That's not a clever title I thought up to grace the header of this post; "attention engineering" is a real thing unfortunately and we all deal with it every day. Social media on the internet, the platforms provided in this virtual space for us to communicate with each other, comprise a very large part of what's called the "marketplace of ideas," it's our modern public square...
source: Wikimedia Commons
In this online marketplace of ideas, "attention" is the currency in which profits are calculated. All social media platforms pull every trick to get and hold on to their users' attention; if YouTube can entice you to watch a couple more videos, if Facebook can direct you to yet another recommended link, you'll be exposed to a couple more valuable (to them) ads. I believe all of us here at the forefront of the crypto-revolution are aware of this, and I also believe we all know how the search algorithms are built to present you with the results that are most likely to have your interest, based on all the information they've gathered about your online behavior.
What I'm not sure of, however, if we all realize fully how far this goes. Here's a quote from an article I read recently that illustrates some of the lengths these platforms go through in order to tailor search results and recommended sections to your personal "needs" and preferences:
Facebook algorithms choose and schedule content and ads optimally. Based on your media use, cookies, browser history, and myriad other factors, they present you with the most engaging content at the best possible time. For example, if I (Facebook) track enough data to know you consistently use Facebook every morning between 0700 and 0900, and I correctly identify you hate mornings and love puppies based on your previous posts and browser history, I will recommend a cute, viral puppy video at 0715. You consume the video, and it makes you feel good. You only had to watch one ad, but your morning is better now! But wait . . . the video auto-plays. Now, you find yourself watching a funny cat video compilation. And then an ad. And then another video! You eventually break the video chain.
So it's not just what you click and what websites you visit, but at what time, in what order and for how long. I've personally been very suspicious of anything clickable on the internet. For example, I'm sure you know of CAPTCHA, those little image and text based tests on login-pages for you to click on or fill in to prove that you're human; it's an acronym for "completely automated public Turing test to tell computers and humans apart." Did you know that reCAPTCHA was acquired by Google in 2009? I've been thinking about what information could be extracted about me clicking on those little object-recognition tests in which you must click on all cars, or all buses or all traffic-signs. For one thing they could monitor the average time taken to click the correct pictures and make some guesses from that. They could count how many retries it takes for me to get it right. I'm sure there's combinations of pictures possible that give away if I'm color-blind. Doesn't seem important or bad on itself maybe, but this is yet another piece of my person they can add to the impressive mount of data they already have.
"Why Can't I Stop Scrolling On My App Feeds?"
But I'm diverging; let's continue the quote:
Happy from the 20 minutes you spent, you decide to post your daughter’s kindergarten graduation pictures at 0735. Four hours later, you check the post . . . you only have 5 likes. I (Facebook) recognize this. I know you love your daughter, and I know you will feel upset and invalidated if you do not receive more likes. Therefore, I am going to make your Facebook post more visible than it was before. Now, every single friend you have logs in and sees your post at the top of their news feed. Even if they’ve seen the post in the morning, they are more likely to “like” it now. Suddenly, you have a resurgence of likes! Throughout the evening, you receive over 20 notifications. The feel-good dopamine flows through your brain! You use Facebook more. You post to Facebook more. You scroll through the ads and newsfeeds. You "like" the ad-ridden viral video your friend posted. Your friend likes you back. Good feelings all around!
I'm so glad I use the Brave browser! I can't recommend this browser enough: I've been using it for months now and it's great to be able to watch those videos with no ads at all! "You are not a product" is the slogan on their homepage, as they recognize the truth: Google, Facebook, YouTube are "free" because YOU are the product they sell. And like all products, you're being modified, reshaped, as to best serve a product's main goal, which is to make a profit. And this is where "attention engineering" enters the picture; it's the perfect storm caused by the collision between marketing and the internet. Again: we all know this much, but did you know that these social media are made specifically to be as addicting as possible in order to hold on to that valuable attention? That "dopamine-loop" and "dopamine seeking-reward loop" are actual expressions now? Did you know that social media are increasingly seen as drugs? Here's an article from the site Medical Xpress: "Excessive social media use is comparable to drug addiction" Watch the above linked video for a short introduction, and then watch the below linked video for a more alarmist version that doesn't shy away from using the term "attention economy" ;-)
You Will Wish You Watched This Before You Started Using Social Media | The Twisted Truth
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