Addiction in an On-Demand World (Part 2)

(See Part 1 here)

Big Brother is Watching

The internet has changed the way we live in such a drastic way, that our evolutionary biology hasn’t caught up. Examples are:

  • A generation of people alive with increasing propensity for neck and back problems due to excessive staring down at a smartphones and sitting in office chairs
  • “Internet Gaming Disorder” added to the most recent DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is the universal reference guide for psychiatrists and psychologists.

In addition, understanding how to protect our online privacy has not yet hit mainstream consciousness. The amount of observable data we leave online combined with methods available for organisations to collect and use this data is not well understood by the general public, and the education process for this is at its infancy. GDPR is the first step in passing over the control of the data from the orgnisation to the individual.

But right now Big Brother (collectively also known as “FAANG” – Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) is tracking you, building a profile of your preferences based on web behaviour.

Personalisation and Conversions

Big Brother collects data about you online such as:

  1. Articles you read
  2. Places, products and services you transact (buy and sell)
  3. Contacts you communicate with and follow
  4. The device and browser you use for surfing the web
  5. The time and geographic location of your online behaviour

From this and through machine learning they are able to know and derive (i.e. make a very educated guess) your:

  1. Political compass and other interests
  2. Consumer behaviour
  3. Social network
  4. Online habits and routines
  5. Real world personal information

What do organisations do with this information? For economical gain. They recommend and show:

  1. Articles that interests you – to generate more advertising revenue for publishers
  2. Products and services that you are more likely to purchase aka “convert” – generating more revenue for retails and service providers
  3. People you may know or want to follow – so you spend more time onsite which leads to more opportunities for ad revenue and/or purchases

The more Big Brother knows about you, the more they’re able to optimise for metrics that lead to their economical gain. Metrics such as ‘time on site’ or ‘engagement’ (e.g. clicks, shares, likes, comments) are indicators of likelihood to ‘convert’ i.e. purchase.

The Concern

The concern which I want to raise, is that metrics being measured and optimised are predominantly for the benefit of orgnisations (platform / website / company / advertiser / publisher / etc.) not the individual.

Most stimuli have emotional triggers. Unfortunately triggering negative emotions seems to leads to higher performing online metrics compared positive emotions. (Check out Pluchik‘s wheel):

  • Negative: Anger / Disgust / Fear / Sadness / Envy / Shame
  • Positive: Joy / Love / Kindness / Anticipation / Surprise / Trust / Courage

Finally emotion is very reactionary, apart of our reptilian brain. Most of the time it by passes logic and reasoning, which are necessary for self control that allows us to feel successful and a sense of fulfillment in the long term.


What I’d like to see is a shift in emphasis on putting the individual as priority over the profit motive and greater education on how to best utilise the internet for our long term well being. Take back control.