I’m getting out of Facebook for a month. I’ll see how things go but if things go as I think they will, I will not go back. I’ve been thinking about doing this for a while but the trigger for it is the following video:
It’s an interesting video. In it, Tristan Harris lays a claim that the goal of Facebook (and of the other content providers, e.g. YouTube, Netflix, etc) is to get as much of your attention as possible. There are 24 hours in a day, you sleep 8, the 16 other are up for grabs. These companies are ruthlessly competing with one another to steal as much of your attention as possible. They create algorithms to ensure that you spend as much time as possible on their website(s) and they constantly tune them so that you are less and less likely to leave.
In the video (minute 6:45), Tristan comments on how this problem can be fixed:
- Accept that you are persuadable
You have to accept the fact that you are no match for a bunch of neuroscientists, psychologists, computer scientists whose job it is to keep you addicted to their website.
- Need new models for accountability systems in these organizations
The accounting models used are totally geared to maximize profits. These companies will appeal to the lowest common denominator, they will hit your lizard brain, put you in an echo chamber for your political views, anything to keep you hooked. You should be clear about your goal when you use a website, does it do what it’s supposed to do? Or are you simply getting a dopamine hit?
- Design Renaissance
The UX of these websites should protect against the timelines you don’t want and empower the timelines that you prefer.
I agree with 1 (I have no doubt that I am persuadable) but do not believe that 2 (transparency in accountability system) will happen. As to 3, as it implies a change in the accountability model (which I already don’t accept), I don’t believe it will happen.
Facebook is particularly insidious compared to sites like Netflix. There are two reasons for this:
- Facebook is “non directed” in its very nature, you don’t have a “strong and clear” goal when visiting it. Netflix is less pernicious because you direct it. You go to the website and you decide to watch a given tv show. The fact that it plays the next one is more in your control and is certainly more in tune with your initial interest.
- Facebook is solely ad-driven. Netflix is not. At the end of each month, you pay around 10$ to Netflix. At that time you usually think about the value that was brought to you over the last month. Facebook is “free”. You only give away your time….
So how would the accountability system of Facebook change from valuing the capture of the user’s time to providing real value provided to the user (e.g. improving relationships with connections)? It will only change if Facebook migrates away from an ad-driven model to a paid subscription model. Can this happen? I don’t think so. It’s more likely that a competitor comes in with a totally different business model.
In any case, my goal is to be the best person I can be and there is simply no way Facebook is presently helping me achieve this. Yes, I can see updates from friends but most of them are trivial. I would do much better writing these friends or even better spend time with them. A lot of people I have on my Facebook are also “connections”, not true friends. What do I care, what Person X ate last week? This is totally useless information. There can be serendipity in some of the information provided but it seems to me that there a deficit if you do the difference between the value obtained from time spend (a formula for this would be great!).
P.S. On a totally different note, if you want to read about alignment of concerns, take a look at David Swensen’s “Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment”. At the time, it changed my life.