How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist

Tristan Harris
May 18, 2016 · 16 min read
That’s me performing sleight of hand magic at my mother’s birthday party

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices

How empowering is this menu of choices for the need, “I ran out of toothpaste”?
Yelp subtly reframes the group’s need “where can we go to keep talking?” in terms of photos of cocktails served.
All user interfaces are menus. What if your email client gave you empowering choices of ways to respond, instead of “what message do you want to type back?” (Design by Tristan Harris)
A list of notifications when we wake up in the morning — how empowering is this menu of choices when we wake up? Does it reflect what we care about? (from Joe Edelman’s Empowering Design Talk)

Hijack #2: Put a Slot Machine In a Billion Pockets

How often do you check your email per day?
Image courtesy of Jopwell

Hijack #3: Fear of Missing Something Important (FOMSI)

Hijack #4: Social Approval

Easily one of the most persuasive things a human being can receive.
Facebook uses automatic suggestions like this to get people to tag more people, creating more social externalities and interruptions.

Hijack #5: Social Reciprocity (Tit-for-tat)

After accepting an endorsement, LinkedIn takes advantage of your bias to reciprocate by offering *four* additional people for you to endorse in return.

Hijack #6: Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay

YouTube autoplays the next video after a countdown
Facebook autoplays the next video after a countdown

Hijack #7: Instant Interruption vs. “Respectful” Delivery

Hijack #8: Bundling Your Reasons with Their Reasons

Imagine if web browsers empowered you to navigate directly to what you want — especially for sites that intentionally detour you toward their reasons.

Hijack #9: Inconvenient Choices

NYTimes claims it’s giving a free choice to cancel your account

Hijack #10: Forecasting Errors, “Foot in the Door” strategies

Facebook promises an easy choice to “See Photo.” Would we still click if it gave the true price tag?
TripAdvisor uses a “foot in the door” technique by asking for a single click review (“How many stars?”) while hiding the three page survey of questions behind the click.

Summary And How We Can Fix This

Thrive Global

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Tristan Harris

Written by

Co-founder, Center for Humane Technology // Ex-Google Design Ethicist // CEO of Apture (acquired by Google) // Philosopher // Human.

Thrive Global

More than living. Thriving.