Facebook is Pavlov, and we’re the dogs.

Social media apps and websites are designed to achieve ‚engagement goals‘: they aim to keep us clicking, scrolling and swiping, while showing us as many ads or pages as possible.

Tech firms are in the business of immersing us in a digital present that distracts us from pursuing goals of our own choosing, and against long-term thinking can hardly compete. Sean Parker, founding president of Facebook, had admitted that hijacking our attention was an intentional objective of the company. ‚The thought process was this‘, he said. ‚How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?‘

The phones in our pockets have become the new factory clocks, capturing time that was once our own and offering in exchange a continuous electronic now full of infotainment, advertising and fake news.

The distraction industry works by cleverly tapping into our ancient mammalian brains: our ear prick up at the ping of an arriving message, or our attention switches to a video suddenly flickering on the edge of the screen, generating a sense of anticipation that triggers our dopamine system into action.

Facebook is Pavlov, and we’re the dogs.

Roman Krznaric (2020): ‚The Good Ancestor. How to Think Long Termin a Short-Term World.‘