To monetize older innovations, the dominant platforms employ behavioral scientists to develop interface designs that keep users online as much as possible. Big Tech calls it “engagement.” Another word would be addiction.
By getting their users to spend more time on their platforms, the social-media giants turn the customer into a data source to be sucked dry. Here’s how it works: The more attention users give the platform, the more personal information the platform extracts from them, recording every click, view and preference. Big Tech then converts this information into advertisements, all targeted with increasing precision—which produces even more advertising dollars for Big Tech.
What “innovation” remains in this space is innovation to keep the treadmill running, longer and faster, drawing more data from users to bombard us with more ads for more stuff.
But here’s the problem. As we spend more time on that digital treadmill, our real-world relationships atrophy, sometimes to disastrous effect. Teen suicide is up. Twenty-two percent of millennials report that they have no friends. More than a few researchers have noticed a connection.