Monthly Archives: January 2017

The CTAL Newsletter – January 2017, Part 3




=================================================== January Greetings #3, Dear Friends… Churchill is often credited with Santayana’s quote from The Life of Reason in 1905:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

But as far as I know, Churchill never used those words exactly. In 1948 he was worried not so much that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it, but that the loss of the past would mean…

“…the most thoughtless of ages. Every day headlines and short views.”

Doesn’t this describe the 2016 we’ve just lived through around the world? Isn’t this what Social Media has helped bring about with its isolated cubicles of “alternative facts”? After the Stresa Conference , a stage in the policy of “appeasement” which allowed Germany’s rearmament and supported Mussolini’s designs on Abyssinia, Churchill said:

     “When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind. Want of foresight, unwillingness to act when action would be simple and effective, lack of clear thinking, confusion of counsel until the emergency comes, until self-preservation strikes its jarring gong–these are the features which constitute the endless repetition of history.”  2 May 1935

And so, for all our sakes, one more addition to this month’s newsletter… Love, FW ===================================================




So, how is everyone’s anxiety doing? Are our coping mechanisms firing on all cylinders? Are we being mindful and living in the present moment? Great. Because we’re all going to need to be experts on it, for at least the next four years or even longer. A few years ago, I wrote about a phenomenon I called “Technology Augmented Autism.” I argued that our over-reliance on social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter has amplified the existing personality characteristics of persons who already reside on the autism spectrum, including ADD/ADHD and other socially developmental related issues, such as Asperger’s. Because so many of us that “are on the spectrum” work in technology, and so many of us use these tools for business and not just for recreational purposes, we all have to work extra hard to hone our “soft” skills, as all of these tools are not particularly helpful in developing our interpersonal relationships and how we interact with people in the real world. The more disconnected from face-to-face relationships we become, the more our soft skills atrophy. And these tools not only make the soft skills deteriorate, but they also reinforce bad habits and amplify our negative personality traits. We all know someone whose personality traits are amplified in this way. These tools can do much more than alter and distort the way we perceive our relationships with others and how others perceive us. These tools can alter our very sense of reality. How we perceive communications from public sources and so-called news outlets is very different in the age of social media than from previous decades. Mixed in with traditional news outlets, whether they lean to the right or the left — such as the legacy broadcasters and newspapers — is an entire class of publication that does not respect the mores of traditional journalism and that have a distinct and politically skewed agenda. Breitbart, for example, operates in this category. Or they may be looking simply to generate page views through flat-out prevarication and inflammatory exaggerations. In other words, fake news. There are other sites that straddle the line between entertainment/media snacking and real journalism — such as Buzzfeed. Some of the material is valuable, highly informative, well-researched, and peer reviewed by investigative journalists who have come from legacy media backgrounds. Sometimes they respect the mores of traditional journalism and sometimes they don’t. You have to accept this at face value. This graphic, which went viral on the image sharing site imgur during December of last year, was submitted by an anonymous user. While some of the quadrant placements here are certainly up for debate and by all means not all-inclusive (Buzzfeed for example is not placed here, as well as a number of other voices in conservative, moderate, and liberal new media and alternative press), it is not a bad starting point for discussion. It should be fairly straightforward to evaluate these sources. An educated reader with a general understanding of the interpretive lens of each of the news sources above is already empowered to make an informed judgment. The problem is most of us don’t just seek these sources out directly and consume them in a careful and deliberate manner. We are now living in the information age, and we’re all victims of Technology Augmented Autism. We all have tiny little attention spans, and we consume news by information snacking. In all likelihood, most people looking at this article right now probably did not get past the first 200 words. More and more Americans are using Facebook and Twitter as primary news sources. If you’ve spent any time on them, you will immediately notice that the noise-to-signal ratio on those services is unbelievably high, fed with a mix of sources ranging from the legitimate