days.

We use the same scheme to that of Facebook: when you receive a request, you think this is a conscious choice of the person. In fact, he just answered the contact list offered by the service.

In other words, LinkedIn transforms unconscious impulses into social obligations, makes millions of people feel like they’re in debt, and profit from it.

Just imagine how it looks from the outside. People the whole day running around like a chicken with its head cut off and constantly distracted from the things to answer each other’s back, and the company that developed such a model benefits. What if a technology company has assumed responsibility for the reduction of social obligations or for this should be a separate organization, preventing possible abuse?

Trick No. 6. A bottomless plate, an endless tape, and auto play

Another way to seize people’s minds — to get them to consume, even if they are already fed up. How? Yes, easily. Take a process that is limited and finite, and turn it into an endless stream.

Professor at Cornell University Brian Wansink demonstrated how it works. The participants of his experiment were eating soup from bottomless bowls, which are automatically filled again and again. It turned out that in such conditions people consumed 73% more calories than usual, thus underestimated the actual amount eaten.

Technology companies use the same principle. News feed automatically uploads all new records that you kept flipping through it. Netflix, YouTube, and Facebook include the video instead to give you the opportunity to make an informed choice. A significant proportion of traffic on these sites provides it auto play.

Companies often say that they simplify the user’s life, although in fact only defending their business interests. Hard to blame them, after all, conducted on the resource time is the currency for which they are fighting. Only now imagine that the company would make efforts not only to increase the amount of time, but also to improve its quality.

Trick No. 7. Drastic distraction instead of a polite reminder

Companies know that the most effective messages — ones that dramatically distract the man. To answer them is more likely than a sensitive email that quietly lies in your mailbox.

Of course, the messengers prefer to bother the user to get his attention and immediately show the chat window to immediately read the message. Distraction is beneficial for business, as well as the feeling that the message we need to respond urgently — there is connected also a social return. For example, Facebook shows the sender that you read his message: like it or not and will have to answer. Apple treats users with respect and allows you to turn off read receipts.

Constantly distracting people business creates a serious problem: it’s hard to focus when you’re a billion times pulled for any reason. To solve this problem is to use uniform standards for creating services and applications.

Stunt No. 8. Your tasks are closely linked with the business objectives

To you it was easier to manipulate, application, assess your goals (for example, the implementation of some tasks) and combine them with business goals that you should conduct in this app as much as possible and actively consume content.

For example, in a supermarket people usually go for milk. But the store must increase sales, so dairy products are on the shelves at the end of the hall. So the target buyer (to buy milk) are inseparable from the goals of the store (to sell more).

If the supermarket really cared about customers, we wouldn’t be forcing them to wander around the room, and laid out the goods on the shelves right at the entrance.

Technology companies use the same approach when creating their products. You have to access the event page on Facebook. But the app will not let you do, until you open the news feed. He has another task — to make you spend on the social network as much as possible.

In an ideal world we are free to do what we need, not the business: you can post a message on Twitter, or access the event page on Facebook without entering the tape. Imagine a digital bill of rights, which sets out the design standards of the products. Thanks to these standards, the billions of users will gain the ability to immediately get what they need and not to wander around the maze.

Trick number 9. Uncomfortable choice

It is believed that the business should give the customer an obvious choice. Don’t like the product, use another, don’t like the newsletter, leave feedback, and if you feel that you are dependent on application, just remove it.

Actually no. The business wants you to make a choice that is beneficial to him. Therefore, the actions which are necessary for the business, easy to implement, and those from which some losses, much harder. For example, you cannot just pick up and abandon the electronic subscription to The New York Times. Promise that nothing complicated about it, but instead of instant unsubscribe you will receive an email with instructions and a number that need to call at a certain time in order to finally cancel the subscription.

Instead of talking about the possibility of choice, it is better to consider the efforts that must be applied to give effect to this choice. Imagine a world where affordable solutions are provided marked with a certain level of complexity, and all this is regulated by an independent organization.

Trick No. 10. About predictions and strategy “Foot in the door”

Applications and services full exploit the human inability to predict the consequences of a click. People simply are not able to intuitively assess the real value of the action that they propose to make.

Sales often used the technique of “Foot in door”. It all starts with a harmless sentence: “Just one click and you’ll see what tweet retweeted”. Further — more, the innocent for the request should offer in the spirit of “Why don’t you stay here for awhile?”

Imagine if browsers and smart phones really cared about people and helped them to make an informed choice, predicting the consequences of a click. On the Internet, all options must be made taking into account the actual benefits and costs — so that people can make informed choices, not putting the extra effort.

What to do with all this

It is sad to realize how technology controlling you? To gain freedom we need to liberate the mind. Therefore, we need technology that will play for us and help to live, to feel, to think and act freely. Smartphones with notifications and browsers should be for our mind and relationships with others a kind of exoskeleton assistants who have the priority of our values, not impulses.

Our time is valuable. And protect it we must just as zealously as privacy and other digital rights.


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