And you thought you were in charge. Tech companies dictate the minds and souls of users every day. The ads that pop up on our phones and the “suggestions” we get on YouTube are all governed by real beings, huddled over their computers, working at the big tech firms like Facebook, Google, and Apple. Whenever one of these advertisements arise from our screens, they send messages into our brains, inciting a certain thought about the subject. We aren’t given power by technology; tech companies are given the power to control us. Not only have companies like Facebook and Google learned to hack into our personal information, but they have learned how to hack into our brains.
There is a vulnerability in the human psyche. It’s pretty easy to manipulate us: show a food ad, and we’ll get hungry; show a vacation spot, and we’ll immediately be enraptured by wanderlust. Tech companies can exploit such vulnerabilities in the human mindset to maintain an ongoing profit.
This concept of a digital medium being wired to alter human thoughts and behaviors in a way that benefits the company is called persuasive technology. This form of manipulation works by simulating a “do and get rewarded” extrinsic motivation instinct; when a user gains “social popularity,” they are rewarded by likes, virtual friends, streaks, and levels. It’s so easy to be a winner. This seductive tactic stimulates the release of dopamine, giving people a burst of joy and feeling of accomplishment. This burst of dopamine doesn’t only make you feel temporarily happy, but it is also proven to form habits and reconstruct behaviors in order to keep triggering the sensation. This is why your phone and PlayStation are so addictive; these video games, apps, and social media make sure that there is a “surprise variable reward” in which a user must fight to see results. This, of course, shoots up profits for these companies whose revenue is based on how much their products are used.
It is wrong how heartlessly formulaic the technology industry is. At Stanford University, there is a class called the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab that merges the tech industry and psychology in order to provoke more users to join and stay on a medium. According to the official Stanford website, this is found under the page “Machines Designed to Change Humans.” Oh sure, they threw in how these pervasive technologies can “bring about positive changes in many domains,” but this class exploits human vulnerabilities and fosters the technology epidemic that is destroying 21st century face-to-face communication.
With the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, an algorithm was created to ensure that these technologies can control our desires. Give us a goal, make the “Like/Subscribe” button red, and make the screen light trigger a “sunlight effect.” In this well-tested formula, the well-being of individuals, especially children and teens, does not become factored into the equation. If so, there will be a negative value.