to completely fake news into a sausage casing of dubious origin and expiration date. In the case of Facebook, the service’s algorithm will ensure that you will read shared news from viewpoints similar to your own. Your feedback loop is in essence, self-curated based on what you actually “like.” And if you don’t like your friends and what they share, you can unfollow and unfriend them, thus whittling down the echo chamber to an even smaller sample size, depending on how many friends you have. With Twitter, you’re getting a raw feed. Compared to Facebook, all the information you receive is opt-in, because you are subscribing to read tweets from specific people, and you might not be aware of the biases of those people immediately. But, in a sense, it is also curated, because if you don’t like what people are saying, you just unfollow them. And thus your sample size, much like on Facebook, becomes a reflection of what you want to hear. So, everyone is seeing things through their own filter. Here’s the fun part: Your filter is also filtered. And you have no control over that whatsoever. It can be edited and changed, and you might not even realize it. If this is starting to sound like we’ve always been at war with Eastasia, well, it is. Traditionally, the legacy news outlets — that big gray circle in the middle in the above graphic — has had a working relationship with the US government, particularly the Executive Branch. It hasn’t always been rosy, but typically, they have been allowed to ask questions, and they’ve had enough access using their on-site staff at the White House to be able to accurately report, with some level of transparency, on what is exactly happening in the highest levels of our administration. That tradition looks like it is about to be discarded. The White House now appears likely to determine which sources will have access at all, and what level of scrutiny will be permitted. Which outlets are chosen for preferred access and what is to be told to them is going to greatly impact what information is relayed to us, what form it will take, and how it is consumed. Because when it comes to operating in an agile fashion on social media, the outlets in the gray circle are heavily disadvantaged. The ones that are highly agile aren’t necessarily fair and balanced either. If things continue on this path, then we have gone past simple Technology Augmented Autism, which is entirely self-inflicted, and instead into what I now call “Technology Assisted Gaslighting,” or TAG. (WIKIPEDIA: “Gaslighting is manipulation through persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying in an attempt to destabilize and delegitimize a target. Its intent is to sow seeds of doubt in the targets, hoping to make them question their own memory, perception, and sanity.[38][39] Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The term owes its origin to Gas Light, a 1938 play and 1944 film, and has been used in clinical and research literature.[40][41]”) And this is far more nefarious than anyone could have possibly imagined. Well, perhaps Philip K. Dick imagined it. But those were works of sci-fi. Nobody truly believed such things of dystopian nightmares would be realized in the United States of America. Through systematic and persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, and using social media as the platform for this activity, if such a scenario where traditional outlets are not given equal access, we would all be the unwitting subjects of mind control experiments. Perhaps not in a strictly North Korean or Soviet sense, where the government itself is the media. But if only the most unscrupulous outlets — those willing to conform to the will of a corrupt presidency — are the ones granted access, and those same outlets happen to be the most adept at using social media, then we need to reconsider the actual value of social media in the first place. We need to go old school. As American citizens, we need to shed our Technology Augmented Autism to become free thinkers and to choose our sources wisely. We need to read beyond the first 200 words and all become critical thinkers, question every single thing we read on social media, read the story from as many sources as possible, and learn to recognize which sources to disregard and classify as the enemies of American journalistic values, which are dividing and lying to us. I will refuse to be gaslighted through social media. And I hope my readers will as well. =================================================== =================================================== © Copyright 2017, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. ===================================================    

Newsletter Part 2 – January 2017




What follows is at least as disturbing as the unintended consequences of Social Media. Even sites I considered more trustworthy than Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., can be used to quite literally to “hijack people’s minds” for terrible purposes. The example below may have been a cause for many more of the global massacres in the last two decades. While disturbed, I am very grateful to The Southern Poverty Law Center for this and all the other work they do on behalf of humanity… FW




