Hey everyone! This episode was a very, very awesome experience. I had a lot of fun talking with Douglas Rushkoff. He has been named by MIT as one of the “world’s ten most influential intellectuals”. He is an author and documentarian, studying human autonomy in the digital age. He has published twenty books including the just-published Team Human, based on his podcast, as well as the bestsellers Present Shock, Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus, Program or Be Programmed, Life Inc, and Media Virus.
We had a great conversation, talking about his newest book Team Human, The Survival of The Richest, How much should a company be earning? Team Human at Sillicon Valley, how Darwin’s theory has been manipulated, and much more.
Before interviewing Douglas, I read Team Human and, among many things he wrote, for this blog I want to dive deep into one: the way I interact with technology. Specifically, with my phone and social media accounts.
Whenever I use Instagram, for example, it has become natural for me to expect likes with a picture I upload. When someone does like my post, it produces some sort of feeling, mostly related with expectation and excitement.
Why is it that I have created ‘if this, then that’ rules with my posts? Why is it that I have associated likes with rewards? Why do I have a sense of urgency to open the app just to see if someone has posted a picture? What Douglas explains in his book — among many other mind-blowing facts, is that the algorithms running social media platforms are being programmed to make me become addicted to them.
That’s right, they are being designed precisely for me to associate fuzzy feelings with the use of these applications, so I always return and use the app.
How in the world can they make me addicted to Instagram, using the example above? This could be explained through neuroscience: whenever I am notified that someone liked my post or someone uploaded a new picture, this in turn signals to my brain that I could potentially recieve a reward which, as a consequence, would trigger a positive emotion for me to pursue this likely benefit.
In other words, this feeling is actually a chemical being produced in my brain, called dopamine — which is highly addictive. This is because dopamine is a neurotransmitter that allows us to see potential rewards and also makes sure that we take action to capitalize on these possible “prizes”.
As Douglas puts it:
“That’s why persuasive technologies are not designed to influence us through logic or even emotional appeals. This isn’t advertising or sales, in the traditional sense, but more like wartime psy-ops, or the sort of psychological manipulation exercised in prisons, casinos, and shopping malls. Just as the architects of those environments use particular colors, soundtracks, or lighting cycles to stimulate desired behavior, the designers of web platforms and phone apps use carefully tested animations and sounds to provoke optimal emotional responses from users. Every component of a digital environment is tested for its ability to generate a particular reaction, be it more views, more purchases, or just more addiction. New mail is a happy sound; no mail is a sad one. The physical gesture of swiping to update a social media feed anchors and reinforces the compulsive urge to check in — just in case.”
— Excerpt From: Douglas Rushkoff. “Team Human.”
In a much grander scale, what will happen with human interaction if we continue to use these applications, knowing how are they being programmed and how closely they relate to casino slot machines?
Moreover, are we going to be able to relate with the other even if it’s not through our social media platforms? Are we going to be capable of having a conversation with someone without the expectation of a reward, even though we are being programmed for it? Have we forgotten that the reward is the conversation itself? Will this have evolutionary consequences for our species related to socialization and communication? Will it affect the way we see others?
As you can see, this episode truly made me think profoundly about these issues and I believe it will do the same with you. Douglas will make you question a lot of things, as it did with me.
I encourage you to go subscribe to Team Human’s Podcast and read the book Team Human. Douglas will additionally be writing 5-minute excerpts from his newest book for the next 100 weeks on Medium, so be on the lookout for that.