Shanghaied by the attention engineers {Millennial Musings}

A pro photographer caught this moment and posted it to Instagram with the caption, "A sign of the times." Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/yoUT8XnEtQ/
Caitlin Walker

RBC | Have you ever heard of attention engineers?

They are technological geniuses hired by big tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter whose sole purpose is to get you to spend as much time as humanly possible using their product.

As the adage goes, nothing is really free. We pay to use social media with our time, our search history, and our personal information, and we pay big. The average person swipes or taps on their smart phone 2,617 times a day.

Social media seems innocuous, and we love to tout the “benefits”, but when we get down to brass tacks what we see in our feeds is nothing more than a carefully crafted illusion designed to get us hooked, make us spend money, and fracture our attention until we feel like a tiny ADD monkey has taken over our brain’s control center.

It’s disproportionately likely your social media feeds will include just as many provocative apocryphal “news” stories and ads pulled directly from your search history as actual updates from friends and family.

This seemingly harmless form of entertainment is expressly designed to wage war on our psyche while  increasing company profit, and we can’t expect ourselves, no matter how strong we think we are (or how many annoying people we block), to stand up to the onslaught indefinitely.

Silicon Valley has seen an exodus of early attention engineers who fear what they’ve created. The inventor of Facebook’s like button calls notifications “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure” and posits that a well-intentioned idea has come with a bevy of negative consequences.

One important instance of this is the temporary hit of dopamine your brain receives with every notification, which can easily become addictive. Those who already suffer from an imbalance that causes depression or anxiety are much more likely to use social media to temporarily self-medicate, depriving themselves of sleep, exercise, fresh air, healthy food choices and social interaction, all of which have been proven to actually improve symptoms.

Which is why (I heard this in a TED talk a few days ago) there are two people who call their consumers “users”—drug dealers and technologists.

If you can’t seem to put down your phone, think of it in terms of cutting the marionette strings—no one wants to be a puppet. Then lock your screen, put your phone in a different room—maybe even delete those apps first, you rebel, you—and remember:

You are supposed to use social media, it’s not supposed to use you.