Surprise, surprise. The hoodie-clad twenty-somethings who brought us social media were as dedicated to addicting their users as the suits pushing tobacco or snack food.
That’s one takeaway from an interview with Sean Parker, Facebook’s first president and a co-founder of Napster. Parker said he and fellow social media pioneers knew they were looking to create addictive services. “The inventors, creators — it’s me, it’s Mark [Zuckerberg], it’s Kevin Systrom on Instagram, it’s all of these people — understood this consciously. And we did it anyway,” he said.
He said he and his colleagues wanted to grab as much time and attention as possible. “That means that we needed to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever … It’s a social validation feedback loop … You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” he said.
Having acknowledged the addictive nature of social media, the Facebook billionaire said he didn’t see coming the downside of the development.
“I don’t know if I really understood the consequences of what I was saying, because [of] the unintended consequences of a network when it grows to a billion or 2 billion people and … it literally changes your relationship with society, with each other … It probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” Parker said during an Axios event in Philadelphia last week.
Parker isn’t the first person to say Silicon Valley has turned us into pixel junkies. As this excerpt from Adam Alter’s book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked makes clear, the dangers of tech addiction are well-known to the people minting money from it:
In late 2010, Steve Jobs told New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children had never used the iPad. “We limit how much technology our kids use in the home.”
Bilton discovered that other tech giants imposed similar restrictions. Chris Anderson, the former editor of WIRED, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.” His five children were never allowed to use screens in their bedrooms. Evan Williams, a founder of Blogger, Twitter, and Medium, bought hundreds of books for his two young sons, but refused to give them an iPad. And Lesley Gold, the founder of an analytics company, imposed a strict no-screen-time-during-the-week rule on her kids. She softened her stance only when they needed computers for schoolwork.
This is unsettling. Why are the world’s greatest public technocrats also its greatest private technophobes? It seemed as if they were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply.