Our evolved biology serves us brilliantly in many ways but also includes vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Persuasive technology—technology that shapes attitudes and behavior—pushes many of these buttons, leveraging our vulnerabilities to generate engagement and, ultimately, corporate revenue.
Our brains are more porous than we tend to believe. We shape our environment and, for better or worse, our environment shapes our brains. When we engage persuasive technology repeatedly, it begins to train us: our thoughts, feelings, motivations and attention start to replicate what the technology is designed to produce. This training creates a kind of neural momentum that makes us more likely to persist in those behaviors, even when they’re not good for us.
Social media presents a special case of persuasive technology where psychological levers are poked and prodded again and again, often without our conscious awareness. We don’t click randomly: many designs deliberately leverage our deepest vulnerabilities by promoting compulsive behavior that compromises our autonomy and well-being. Here are some of the most prominent examples: