The societal and personal damage inflicted by unregulated technology companies is rapidly becoming evident. As Justin Rosenstein, the engineer who created the Facebook “like” button notes, “One reason I think it is particularly important for us to talk about this now is that we may be the last generation that can remember life before [smartphones and social media].” Rosenstein is among a group of ex-Facebook and Google employees leading the backlash after seeing what their well-meaning but naïve work has become.

In the video below, Tristan Harris, former Google Digital Ethicist, talks about these persuasive technologies, and how the advertising business model is driving a race to the bottom (of the brainstem). He envisions radical changes in the way we approach technology so that the goal for companies is to actually improve our lives, rather than to trick us into spending more time watching ads. You can read more about it here, at the Time Well Spent website.

David Crotty

David Crotty

David Crotty is the Editorial Director, Journals Policy for Oxford University Press. He serves on the Board of Directors for the STM Association, the Society for Scholarly Publishing and CHOR, Inc. David received his PhD in Genetics from Columbia University and did developmental neuroscience research at Caltech before moving from the bench to publishing.

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Discussion

4 Thoughts on "“Technology is Not Neutral” — How Online Companies Manipulate Billions of Minds"

They probably said the same thing when telephones and radios and TV’s came out. The fact is, everyone is the target of commercial advertising at all times. If you aren’t being bombarded with ads on your phone apps, you will be by the very next thing you do: watch TV, walk in the street, read a newspaper. As they say about all these free apps, “If you aren’t paying for the product, you ARE the product.” It’s been going on since forever. When Google and Facebook started, they promised to be honorable and not do advertising. Now they monetize every moment of use time. Greed: what’s new?

People have free will. They don’t have to keep following the click bait; they can put down the device and go to the gym or read a book or paint a picture or cook dinner. Electronic devices, like others, are just tools; we get to decide whether to use them for good or for bad.

I’ll worry when these platforms are used to manipulate our minds for political rather than commercial purposes. Oh, wait, that’s already been happening! That’s what we have to expose and limit. Not how much, but what kind.

Shirley, you are so right about free will, however, when one trusts the source of the information they don’t always have their “radar” on. All one need do is watch what has happened in media and social platforms in the last year: the cries of fake news; the proliferation of pharmaceutical ads that try and convince the public that they are one walking fall-apart bag-of-mostly-water; the social manipulation in entertainment … I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

“The end justifies the means” seems to be the modus operandi, as for many, the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have others do unto you) currently seems to apply only to things agreed with.

In his book, “Whatever Happened to Justice”, Maybury distilled Natural Law as:
* Do all you have agreed to do.
* Do not encroach on other persons or their property.

“Property” or “persons” could refer to emotional and mental selves as well. The constant beat of the media, scholastic, and advertising communities (etc.) to convince the public the sky is grey develops a kind of “Stockholm syndrome”. I’ll reach so far as to say that “Stockholm syndrome” is a kind of addiction. Minds that stay in abusive relationships are addicted, “Cult” members (soft: Beatlemania, hard: gangs) are addicted, and so on. Yes, each individual is endowed with choice, and sometimes—for whatever reason—they choose to be convinced otherwise. Call it mass hysteria. Or Entitlement Addiction.

Education, the training to do one’s own research and verification, and belief in oneself as a viable creative individual, is the only way to insure we do not become a giant colony of ants.

DF, I spent too many years in theatre (performance) and advertising. A disgruntled employee he may be, but I’d put that salt in your stew and bank on it.

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