How did Dylann Roof go from being someone who was not raised in a racist home to someone so steeped in white supremacist propaganda that he murdered nine African Americans during a Bible study? The answer lies, at least in part, in the way that fragile minds can be shaped by the algorithm that powers Google Search. It lies in the way Google’s algorithm can promote false propaganda written by extremists at the expense of accurate information from reputable sources. Roof’s radicalization began, as he later wrote in an online manifesto, when he typed the words “black on White crime” into Google and found what he described as “pages upon pages of these brutal black on White murders.” The first web pages he found were produced by the Council of Conservative Citizens, a crudely racist group that once called black people a “retrograde species of humanity.” Roof wrote that he has “never been the same since that day.” As he delved deeper, because of the way Google’s search algorithm worked, he was immersed in hate materials. Google says its algorithm takes into account how trustworthy, reputable or authoritative a source is. In Roof’s case, it clearly did not. Watch the video: Roof was convicted and sentenced to death in the June 17, 2015, massacre at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston. But there are many others who may be susceptible to the kind of racist propaganda that influenced him. ===================================================== © Copyright 2016, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. =====================================================

Newsletter – January 2017





“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

“The medium is the message.”

Marshall McLuhan

















January Greetings, Dear Friends…

This is such an ironic week I couldn’t delay this newsletter beyond it. In the US it begins with the celebration of a great man, Martin Luther King Jr., almost ends with the inauguration of another kind of man and concludes fittingly with the Women’s March on Washington, a name and event that brings back memories of 1963.

But this newsletter is about much more than anything American or European; it is about the new technologies of social media that hijack minds anywhere in the world — and are being more and more frequently used to do so. I offer it to you for the sakes of all our children and grandchildren born into the age of Internet, computer, cell phone and Social Media

I’ve known about propaganda and brainwashing techniques since my early teens because of Nazi Education, The Red Scare and The Manchurian Candidate. But these, while using the latest technologies available, required resources, power as well as cleverness. Radio and newspapers, the primary media until the 50’s and later, relied mainly on manipulation of language to achieve their ends. 

That’s why I was excited when I came across The Propaganda Game in the 60’s. I was teaching English at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago and realized it offered a brilliant tool for helping my students understand how they could be and were being manipulated by language. It had just been developed by Robert W. Allen and Bonanza star Lorne Greene. A part of their introduction reads…

…In a democratic society it is the role of every citizen to make decisions after evaluating many ideas. It is especially important then that a citizen be able to think clearly about the ideas that are daily presented to him. It is imperative that he be able to analyze and distinguish between the emotional aura surrounding the ideas, and the actual content of the idea. To this goal of clear thinking the game of PROPAGANDA addresses itself…

On January 12, 2017, a student from fifty years ago posted this on Facebook:

The Propaganda Game will help you become a clearer thinker, and, if you can get a copy somewhere I recommend it highly. But this newsletter is going to offer you a alternative your teenagers will find even more relevant because it focuses on the dangers of Social Media and how they’re likely getting much of their news.

But we older folks need to understand these dangers even more then the youngsters. This is because there are new, and even more subtle, forms of manipulation that don’t use the words as much as they use the technology of communicating. As Marshall McLuhan said back in those same 60’s, “The Medium Is The Message” and he was more correct than even he knew.

With the advent of technologies that make Facebooks, Twitters, Instagrams, Snapchats, Youtubes, etc., omnipresent and addictive, our children and grandchildren are in the whole new propaganda ballgame. If you don’t think so, just reflect on the fact that the iPhone was initially launched only ten years ago. It was the iPhone and it imitators that put the access to Social Media so many millions of young hands. I was 69 before there was such a thing!

Most of the adults I know do have their equivalents of iPhones, but we tend to use them as we did our early PCs and Macs in the 1980’s when no Internet was yet available. My grandchildren, who grew up with both Internet and instantaneous access to it, have a very different conditioning to communicating. Again, if you don’t think so, just notice how many young heads are glued to screens as you ride on your next bus or subway.

But this doesn’t mean that us older, less technically-conditioned types can’t become addicted, too. There have been a lot of attempted explanations of how a person like Donald Trump managed to get elected President of the United States. Probably all have some truth in them, but one I haven’t heard and offer here is that Trump’s campaign used Twitter relentlessly and Hillary’s campaign didn’t use it hardly at all.

