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In the end, he says, companies “stand back watching as a billion people run around like chickens with their heads cut off, responding to each other and feeling indebted to each other.”A Facebook spokesperson told me the social network focuses on maximizing the quality of the experience—not the time its users spend on the site—and surveys its users daily to gauge success.In response to this feedback, Facebook recently tweaked its News Feed algorithm to punish clickbait—stories with sensationalist headlines designed to attract readers.When Linked In launched, for instance, it created a hub-and-spoke icon to visually represent the size of each user’s network.That triggered people’s innate craving for social approval and, in turn, got them scrambling to connect.To answer the friend request, we’ll pass by the News Feed, where pictures and auto-play videos seduce us into scrolling through an infinite stream of posts—what Harris calls a “bottomless bowl,” referring to a study that found people eat 73 percent more soup out of self-refilling bowls than out of regular ones, without realizing they’ve consumed extra.
Though Harris insists he steered clear of persuasive tactics, he grew more familiar with how they were applied.
As the co‑founder of Time Well Spent, an advocacy group, he is trying to bring moral integrity to software design: essentially, to persuade the tech world to help us disengage more easily from its devices.
While some blame our collective tech addiction on personal failings, like weak willpower, Harris points a finger at the software itself.
And he was troubled that out of 10 sessions in Fogg’s course, only one addressed the ethics of these persuasive tactics.
(Fogg says that topic is “woven throughout” the curriculum.)Harris dropped out of the master’s program to launch a start-up that installed explanatory pop-ups across thousands of sites, including The New York Times’.
For example, rewarding someone with an instantaneous “like” after they post a photo can reinforce the action, and potentially shift it from an occasional to a daily activity.