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How to Ruin Someone's Life

Hello friends, I want to share what I've learnt about ruining someone's life. Specifically, I want to
How to Ruin Someone's Life
By Mustafa Sultan • Issue #12 • View online
Hello friends,
I want to share what I’ve learnt about ruining someone’s life. Specifically, I want to tell you how to convince someone to ruin their own life.
Let’s talk about how internet companies convince you to ruin your life — and some antidotes.

Act I: The Slot Machine
Put two rats in a cage with a feeder full of drugs.
  • Give one a lever which always delivers cocaine.
  • Give the other a lever which sometimes delivers cocaine.
What happens?
The rat which sometimes gets cocaine becomes addicted — pressing the lever compulsively.
People prefer unpredictable, variable rewards over a sure shot
But what’s the ideal reward frequency to really maximise someone’s dopamine (~pleasure) response?
According to Zack et al.50%.
Out of interest, what do commercial slot machines set their reward frequency to? — 46%
Think about the ‘pull to refresh’ feature on many social media platforms and how similar it is to pulling the handle on a slot machine.
US Patent 20100199180 — 'Pull to Refresh'
US Patent 20100199180 — 'Pull to Refresh'
Act II: The Trojan Horse
First conceived by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy in 1929, the six degrees of separation concept put forward that all people on Earth are just six social connections away from each other.
Milgram put the assumption to the test. Letters were sent across the US, asking the reader if they personally knew a clothing merchant in Massachusetts. If they didn’t, they were asked to forward the letter onto someone who might.
Of the letters that reached the clothing merchant — most were delivered in under six steps, cementing the concept.
What does Facebook promise?
“To give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.”
Decades later, and a social-network graph-distance computation study shows that Facebook has reduced the six degrees of separation to just four.
Social networks do provide value, but at a price. They appear to add value on the surface, like a gift — shortly before delivering a surgical strike.
Act III: Get them Hooked
Nir Eyal teaches tech companies how to build habit-forming products — how to get people hooked.
It’s not an art, it’s a science—
Trigger: a notification
Action: the behaviour committed in anticipation of the reward — opening the app, refreshing your feed etc.
Variable Reward: sometimes the notification is interesting, sometimes it isn’t (ideally set at a 50% reward frequency)
Investment: you need to invest something into the app which will keep you coming back. On Instagram — years of pictures you’ve uploaded and 100s of friends
Act IV: $$$
Up until 1830, most newspapers were quite expensive.
Then something happened. Newspaper publishers realised that if you have a crowd listening to you — you had their attention — it made more sense to sell their attention to other people.
This was the advent of the penny press and today’s attention economy. It was more profitable to practically give away your product — making your readers into the product.
Out of the ten most valuable companies in the world, half of them use this model. Google and Facebook et al.
The thought process that went into building these applications, Facebook being the first of them, … was all about: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever.
Sean Parker, Napster founder and ex-Facebook
Act V: Why it Makes You Miserable
The brain is evolved to process the high fidelity, multidimensional social interactions you have in person. As well as what someone’s saying, other dimensions include tone, pitch, body language and more.
Reducing socialising to a single dimension (the ‘like’) is an affront to your brain, or as Cal Newport puts it—
To replace this rich flow [of social interaction] with a single bit [the ‘like’] is the ultimate insult to our social processing machinery. To say it’s like driving a Ferrari under the speed limit is an understatement; the better simile is towing a Ferrari behind a mule.
Act VI: The Antidote — 3 High Yield Tips
1. Be transactional
Social media does offer a lot value — your job is to sweep in, extract all of that value and quickly get away before they hook you.
Like the crow eating roadkill — who flies away seconds before the car flattens it. Be the crow.
Treat the decision to start/continue using any social media with a transactional mindset. Why does this platform deserve 10 hours of my week? What does it offer me? Can I get that same value in 2 hours/week?
2. Delete social media apps and only use on desktop
Facebook makes 88% of its revenue from mobile ads. This leads to the industry maxim: “mobile pays the bills”
Smartphone versions of these services are much more adept at hijacking your attention than the versions accessed through a web browser on your laptop or desktop computer.
3. Das Slow Media Manifest
Media snobbery is 😴 . People who think theatre is the highest form of art. Or that books are always better than films.
There is some merit to consuming more slow media though. As a famous German essay puts it — slow media promotes giving you value, monotasking and is more trustworthy.
Basically the opposite of flicking through TikTok with Love Island on in the background.
Me? Well my home screen still looks like this—
Podcast
Available on Apple, Spotify and everywhere else.
Collaborating with DeepMind/Google Health and How to Get into MedTech — Dr Pearse Keane Moorfields Eye Hospital
Books Referenced
Everything in this newsletter was plagiarised from the following two books—
Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
A Favour
Star ratings on iTunes are very appreciated :)

All the best,
Mustafa
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Mustafa Sultan

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