Gossip is always seductive, and Twitter is Trump gossip-technology. I suggest that his grasp of the power of the techniques that follow was one of the major factors is this election — and if we don’t want this “medium” to be owned by only one point of view, we’d better stop thinking we’re “elitely above” such techniques and learn to use them, too.

See how you react to the article that follows, and, if you have thoughts to share, send them along to

Much love, FW




Estimated reading time: 12 minutes.

“It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled.”  — Unknown.

I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities. That’s why I spent the last three years as a Design Ethicist at Google caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked. When using technology, we often focus optimistically on all the things it does for us. But I want to show you where it might do the opposite.

Where does technology exploit our minds’ weaknesses?

I learned to think this way when I was a magician. Magicians start by looking for blind spots, edges, vulnerabilities and limits of people’s perception, so they can influence what people do without them even realizing it. Once you know how to push people’s buttons, you can play them like a piano.

That’s me performing sleight of hand magic at my mother’s birthday party

And this is exactly what product designers do to your mind. They play your psychological vulnerabilities (consciously and unconsciously) against you in the race to grab your attention. I want to show you how they do it.


Western Culture is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom. Millions of us fiercely defend our right to make “free” choices, while we ignore how those choices are manipulated upstream by menus we didn’t choose in the first place.

This is exactly what magicians do. They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can’t emphasize enough how deep this insight is.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:

“What’s not on the menu?”

“Why am I being given these options and not others?”

“Do I know the menu provider’s goals?”

“Is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelming array of toothpastes)

How empowering is this menu of choices for the need, “I ran out of toothpaste”?

For example, imagine you’re out with friends on a Tuesday night and want to keep the conversation going. You open Yelp to find nearby recommendations and see a list of bars. The group turns into a huddle of faces staring down at their phones comparing bars. They scrutinize the photos of each, comparing cocktail drinks. Is this menu still relevant to the original desire of the group? It’s not that bars aren’t a good choice, it’s that Yelp substituted the group’s original question (“where can we go to keep talking?”) with a different question (“what’s a bar with good photos of cocktails?”) all by shaping the menu. Moreover, the group falls for the illusion that Yelp’s menu represents a complete set of choices for where to go. While looking down at their phones, they don’t see the park across the street with a band playing live music. They miss the pop-up gallery on the other side of the street serving crepes and coffee. Neither of those show up on Yelp’s menu. The more choices technology gives us in nearly every domain of our lives (information, events, places to go, friends, dating, jobs) — the more we assume that our phone is always the most empowering and useful menu to pick from. Is it? The “most empowering” menu is different than the menu that has the most choices. But when we blindly surrender to the menus we’re given, it’s easy to lose track of the difference:

“Who’s free tonight to hang out?” becomes a menu of most recent people who texted us (who we could ping).

“What’s happening in the world?” becomes a menu of news feed stories.

“Who’s single to go on a date?” becomes a menu of faces to swipe on Tinder (instead of local events with friends, or urban adventures nearby).

“I have to respond to this email.” becomes a menu of keys to type a response (instead of empowering ways to communicate with a person).

Photo/Design by Tristan Harris

When we wake up in the morning and turn our phone over to see a list of notifications — it frames the experience of “waking up in the morning” around a menu of “all the things I’ve missed since yesterday.” (for more examples, see Joe Edelman’s Empowering Design talk).

From Joe Edelman’s Empowering Design Talk

By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs. HIJACK #2:  PUT A SLOT MACHINE IN A BILLION POCKETS If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked?  Turn yourself into a slot machine. The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?

How often do you check your email per day?

One major reason why is the #1 psychological ingredient in slot machines: intermittent variable rewards. If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable. Does this effect really work on people? Yes. Slot machines make more money in the United States than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined. Relative to other kinds of gambling, people get ‘problematically involved’ with slot machines 3–4x faster according to NYU professor Natasha Dow Schull, author of Addiction by Design. But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machine to see what notifications we got.

