There is a sense that we humans are in control of the technologies that we create, and in a way, that is of course true. We code the software. We design the shape and the function of the tool.
And yet, there is a deeper sense in which we are very much not in control.
The Icy Grip of Our Tools
To make this argument, I must first fully admit that I myself am wrapped in its seductive grip. There is a pull that our technology exerts over us, a kind of compulsion that is hard to deny. We see it in how difficult it is to draw our young ones away from the gaming console, from our obsessive checking of Facebook and email – first at our desktops, and now everywhere we go thanks to the super handy convenience of our mobile devices. Even our less compelling earlier media device, the television, with its lack of interactivity or connection to others, is still responsible for engaging four and a half hours of the average person’s day in the United States.
So, there is a design to technology and it is one that, for various reasons, is quite good at harnessing our compulsive behaviors in order to attract us into using it. What is behind this design, this “planned stickiness”? The answer, at one level, is quite simple. We humans design our technologies to be this sticky ultimately as a way to make more money for our businesses.
Drive up engagement, drive up usage, drive up share of mind. The more hours computers steal from television, the better. The more minutes mobile takes from desktop, the better. And don’t forget the escalation of attention-grabbing antics amongst direct competitors within a product category, as Apple works to beat Microsoft, and now Google at how many of us buy, embrace and eventually recommend their machines.
Even the content flowing to us through these devices competes with other content, each hoping we’ll just love what the experience. Joanie Loves Chachi and I Love Lucy, and now my attention is so Mashable I’m simply Wired to want more.
Perfecting Our Technology Addiction
Oh yes, at one level, our compulsive attachment, our addiction, to our tools is very easy to understand. It’s simply an outgrowth of our competitive enterprise system – the marketplace, perfectly tuned to breed the most compelling user experience possible, a kind of extension of nature’s evolutionary forces.
But here is the interesting question for each of us to pause and reflect upon. One day, these systems will learn to design themselves. They will have the “business intelligence” to analyze our “big data” and configure themselves in ways that are so responsive, so compelling, so addictive, they’ll make what we have today seem as quaint as listening to The Lone Ranger on an old-fashioned 1930’s radio broadcast.
Our user experience will be fantastic. We will be so customer delighted, we won’t know what to do with ourselves. And all of it will come through the magic of automation and the wondrous weaving of algorithms without a huge degree of human agency or oversight. We will be programmed by the program, so attracted to the flame that we will not notice a little singe to our wings here and there.
And it all leads to the interesting question of who – or what – will be doing all the programming.
And the I Love Lucy copyright goes to CBS.