Well, that’s out in the world now. If you know me and that’s a surprise, well here you go. If you don’t it doesn’t matter. I think you’re at risk too., and that’s what this text is all about.
Before I go on: no this is not a „world is addicted to oil“ kind of story. Nope, real medically strict addiction. Even if it is self-diagnosed right now, I don’t think that makes it less crucial to understand. I don’t like fear-mongering, but I see myself as the victim of a hidden pandemic, one that will unfold long after we have survived the current one.
As I am writing this, we, as a species, are in the midst of a real crisis. The time of funny conspiracies and jokes about religious people holding mass prayers is over. We, you and I, will feel that the people that fall for hoaxes, so harmless they might seem, live in our world. No matter how our filter bubbles skew our world view, it’s the same reality that they must skew from. If „the others“ don’t follow social distancing our global efforts will be in vain. People die right now. Real people.
So why the heck talk about a small inconvenience that harms the life of like one person, myself? Well, first you seem to have the time reading it, ergo you are not a healthcare worker that I distract. So no harm done. Secondly, the whole issue just became apparent during this crisis and I am an opportunist. Use this time for personal transformative change, bla, bla, you know the drill. And at last, this question reminds me of a discussion I had years ago (with a wise old Armenian that lived through hell, as a white, privileged, 14-yo, just to make sure it sounds more insane than it already does)
The discussion centred around the question: what is more important? A child of a rich guy not getting the newest iPhone for his birthday, or the famine of an entire country in Africa?
Somehow, with absolute confidence, I exclaimed: the first. Yep, the first problem is more important for science to answer and myself to work on. My argument was simple:
The fact that a rich child exists and has this specific problem means that humanity as a whole has at least once already solved famine. The problem of feeding Africa is therefore only a problem of uneven distribution of said knowledge, a problem of scale, not breakthrough. The child’s whish, on the other hand, that’s really hard. It’s just symptomatic for the psychological damage a post-scarcity world can bring with it. And, oh boy, are we far from solving that one.
Today, I am going to repeat that same mistake. I spend the last three weeks, day in and day out researching the coronavirus and the live spread of a pandemic. I had pages over pages written, small funny pirates with whom I planned to teach you virology, lengthy discussions about economic breakdowns, the whole thing. But that’s all on hold right now. Because, as the title suggests, I am addicted. And somehow I think we should use our quarantine to talk about that.
The tool of my addiction is YouTube. Your tool could be Reddit, Facebook, a plethora of others, the underlying addiction remains the same. I am addicted to what I call Danning-Kruger-Maximization.
To make this very clear: I am also addicted to all of what you already know about modern digital addictions. Reward hacking, serotonin manipulation through scrolling, all of the stuff experts have spent tons of actual research on, and you and I can get help for. The healing process for that will not be easy, but it wouldn‘t justify diverting your attention from SARS-CoV-2. What I want to talk about today is something only this crisis brought to light (at least for me).
Part 1: What do I mean with addicted?
The definitions vary, but I’ll just say it‘s some part of your life you can’t live without (on a biochemistry level), but that decreases your overall life expectancy and it’s quality. Breathing air is not, drinking a bottle of wine a day is. Very loose I know, but that’s all you are gonna get.
Does my YouTube consumption fit this bill? Absolutely. I am not a fan of the 10.000-hour rule, and I have no actual knowledge of how much time I spend on YouTube/Reddit/Blogs combined, but I think I am close to mastery. And I am only 22.
Part 2: So who cares. Just get a doctor.
Well, the question is: are there enough psychiatrists to treat everybody out there? Maybe. Are there enough in the future, when some of them are compromised themselves? Get your recently required flatten-the-curve knowledge out and apply it here. Do you see it?
Part 3: Again. Why is this important?
To not reiterate entire books warning us of the attention economy I want to emphasize just one key idea:
A team of the brightest people on earth are right now using selective market forces to make you addicted to the world’s best content creators.
That’s it. There is nothing more to all of those books, you wanted, but never quite got yourself, to read (Not that I did, phew). I personally would also add that our economy is structurally built in such a way to pay this team the most (at least that’s how I defined brightest, recursion at its best).
So, here is my story of how I lost to them. And how they will get you.