When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.

When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’re playing a slot machine to see what photo comes next.

When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.

When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

Apps and websites sprinkle intermittent variable rewards all over their products because it’s good for business. But in other cases, slot machines emerge by accident. For example, there is no malicious corporation behind all of email who consciously chose to make it a slot  machine. No one profits when millions check their email and nothing’s there. Neither did Apple and Google’s designers want phones to work like slot machines. It emerged by accident. But now companies like Apple and Google have a responsibility to reduce these effects by converting intermittent variable rewards into less addictive, more predictable ones with better design. For example, they could empower people to set predictable times during the day or week for when they want to check “slot machine” apps, and correspondingly adjust when new messages are delivered to align with those times.       HIJACK #3:  FEAR OF MISSING SOMETHING IMPORTANT (FOMSI) Another way apps and websites hijack people’s minds is by inducing a “1% chance you could be missing something important.” If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important:

This keeps us subscribed to newsletters even after they haven’t delivered recent benefits (“what if I miss a future announcement?”)

This keeps us “friended” to people with whom we haven’t spoke in ages (“what if I miss something important from them?”)

This keeps us swiping faces on dating apps, even when we haven’t even met up with anyone in a while (“what if I miss that one hot match who likes me?”)

This keeps us using social media (“what if I miss that important news story or fall behind what my friends are talking about?”)

But if we zoom into that fear, we’ll discover that it’s unbounded: we’ll always miss something important at any point when we stop using something.

There are magic moments on Facebook we’ll miss by not using it for the 6th hour (e.g. an old friend who’s visiting town right now).

There are magic moments we’ll miss on Tinder (e.g. our dream romantic partner) by not swiping our 700th match.

There are emergency phone calls we’ll miss if we’re not connected 24/7.

But living moment to moment with the fear of missing something isn’t how we’re built to live. And it’s amazing how quickly, once we let go of that fear, we wake up from the illusion. When we unplug for more than a day, unsubscribe from those notifications, or go to Camp Grounded — the concerns we thought we’d have don’t actually happen. We don’t miss what we don’t see. The thought, “what if I miss something important?” is generated in advance of unplugging, unsubscribing, or turning off — not after. Imagine if tech companies recognized that, and helped us proactively tune our relationships with friends and businesses in terms of what we define as “time well spent” for our lives, instead of in terms of what we might miss. HIJACK #4:  SOCIAL APPROVAL Easily one of the most persuasive things a human being can receive. We’re all vulnerable to social approval. The need to belong, to be approved or appreciated by our peers is among the highest human motivations. But now our social approval is in the hands of tech companies. When I get tagged by my friend Marc, I imagine him making a conscious choice to tag me. But I don’t see how a company like Facebook orchestrated his doing that in the first place. Facebook, Instagram or SnapChat can manipulate how often people get tagged in photos by automatically suggesting all the faces people should tag (e.g. by showing a box with a 1-click confirmation, “Tag Tristan in this photo?”). So when Marc tags me, he’s actually responding to Facebook’s suggestion, not making an independent choice. But through design choices like this, Facebook controls the multiplier for how often millions of people experience their social approval on the line.

Facebook uses automatic suggestions like this  to get people to tag more people, creating more  social externalities and interruptions.

The same happens when we change our main profile photo — Facebook knows that’s a moment when we’re vulnerable to social approval: “what do my friends think of my new pic?” Facebook can rank this higher in the news feed, so it sticks around for longer and more friends will like or comment on it. Each time they like or comment on it, we’ll get pulled right back. Everyone innately responds to social approval, but some demographics (teenagers) are more vulnerable to it than others. That’s why it’s so important to recognize how powerful designers are when they exploit this vulnerability. HIJACK #5:  SOCIAL RECIPROCITY (TIT-FOR-TAT)

You do me a favor — I owe you one next time.

You say, “thank you”— I have to say “you’re welcome.”

You send me an email— it’s rude not to get back to you.

