Addictive Technology (And the Problem Is?)

Tech Companies are Addicting People! But Should They Stop? by Nir Eyal.

From the post:

To understand technology addiction (or any addiction for that matter) you need to understand the Q-tip. Perhaps you’ve never noticed there’s a scary warning on every box of cotton swabs that reads, “CAUTION: Do not enter ear canal…Entering the ear canal could cause injury.” How is it that the one thing most people do with Q-tips is the thing manufacturers explicitly warn them not to do?

“A day doesn’t go by that I don’t see people come in with Q-tip-related injuries,” laments Jennifer Derebery, an inner ear specialist in Los Angeles and the past president of the American Academy of Otolaryngology. “I tell my husband we ought to buy stock in the Q-tips company; it supports my practice.” It’s not just that people do damage to their ears with Q-tips, it’s that they keep doing damage. Some even call it an addiction.

On one online forum, a user asks, “Anyone else addicted to cleaning their ears with Q-tips?…I swear to God if I go more than a week without sticking Q-tips in my ears, I go nuts. It’s just so damn addicting…” Elsewhere, another ear-canal enterer also associates ear swabbing with dependency: “How can I detox from my Q-tips addiction?” The phenomenon is so well known that MADtv based a classic sketch on a daughter having to hide Q-tip use from her parents like a junkie.

Q-tip addiction shares something in common with other, more prevalent addictions like gambling, heroin, and even Facebook use. Understanding what I call, the Q-tip Effect, raises important questions about products we use every day, and the responsibilities their makers have in relation to the welfare of their users.
… (emphasis in original)

It’s a great post on addiction (read the definition), technology, etc., but Nir loses me here:


However, there’s a difference between accepting the unavoidable edge cases among unknown users and knowingly promoting the Q-tip Effect. When it comes to companies that know exactly who’s using, how, and how much, much more can be done. To do the right thing by their customers, companies have an obligation to help when they know someone wants to stop, but can’t. Silicon Valley technology companies are particularly negligent by this ethical measure.

The only basis for this “…obligation to help when they know someone wants to stop, but can’t” appears to be Nir’s personal opinion.

That’s ok and he is certainly entitled to it, but Nir hasn’t offered to pay the cost of meeting his projected ethical obligation.

People enjoy projecting ethical obligations on others, from the anti-abortion, anti-birth control, anti-drugs, etc.

Imposing moral obligations that others pay for is more popular in the U.S. than adultery. I don’t have any hard numbers on that last point. Let’s say imposing moral obligations paid for by others is wildly popular and leave it at that.

If I had a highly addictive (in Nir’s sense) app, I would be using the profits to rent backhoes for anyone who needed one along the DAPL pipeline. No questions asked.

It’s an absolute necessity to raise ethical questions about technology and society in general.

But my first question is always: Who pays the cost of your ethical concern?

If it’s not you, that says a lot to me about your concern.

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