In the 1960’s there was a very famous experiment done in America. It was called the Stanford Mashmallow Experiment, and it was designed to look at the differences between adults and young children when it comes to self-control.
The children were left alone in a room with a marshmallow for around 15 minutes, having been told that if they could wait the full 15 minutes then they would get a reward (often more marshmallows). Unsurprisingly almost none of the kids are able to hold off – children are very bad at self control. (This experiment has been repeated over and over again in the past 40 years with children of all ages, and all nationalities. The average time they usually give up trying to fight the urge is between 6.08 and 5.71 minutes for a 3 year old, with less than 0.6% able to wait the full duration.)
The trouble is, if this experiment had been run on adults over the past 40 years, we may have seen some interesting trends. This is because we have begun to design technology which provides instant gratification. More than that, technology today pushes us into ways of thinking which promote quite strangely immature ways of thinking and acting.
Just 5 more minutes! PLEASE!
Kids tend to think in the short term.
It’s late… You know you should be asleep, or at the very least preparing for your big meeting tomorrow, and yet there you are watching an endless stream of videos. They feature: A Sneezing Panda, a child named Charlie biting his brother’s finger, and random people you don’t even know saying stupid things after coming back from Dental surgery. Not only are the videos funny, but they make you feel good, and the feeling is just too enticing! ….. It’s only four minutes after all!
The trouble is… it’s never just four minutes – there is ALWAYS another video to watch! Pretty soon you are looking at your clock and it says 00:30, and you realise you have to be up in six hours. We’ve all been there. The thing is, this is not just some random effect – these videos are edited to stir those good feelings inside us, and the companies who promote them specialise in what makes people watching the next video! The simple truth is that the more you click, the more money they make.
… Still, in the words Morpheus: “There is a difference knowing the path and walking the path.”
Maybe it’s okay that these videos exist, and that they make us feel good. We should be careful in realising that the feeling doesn’t last forever, and just because something grabs our attention doesn’t mean we should follow them wherever they lead.
Fun Fact: Did you know that studies have conclusively shown that people check emails and social media more regularly if they feel lonely. In essence, they are a little like a comfort blanket – a little slice of warmth! More than that, studies have even shown that posting on websites actively helps people feel less lonely.
Views and followers are more important than ANYTHING
Kids overvalue what other people think.
When Facebook first came out, the number of friends you had was directly relational to how popular you were. If you were under the age of 30 and had less than 100 friends, you were in a very bad position! Of course people started to realise that having more than 1000 friends was just silly.
Today, social media is all about likes, followers and retweets, but the principle is exactly the same… The more you have, the more popular you are. The only problem is that this just isn’t true!
To get more likes, you just need to link things which are designed to SOUND amazing, while ACTUALLY being pretty useless (ie. Not really being applicable to the real world). The things people share most are known as click-bait, and often the websites which use these tactics are awful – making you click as many times as possible (and usually driving you totally insane).
The second downside of this is sensationalism. The most popular news articles contain few facts and more opinion… and reaction about these opinions. Taking an objective view for a second, this way of acting is promoting more of the same – to the degree that news media today must always have ‘an angle’ or some form of controversy. In essence we are teaching ourselves to ignore clarity of considered facts, and pay attention to the most grabbing headlines or outrageous activities – the extremes of society.
This is one of the reasons why the whole idea is just pretty silly!
Fun Fact: People are only capable of around 150 real relationships. This number was reached in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar, who found a correlation between primate brain size and average social group size. It has been proposed to lie between 100 and 250, with a commonly used value of 150.
Internet Knowledge and Shiny stuff is AWESOME
Kids are not aware of how little they know.
People have always been suckers for new stuff and rare stuff – it’s just part of who we are. This is one of the reasons we, as a culture, value the news and the latest products so much – we like knowing about something that only a few people are aware of or owning something which we believe other people want. This is mainly because people like feeling as though they understand the world around them and enjoy being part of an exclusive club. The problem comes when companies dress old things up in new clothes, meaning we waste money, or lead us into thinking something is far more simple than it actually is, when in fact we don’t understand the issue at all.