You follow me — it’s rude not to follow you back. (especially for teenagers)

We are vulnerable to needing to reciprocate others’ gestures. But as with Social Approval, tech companies now manipulate how often we experience it. In some cases, it’s by accident. Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories. But in other cases, companies exploit this vulnerability on purpose. LinkedIn is the most obvious offender. LinkedIn wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill) they have to come back to where they can get people to spend more time. Like Facebook, LinkedIn exploits an asymmetry in perception. When you receive an invitation from someone to connect, you imagine that person making a conscious choice to invite you, when in reality, they likely unconsciously responded to LinkedIn’s list of suggested contacts. In other words, LinkedIn turns your unconscious impulses (to “add” a person) into new social obligations that millions of people feel obligated to repay. All while they profit from the time people spend doing it. Imagine millions of people getting interrupted like this throughout their day, running around like chickens with their heads cut off, reciprocating each other — all designed by companies who profit from it. Welcome to social media.

After accepting an endorsement, LinkedIn takes advantage of your bias to reciprocate by offering *four* additional people for you to endorse in return.

Imagine if technology companies had a responsibility to minimize social reciprocity. Or if there was an independent organization that represented the public’s interests — an industry consortium or an FDA for tech — that monitored when technology companies abused these biases? HIJACK #6:  BOTTOMLESS BOWLS, INFINITE FEEDS & AUTOPLAY

YouTube autoplays the next video after a countdown

Another way to hijack people is to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore. How? Easy. Take an experience that was bounded and finite, and turn it into a bottomless flow that keeps going. Cornell professor Brian Wansink demonstrated this in his study showing you can trick people into keep eating soup by giving them a bottomless bowl that automatically refills as they eat. With bottomless bowls, people eat 73% more calories than those with normal bowls and underestimate how many calories they ate by 140 calories. Tech companies exploit the same principle. News feeds are purposely designed to auto-refill with reasons to keep you scrolling, and purposely eliminate any reason for you to pause, reconsider or leave. It’s also why video and social media sites like Netflix, YouTube or Facebook autoplay the next video after a countdown instead of waiting for you to make a conscious choice (in case you won’t). A huge portion of traffic on these websites is driven by autoplaying the next thing. Tech companies often claim that “we’re just making it easier for users to see the video they want to watch” when they are actually serving their business interests. And you can’t blame them, because increasing “time spent” is the currency they compete for. Instead, imagine if technology companies empowered you to consciously bound your experience to align with what would be time well spent for you. Not just bounding the quantity of time you spend, but the qualities of what would be “time well spent.” HIJACK #7:  INSTANT INTERRUPTION VS. “RESPECTFUL DELIVERY” Companies know that messages that interrupt people immediately are more persuasive at getting people to respond than messages delivered asynchronously (like email or any deferred inbox). Given the choice, Facebook Messenger (or WhatsApp, WeChat or SnapChat for that matter) would prefer to design their messaging system to interrupt recipients immediately (and show a chat box) instead of helping users respect each other’s attention. In other words, interruption is good for business. It’s also in their interest to heighten the feeling of urgency and social reciprocity. For example, Facebook automatically tells the sender when you “saw” their message, instead of letting you avoid disclosing whether you read it (“now that you know I’ve seen the message, I feel even more obligated to respond.”) By contrast, Apple more respectfully lets users toggle “Read Receipts” on or off. The problem is, maximizing interruptions in the name of business creates a tragedy of the commons, ruining global attention spans and causing billions of unnecessary interruptions each day. This is a huge problem we need to fix with shared design standards (potentially, as part of Time Well Spent). HIJACK #8:  BUNDLING YOUR REASONS WITH THEIR REASONS Another way apps hijack you is by taking your reasons for visiting the app (to perform a task) and make them inseparable from the app’s business reasons (maximizing how much we consume once we’re there). For example, in the physical world of grocery stores, the #1 and #2 most popular reasons to visit are pharmacy refills and buying milk. But grocery stores want to maximize how much people buy, so they put the pharmacy and the milk at the back of the store. In other words, they make the thing customers want (milk, pharmacy) inseparable from what the business wants. If stores were truly organized to support people, they would put the most popular items in the front. Tech companies design their websites the same way. For example, when you you want to look up a Facebook event happening tonight (your reason) the Facebook app doesn’t allow you to access it without first landing on the news feed (their reasons), and that’s on purpose. Facebook wants to convert every reason you have for using Facebook, into their reason which is to maximize the time you spend consuming things. Instead, imagine if …

Twitter gave you a separate way to post an Tweet than having to see their news feed.

