Addiction as Moral Failure
I almost always enjoy reading Evgeny Morozov's articles - even when I don't agree, I generally admire his capacity for thought and acerbic wit. In this case, an article reacting to "mindfulness," he makes a point I have been slowly arriving at - understanding addiction in the modern economy.
Some view it as an illness and many as a moral failure but I continue to think of it as a battle where we are each increasingly outgunned. Take addiction to unhealthy foods, for instance. Those manufacturing the foods have spent billions of dollars, likely hundreds of billions or more, to arrive at just the right combination of fats, carbs, salts, etc. to capture our brain and make it want more more more.
Our brains are not magical - they are hackable. They are very slow to evolve whereas food science progresses incredibly rapidly, leaving us with the incredibly challenging choice of how to deal with temptation.
But more science suggests that we have a limited amount of will power - though we can focus and improve it. But even at best, we find ourselves with worse and worse odds when being surrounded by gadgets, foods, flashing signs, whatever - all calibrated to elicit specific responses from our brains that we are increasingly ill-equipped to deal with.
Enter Morozov's quote:
We must subject social media to the kind of scrutiny that has been applied to the design of gambling machines in Las Vegas casinos. As Natasha Dow Schüll shows in her excellent book Addiction By Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas, while casino operators want us to think that addiction is the result of our moral failings or some biological imbalance, they themselves are to blame for designing gambling machines in a way that feeds addiction. With social media—much like with gambling machines or fast food—our addiction is manufactured, not natural.
At some point, we have to collectively find a way of dealing with how brain science puts us, as individuals, at a disadvantage relative to those who are pulling the strings and attempting to manipulate us. We do have some agency but few individuals will be able to hold out as further uncover the mysterires of how our brain works.
Now excuse me while I eat another 2 pounds of sour patch kids.
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