Americans have become “food aware,” and the resulting knowledge has a growing number of people pissed off at the processed food industry.
Turns out some types of foods are designed to be addictive. Morgan Sperlock publicized this years ago in his documentary Super Size Me, but he’s not alone. Consider this quote from Michael Moss writing for the New York Times Magazine:
What I found, over four years of research and reporting, was a conscious effort — taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles — to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive. I talked to more than 300 people in or formerly employed by the processed-food industry, from scientists to marketers to C.E.O.’s. Some were willing whistle-blowers, while others spoke reluctantly when presented with some of the thousands of pages of secret memos that I obtained from inside the food industry’s operations.
Quite an indictment, food as a designer drug.
If Michael’s claims are true, public anger seems justified. Similarly, the tobacco industry is a unanimous villain for designing cigarettes to be addictive.
Making addictive products, especially when the desired addiction damages public health, is bad. So, following that logic, why isn’t anyone mad at the tech industry?
Do you think it’s by accident that every person on an elevator, or most stopped at a red light, or even couples having a “romantic” dinner, are looking at their phones?
The tech industry designs their interfaces for maximum addiction, just like the makers of slot machines, who they are said to admire. Consider this quote from a Verge story describing a state called the “zone,” which is a haze many slot machine players find themselves in:
The “zone” is flow through a lens darkly: hyperfocused, neurotransmitters abuzz, but directed toward a numbness with no goal in particular.
Focused with no goal in particular?
Sounds like most people I know on the internet (myself included). What is usually accomplished on Facebook or Twitter other than mind numbing browsing?
Tech business models are predicated on user acquisition and retention. The idea is to keep you on their platform for as long as possible (to look at their ads), and then to bring you back as soon as possible after you leave (so you can view more ads).
The result? You crave the appearance of the little red flag that is evidence of a new Facebook friend request, or a new Twitter notification delivered to your phone in real time.
Fact is these notices are nonevents 99.99% of the time, and yet we continue checking for them. Checking for email, for new Tinder matches, whatever the case.
This digital addiction can be just as dangerous to our health and wellbeing as bad food.
It causes stress and sadness, destroys our attention spans, robs us of enjoying real moments with people we love, keeps us from sleeping well, causes fatalities on the road, and can even lower sperm count.
Does the tech industry have an ethical duty to design their products in ways that encourage healthy interaction?
Update: October, 23, 2016 – check out this article in the Atlantic on iPhone addiction, very important piece.