Facebook gave a separate way to look up Facebook Events going on tonight, without being forced to use their news feed.

Facebook gave you a separate way to use Facebook Connect as a passport for creating new accounts on 3rd party apps and websites, without being forced to install Facebook’s entire app, news feed and notifications.

In a Time Well Spent world, there is always a direct way to get what you want separately from what businesses want. Imagine a digital “bill of rights” outlining design standards that forced the products used by billions of people to let them navigate directly to what they want without needing to go through intentionally placed distractions. Imagine if web browsers empowered you to navigate directly to what you want — especially for sites that intentionally detour you toward their reasons. HIJACK #9:  INCONVENIENT CHOICES We’re told that it’s enough for businesses to “make choices available.”

“If you don’t like it you can always use a different product.”

“If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.”

“If you’re addicted to our app, you can always uninstall it from your phone.”

Businesses naturally want to make the choices they want you to make easier, and the choices they don’t want you to make harder. Magicians do the same thing. You make it easier for a spectator to pick the thing you want them to pick, and harder to pick the thing you don’t. For example, lets you “make a free choice” to cancel your digital subscription. But instead of just doing it when you hit “Cancel Subscription,” they send you an email with information on how to cancel your account by calling a phone number that’s only open at certain times.

NYTimes claims it’s giving a free choice to cancel your account.

Instead of viewing the world in terms of availability of choices, we should view the world in terms of friction required to enact choices. Imagine a world where choices were labeled with how difficult they were to fulfill (like coefficients of friction) and there was an independent entity — an industry consortium or non-profit — that labeled these difficulties and set standards for how easy navigation should be. HIJACK #10:  FORCASTING ERRORS. ‘FOOT IN THE DOOR’ STRATEGIES

Facebook promises an easy choice to “See Photo.” Would we still click if it gave the true price tag?

Lastly, apps can exploit people’s inability to forecast the consequences of a click. People don’t intuitively forecast the true cost of a click when it’s presented to them. Sales people use “foot in the door” techniques by asking for a small innocuous request to begin with (“just one click to see which tweet got retweeted”) and escalate from there (“why don’t you stay awhile?”). Virtually all engagement websites use this trick. Imagine if web browsers and smartphones, the gateways through which people make these choices, were truly watching out for people and helped them forecast the consequences of clicks (based on real data about what benefits and costs it actually had?). That’s why I add “Estimated reading time” to the top of my posts. When you put the “true cost” of a choice in front of people, you’re treating your users or audience with dignity and respect. In a Time Well Spent internet, choices could be framed in terms of projected cost and benefit, so people were empowered to make informed choices by default, not by doing extra work.
TripAdvisor uses a “foot in the door” technique by asking for a single click review. Photo by: “How many stars?” 
SUMMARY AND HOW WE CAN FIX THIS Are you upset that technology hijacks your agency? I am too. I’ve listed a few techniques but there are literally thousands. Imagine whole bookshelves, seminars, workshops and trainings that teach aspiring tech entrepreneurs techniques like these. Imagine hundreds of engineers whose job every day is to invent new ways to keep you hooked. The ultimate freedom is a free mind, and we need technology that’s on our team to help us live, feel, think and act freely. We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights. ========== Tristan Harris was a Product Philosopher at Google until 2016 where he studied how technology affects a billion people’s attention, wellbeing and behavior. For more resources on Time Well Spent, see UPDATE: The first version of this post lacked acknowledgements to those who inspired my thinking over many years including Joe Edelman, Aza Raskin, Raph D’Amico, Jonathan Harris and Damon Horowitz. My thinking on menus and choicemaking are deeply rooted in Joe Edelman’s work on Human Values and Choicemaking. ===================================================== 3. THIS MONTH’S LINKS:     IS CANADA THE WORLD’S FIRST POST-NATIONAL COUNTRY?     WE’VE FORGOTTEN THE POWER OF HUMILITY     SUPPORTING ‘ANOTHER KIND OF MAN’?  THIS IS FOR YOU     WHAT THE AZTECS CAN TEACH US ABOUT HAPPINESS & THE GOOD LIFE ===================================================== © Copyright 2015, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam.  Please feel free to use excerpts from this blog as long as you give credit with a link to our page: Thank you!   =====================================================  