Part 4: Let’s design the perfect drug (+1 for group effort)
While researching the coronavirus, one of the first questions is, why is this virus so special? Isn’t it just like the flu (if you just came back from digital detox, no, it is absolutely not)?
The answer is complex, but one interesting viewpoint is, that the novel coronavirus hits all the right sweet spots. Sometimes you see headlines like: “Will the coronavirus mutate?”, to which the answer is, first, yes, of course, that’s what replicating stuff does, secondly, in the way the news understand “mutation”: No. The reason? Why should it? This virus is doing great. Why get deadlier? That makes no sense. That would make people take you more serious, reducing the total number of people you as a virus can infect. Nope, SARS-CoV-2 is pretty happy as it is. And if that reality changes, it still has time to adapt.
To change the topic, let’s use this idea of sweet spots to design the perfect drug. Let’s play Plague Inc. but make everyone addicted, how would we do that?
First, we have to choose our class. Should it be a chemical drug? A religious idea? Maybe a political hoax? How can we hook people?
I think the best path would be a platform. First, you have extremely low marginal costs. Switch on some cloud servers, stuff coffee and anime into some programmers and you are good to go. Secondly, a community approach reduces your work even more. People are going to make your drug for other people, you just don’t have to completely fail at delivery. The third argument for digital online distribution is, that the regulations are years behind and will remain a joke for quite some time.
There are some intrinsic parameters we must choose. I will skip most, read the literature if you are interested. These include addiction at first exposure (if you visit them once, how likely are you to come back, good examples are heroin and Pornhub), repeated cravings (how much stronger does your dependency on the drug get with time, Spotify, YouTube, Steam, cigarettes would be some examples) and lastly, how much can you profit off the drug (and therefore reinvest in R&D, Sales and Marketing a.k.a dealing, and lobbying. Examples contain a wide range of things like alcohol or Instagram up to cheap credit. For platforms, this metric can be replaced with time spend consuming).
Then there are subtler parameters. Like the presymptomatic shedding of the coronavirus, it would be good for our drug to hide in plain sight. You want it to be socially accepted, even encouraged. If you can give out a Kids version, you are doing a lot right. But, attention! You also want overuse to happen in private, a taboo. Only lonely millennials (that are crazy anyway, don’t you agree) can fall for it. Your users should share as much as they can, but don’t get them talking very much. Always remember that consumption is a passive act.
But there is one final piece to make you rule the world.
Part 5: The magic bullet
It’s individualization. Here, the chapter is over.
I can’t tell you how they are individualizing it for you, as I am obviously not you. That’s the trick. It’s LSD, but when you take it, the ancient spirit of higher-dimensional string-beings tells you, and only you, where to find better shit.
So, how did they get me? To finally talk about that second part of the heading:
This is the Danning-Kruger-Curve or That-Graph-That-Tells-You-You-Know-Nothing-Not-Even-How-Much-You-Now-Nothing-And-You’ll-Act-Like-A-Prick-Anyway. This graph is actually not correct at all, but it’s the internet experts interpretation, here some science.
The thing is: I feel snuggly comfortable at that first peak, and YouTube knows this. I feel like an “expert” on a billion things. YouTube has made me a grand universal genius like Leonardo DaVinci, even as those died a long time ago. And so every time I install a YouTube Blocker, unsubscribe all channels, and log out of Chrome, I just open Firefox, or heck, Edge, because I need it for science. For work. To educate myself. How can I truly hate a platform, that after a newly emerging virus enters the scene, the first thing I see is not Alex Jones on Fakebook, Trolls on Reddit, a half-assed article from a long-ago respected newspaper like Zeit Online, but, I am not kidding, this:
All I want to know from you guys is: how did it get you? Do you feel addicted? Or could see it coming in the future? Would you agree that the corona pandemic can bring such issues out of the shadows? That mental health is maybe not more important, but maybe more a future problem we should think about now?
I am genuinely interested, so write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And while we are at it: any video recommendations on how to get off?
That’s it for today. It’s 6:36 AM. I stopped watching YouTube at around 3. I am not entirely sure if I had food today. Whatever this was: it’s over.
P.s.: Someday, I will write about how an atermistic economist would criticize the underlying business models of addiction, but that’ll have to wait. Now I am going to enjoy the birds of sunrise.