In the latest edition of Wired magazine computer philosopher Jaron Lanier writes of social media and the advertising business model of the internet:
We call it advertising, but that name in itself is misleading. It is really statistical behaviour-modification of the population in a stealthy way. Unlike [traditional] advertising, which works via persuasion, this business model depends on manipulating people’s attention and their perceptions of choice.
The behaviourist BF Skinner designed an experimental box for conditioning animals in laboratory experiments. A person in a Skinner box has an illusion of control, but is actually controlled by the box or whoever is behind the box. In this case they’re algorithmically designed. Because they are not physically contained in the Skinner Box, you have to keep people attentive to the device. The only way to do that is to create a continuous urgency, and that can only be achieved through conflict and danger. So, intrinsically, the business plan breaks apart the world, including any efforts to prevent things from stopping it.
– Jaron Lanier, Save the internet – but change the business model, Wired, January 2018