People in tech will say, “You told me, when I asked you what you wanted, that you wanted to go to the gym. That’s what you said. But then I handed you a box of doughnuts and you went for the doughnuts, so that must be what you really wanted.” The Facebook folks, that’s literally what they think. We offer people this other stuff, but then they always go for the outrage, or the autoplaying video, and that must be people’s most true preference.
I brought Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a famous mindfulness teacher, to Google. … he came because he was worried that this thing in our pocket was making it easier to run away from ourselves. I think we don’t have language for that. We say people check their phone 150 times a day and we don’t make the distinction between 150 calm, deep breath, conscious choices and then 150 anxiety-driven reactions. There’s a difference.
On addictive technology:
The simplest example I always use is Snapchat, which is the No. 1 way that all teenagers in the US communicate. It shows the number of days in a row that you sent a message to your friend. That’s a persuasive and manipulative technique called “the streak.” … But if I don’t send a message back and forth every 24 hours, the streak goes away. It’s like putting two kids on treadmills, tying their legs together with a string, and then hitting start on both treadmills at the same time, because they both have to keep running, or if one falls, the other one falls down. You have 30 of these streaks [going at once]. This is so persuasive that kids give their password to their parents, or to their friends, to keep their streaks going if they have to disconnect. It’s that bad.