"I know the hypnosis, as I'm sure you do, too. You start clicking through photos of your friends of friends and next thing you know an hour has gone by. It's oddly soothing, but unsatisfying. Once the spell is broken, I feel like I've just wasted a bunch of time. But while it's happening, I'm caught inside the machine, a human animated GIF: I. Just. Cannot. Stop." "The machine zone is the dark side of "flow," a psychological state proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. In a flow state, there is a goal, rules for getting to the goal, and feedback on how that's going. Importantly, the task has to match your skills, so there's a feeling of "simultaneous control and challenge." In a 1996 Wired interview, Csíkszentmihályi described the state like this: "Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz."" Schüll sees a twist on this phenomenon in front of the new slot machines of Vegas, which incorporate tiny squirts of seeming control to amp up their feedback loops. But instead of the self-fulfillment and happiness that Csíkszentmihályi describes, many gamblers feel deflated and sad about their time on the slots. The games exploit the human desire for flow, but without the meaning or mastery attached to the state. The machine zone is where the mind goes as the body loses itself in the task. "You can erase it all at the machines," a gambler tells Schüll. "You can even erase yourself." "Engagement is usually the currency of the social network realm. Since it's much harder to measure whether someone is actually enjoying an experience than it is to measure the number of minutes someone spends doing it, engagement is typically measured by time. And so, Silicon Valley has made the case to itself (and to the users of its software) that we are voting with our clicks. But there's a problem. A definition of "what people want" got smuggled in with the data. The definition starts logically: People go to sites they like. But then it gets wobblier. They say that the more time you spend on a site or part of a site, the more you like it. Of course, that completely elides the role the company itself plays in shaping user behavior to increase consumption. And it ignores that people sometimes (often?) do things to themselves that they don't like. Who "likes" spending hours flipping channels -- and yet it's been a core part of the American experience for decades. What if the 400 minutes a month people spend on Facebook is mostly (or even partly) spent in the machine zone, hypnotized, accumulating ad impressions for the company?" Here's my contention: Thinking about the machine zone and the coercive loops that initiate it has great explanatory power. It explains the "lost time" feeling I've had on various social networks, and that I've heard other people talk about. It explains how the more Facebook has tuned its services, the more people seem to dislike the experiences they have, even as they don't abandon them. It helps explain why people keep going back to services that suck them in, even when they say they don't want to. It helps me understand why social media, which began with the good intention of connecting people, has become such a fraught subject. Among the tech savvy, it is seen as an act of bravery to say, "I love Facebook." Because designers and developers interpreted maximizing "time on site," "stickiness," "engagement," as giving people what they wanted, they built a system that elicits compulsive responses from people that they later regret. At the very least, the phenomenon of the machine zone has to become a part of the way we talk about the pleasures of the Internet. Perhaps, over the long run, these problems will self-correct. I'm not so sure, though: The economic forces at the heart of ad-supported social networks basically require maximizing how much time people spend on a site, generating ad impressions.
"Within gamification, Schüll also identifies slotification: we slay an endless procession of monsters with no progress of narrative, mine endless digital coins for no other reason than their aggregation, hit spin on the slot machine with no big payoff. "It’s this ludic loop of, open and close, open and close; you win, you lose, nothing changes," Schüll says. Writing in The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal tapped Schüll’s concept of the ludic loop to explain the inextricable entrancement of flipping through Facebook photos: you push a button over and over, primed for an eternally fleeting informational reward." "As people move toward more data-driven existences where points are accumulated from health apps (the subject of Schüll’s latest research) and status is accumulated in identifiable quantities on social media, gamification becomes so total that it can sometimes mask whether what we’re doing has any inherent utility outside the game that surrounds it." "Schüll, in her book, describes Csikszentmihaly’s four criteria of flow: "[F]irst, each moment of the activity must have a little goal; second, the rules for attaining that goal must be clear; third, the activity must give immediate feedback; fourth, the tasks of the activity must be matched with challenge." For most of their history, slots easily fulfilled the first two criteria; after lowering volatility, they fulfilled the third criterion, and with the introduction of multiple lines, endless bonus rounds, and the occasional mini-game, they finally fulfilled the four criteria." "Too little reward and the animal becomes frustrated and stops trying; too much and it won’t push the lever as often." "Lower-volatility games often have greater appeal in 'locals markets' than in destination resort markets like Las Vegas or Atlantic City…Customers tend to play these games for longer periods of time…" In other words, lower volatility games paved the way for gaming’s wild expansion nationwide." "...when Bally introduced the electromechanical slot machine. The new rig let players insert multiple coins on a single bet, and machines could multiply jackpots as well as offer up smaller, but more frequent wins. Multi-line play was introduced: alongside the classic horizontal lineup, players could now win with diagonal and zig-zagged combinations. The new designs sped up gameplay and breathed life into the stagnating industry. William "Si" Redd, the bolo tie-wearing Mississippi native who oversaw some of Bally’s new projects during the era, was instrumental to that renaissance. "The player came to win," he said, "he didn’t come to lose, [so] speed it up, give him more, be more liberal. Let him win more, but then [you make money] still with the speeding up, because it was extra liberal." In other words, the new machines lowered slots’ volatility — gaming parlance for the frequency at which a player experiences big wins and losses." "To keep players gambling, all slots rely on the same basic psychological principles discovered by B.F. Skinner in the 1960s. Skinner is famous for an experiment in which he put pigeons in a box that gave them a pellet of food when they pressed a lever. But when Skinner altered the box so that pellets came out on random presses — a system dubbed variable ratio enforcement — the pigeons pressed the lever more often. Thus was born the Skinner box, which Skinner himself likened to a slot machine."
Human Behavioral Biology, by professor Robert Sapolsky @ Stanford
professor Dan Ariely (Duke University), author of Predictably Irrational
Charlie Munger on human misjudgment (speech @ Harvard University, 1995). List of common human misjudgments: 1. Under-recognition of the power of incentives. 2. Simple denial. 3. Incentive-caused bias. 4. Bias from consistency and commitment tendency. (Once you believe in an idea, it's hard to mentally take in other alternative ideas.) 5. Bias from Pavlovian association (behavior conditioning). "Practically three-quarters of advertising works on pure Pavlov." 6. Bias from reciprocation tendency. "What you think may change what you do, but perhaps even more important, what you do will change what you think." 7. Bias from over-influence by social proof (herd behavior). 8. Bias from contrast-caused distortions of sensation, perception, and cognition. 9. Bias from over-influence by authority. 10. Bias from deprival super-reaction syndrome. 11. Bias from envy and jealousy. "I've heard Warren [Buffett] say a half a dozen times, 'It's not greed that drives the world, but envy.' 12. Bias from chemical dependency. 13. Bias from misgambling compulsion. 14. Bias from liking distortion. "The tendency to especially like oneself, one's own kind and one's own idea structures, and the tendency to be especially susceptible to being misled by someone liked." 15. Bias from the non-mathematical nature of the human brain. 16. Failure to obtain deserved influence caused by not properly explaining "why?" 17. Bias from stress-induced mental changes. 18. Development and organizational confusion from say-something syndrome.
"There's no more central message in psychology than the fact that most of what goes on in our heads we have no access to. We have no idea that it's going on." "What social psychologists have learned in the context of social influence is that what other people are doing has often been vastly more powerful than anything you can do in the way of incentives." Richard Nisbett (Distinguished University Professor at the University of Michigan)