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11 April 2017

What Is "Brain Hacking"? Tech Insiders on Why You Should Care

Tristan Harris, a former Google product manager
CBS News
"This thing is a slot machine... every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, “What did I get?” This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit, to form a habit. What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward. And it turns out that this design technique can be embedded inside of all these products."


What is "brain hacking"? Tech insiders on why you should care
CORRESPONDENT Anderson Cooper, cbsnews.com, 9 April 2017

Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked, says a former Google product manager. Anderson Cooper reports

The following script is from “Brain Hacking,” which aired on April 9, 2017. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. Guy Campanile, producer.

Have you ever wondered if all those people you see staring intently at their smartphones -- nearly everywhere, and at all times -- are addicted to them? According to a former Google product manager you are about to hear from, Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked. He is one of the few tech insiders to publicly acknowledge that the companies responsible for programming your phones are working hard to get you and your family to feel the need to check in constantly. Some programmers call it “brain hacking” and the tech world would probably prefer you didn’t hear about it. But Tristan Harris openly questions the long-term consequences of it all and we think it’s worth putting down your phone to listen.

Tristan Harris: This thing is a slot machine.

Anderson Cooper: How is that a slot machine?

Tristan Harris: Well every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, “What did I get?” This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit, to form a habit. What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward. And it turns out that this design technique can be embedded inside of all these products.

The rewards Harris is talking about are a big part of what makes smartphones so appealing. The chance of getting likes on Facebook and Instagram. Cute emojis in text messages. And new followers on Twitter.

Tristan Harris: There’s a whole playbook of techniques that get used to get you using the product for as long as possible.

Anderson Cooper: What kind of techniques are used?

Tristan Harris: Tristan Harris: So Snapchat’s the most popular messaging service for teenagers. And they invented this feature called “streaks,” which shows the number of days in a row that you’ve sent a message back and forth with someone. So now you could say, “Well, what’s the big deal here?” Well, the problem is that kids feel like, “Well, now I don’t want to lose my streak.” But it turns out that kids actually when they go on vacation are so stressed about their streak that they actually give their password to, like, five other kids to keep their streaks going on their behalf. And so you could ask when these features are being designed, are they designed to most help people live their life? Or are they being designed because they’re best at hooking people into using the product?

Anderson Cooper: Is Silicon Valley programming apps or are they programming people?

Tristan Harris: Inadvertently, whether they want to or not, they are shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people. They are programming people. There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. This is just not true.

Anderson Cooper: Technology’s not neutral?

Tristan Harris: It’s not neutral. They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money.

It’s rare for a tech insider to be so blunt, but Tristan Harris believes someone needs to be. A few years ago he was living the Silicon Valley dream. He dropped out of a master’s program at Stanford University to start a software company. Four years later Google bought him out and hired him as a product manager. It was while working there he started to feel overwhelmed.

Tristan Harris: Honestly, I was just bombarded in email and calendar invitations and just the overload of what it’s like to work at a place like Google. And I was asking, “When is all of this adding up to, like, an actual benefit to my life?” And I ended up making this presentation. It was kind of a manifesto. And it basically said, you know, “Look, never before in history have a handful of people at a handful of technology companies shaped how a billion people think and feel every day with the choices they make about these screens.”

His 144-page presentation argued that the constant distractions of apps and emails are “weakening our relationships to each other,” and “destroying our kids ability to focus.” It was widely read inside Google, and caught the eye of one of the founders Larry Page. But Harris told us it didn’t lead to any changes and after three years he quit.

Tristan Harris: And it’s not because anyone is evil or has bad intentions. It’s because the game is getting attention at all costs. And the problem is it becomes this race to the bottom of the brainstem, where if I go lower on the brainstem to get you, you know, using my product, I win. But it doesn’t end up in the world we want to live in. We don’t end up feeling good about how we’re using all this stuff.

Anderson Cooper: You call this a “race to the bottom of the brain stem.” It’s a race to the most primitive emotions we have? Fear, anxiety, loneliness, all these things?

Tristan Harris: Absolutely. And that’s again because in the race for attention I have to do whatever works.

Tristan Harris: It absolutely wants one thing, which is your attention.

Now he travels the country trying to convince programmers and anyone else who will listen that the business model of tech companies needs to change. He wants products designed to make the best use of our time not just grab our attention.

Continue reading and watch the "60 Minutes" presentation:
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brain-hacking-tech-insiders-60-minutes/

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