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In the bigger picture, in which people must do more than con-form in order for our species to thrive, behaviorism is an inadequate way to think about society. If you want to motivate high value and creative outcomes, as opposed to undertaking rote training, then reward and punishment aren’t the right tools at all.

There’s a long line of researchers studying this topic, starting with Abraham Maslow in the 1950s and continuing with many others, including Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (joined by writers like Daniel Pink). Instead of applying the simple mechanisms of behaviorism, we need to think about people in more creative ways, if we expect them to be creative. We need to foster joy, intellectual challenge, individuality, curiosity, and other qualities that don’t fit into a tidy chart. But there’s something about the rigidity of digital technology, the on-and-off nature of the bit, that attracts the behaviorist way of thinking. Reward and punishment are like one and zero. It’s not surprising that B. F. Skinner was a major player in the earliest days of digital networking, for instance.fn15 He saw digital networks as an ideal way to train a population for the kind of utopia he sought, where we’d all just finally behave. One of his books was called Beyond Freedom and Dignity. Beyond! 

Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

                                                      Jaron Lanier


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Comment by Michael Grove on February 4, 2021 at 9:27

The term “engagement” is part of the familiar, sanitized language that hides how stupid a machine we have built. We must start using terms like “addiction” and “behavior modification.” Here’s another example of sanitized language: We still call the customers of social media companies “advertisers”—and, to be fair, many of them are. They want you to buy a particular brand of soap or something. But they might also be nasty, hidden creeps who want to undermine democracy. So I prefer to call this class of person a manipulator. Sorry, soap sellers… . Actually, I can report, the people at companies like Procter & Gamble are just fine—I’ve met a bunch of them—and their world would be happier if they weren’t beholden to social media companies.

Lanier, Jaron. Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now

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