The internet is a fantastic way to gain knowledge, but at the same time, the people who write on the internet are doing so because they want to be convincing. The same goes for products, the way they talk about them is specifically designed to be one sided. That often means only explaining one side of the argument, or focusing on one small issue, rather than taking a step back and looking at a product or situation in real terms. More than that, people have a natural tendency to think people are right if they agree with them, and wrong if they disagree with them, meaning that its easy to get sucked in.
Fun Fact: There are two kinds of problems in the world: puzzles and mysteries – puzzles have answers but mysteries do not. The chief problem with knowledge is treating a mystery (which is meant to be discussed) as though it is a puzzle that has a single answer (and that one person is right and the other is wrong).
SHUT-UP AND REWARD ME! (The Gold star principle)
Kids love rewards, even if the reward is meaningless.
Did you ever stop to think how often you are rewarded and congratulated by computers?
Computer software today is not really how it used to be. This is because of the computer games industry. Without wanting to say too much bad stuff about the games industry, they do one thing very well: they reward their users. From levels to swords (or guns!), cosmic spells to sexy new abilities, games are specifically designed to make the player feel like they are progressing.
Today, this has officially crossed over into the world of computers, where websites and businesses are constantly rewarding their users for loyalty. The advertising industry is the best at this: almost employing a freemium games model to business – the more money you spend, or the more you invest, the more rewards you get. Ebay has buyer and seller rankings, for instance, and every online store is constantly thanking their users: ‘Thanks for signing up!’, ‘Thanks for purchasing’, ‘Thanks for signing upto our newsletter’.
Added to this is the feeling of inclusion we get from being part of an in-group, which can be a powerful motivator to keep doing something. The truth, however, is that this process is manufactured to play on our fears – the worry that we are not improving and are not part of a greater community.
Fun Fact: The idea of e-commerce is an English invention. Michael Aldrich, an innovator and entrepreneur who died in 2014, came up with the idea in 1979, just two years before he invented Interactive Cable TV – which led to directly to the launch of SKY TV and other interactive services.
Sharing is CARING (Getting out of Real Responsibilities)
Kids act like they care, but don’t feel like they are in a position to do anything.
Who remembers wristbands for popular causes?
Even if you don’t remember them specifically, you may remember that the argument went on for a long time – does buying them stop people getting actively involved. It turns out, the answer is yes. Once someone takes an action, any action, they feel that they have ‘done their bit’ and so do not need to be active in other ways – such as dedicating time and resources to actually solving it. Today, the same principle often applies in places such as social media, where a like is just as good as someone pouring their heart out or offering real advice that may solve a situation.
Elan Morgan did a really interesting examination of this topic where she tried to stop liking posts on her Facebook feeds, to see what impact it would have. (find a link at the bottom of this section). As she explains:
“The Like is the wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos. I actually felt pangs of guilt over not liking some updates, as though the absence of my particular Like would translate as a disapproval or a withholding of affection. I felt as though my ability to communicate had been somehow hobbled. The Like function has saved me so much comment-typing over the years that I likely could have written a very quippy, War-and-Peace-length novel by now.”
This trend can have a negative impact: people today don’t give money or really engage to these causes – they just like or share social media posts. This may be posts on animal cruelty, war or political activism, but these small actions give us the feeling that we are contributing to the effort against it. Instead, we just try to demonstrate to others what kind of person we are by the things we choose to like and share – and ultimately we want to think of ourselves as good people.
You could make the argument that awareness is part of the battle, but in honesty that’s just silly to believe that a share or a like could have a serious impact and fundamentally change the world. In this sense, technology often gives us the impression that we are involved in causes, without any of the real world consequences which come when a small group of people work together to actively work towards a brighter future.
Fun fact: Interestingly this is not a good tactic for using social media sites. While anyone who sees your activity will see the various likes and shares, people who like and share distressing or sensitive topics are shooting themselves in the foot. The various built-in algorithms are tuned to show you more of what you like, meaning feeds quickly become places full of these topics. This perpetuates a cycle of seeing the same types of information again and again (as they share and like more of the same).