Newsletter – December 2016

============================================== THE CENTER FOR THIRD AGE LEADERSHIPDECEMBER 2016 1.  FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS 2.  “NOT‑KNOWING” WISDOM 3.  YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION… 4.  DESIDERATA 5.  THIS YEAR’S LINKS ============================================== QUOTE OF THE WEEK – T.S. ELLIOT & ATUM O’KANE

We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring  Will be to arrive where we started  And know the place for the first time.”

“There’s no place to go…  no thing to do…  be here now…”


1. FATHER WILLIAM’S MUSINGS New Year’s Greetings, Dear Friends… For many 2016 has been a disturbing and difficult year in many ways. How might we elders be gentler with ourselves so we can better support others with less experience? I think T.S. Elliot knew:

“…to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time.”

For me, this remembering I am just as I should be and have always been. As natural and simple as this sounds, it’s taken all of my seventy-eight years to begin such “arriving” — and I have no idea how many more years, or lifetimes, may be needed for my “knowing.” But that doesn’t really matter. Because just glimpsing the “knowing” lets me understand, as friend Atum O’Kane taught me years ago, “There’s no place to go, no thing to do…” How different this way of being is from the pressures I felt growing up in, and being distracted by, the external world! It seemed to be so fascinating with it’s dramas and baubles, and I certainly chased mine. But the chasing never led me to peace of mind and truly caring for myself or others.  Back in 2003 a friend wrote me about a conundrum he felt stuck in…  __________ “I have enough income to not work, and I’d like to not work, but it feels wrong to not work..” For those of us raised with the Protestant Work Ethic, feeling guilty about not working just comes with the territory.  I can’t begin to count how many times as a child I got imprinted with messages like:

“Good people work hard.” “You play after your work is done.”

These imprintings (if actually lived out) would mean we continuously exhaust ourselves with work and never play (since we always can find more work to do).  This is no way to live. If you’re one of the many caught by this double-bind (or “Knot” as psychiatrist R.D. Laing so aptly named such insanity), all is not lost.  But we can’t get out from under this nonsense by using our normal method of achievement which, of course, is “working” because this just compounds the problem.  So what do we do? We have to recognize how crazy we are to believe that the point of life is to work our butts off so “some day” we can finally “play.”  Until we really understand that this is stupidity of the first rank, there’s little hope.  (If you feel offended, you’re definitely on the right page).  So how do you transform a mistaken belief that you’ve taken seriously all your life into the joke it really is?  I find I have to combine three different approaches: First, my rational mind and ego demand evidence that they’ve been mistaken all this time, and they’re not particularly receptive.  In this case, finding out many historians believe the average workday before the Industrial Revolution was about three hours helped me greatly; I’d been misled to believe that people had worked their butts off forever.  When I put this together with the observation that most very wealthy people (the source of the propaganda that we should work all the time) were themselves working less than three hours a day, my ego and rational mind felt played for suckers, and this was very helpful in getting their cooperation. Second, developing a playful sense of humor and absurdity about the world helps immensely.  Generally this has been easy and natural for me, but I’ve had enough periods of depression and righteousness to know how hard seeing the light side can be.  My key to this humor is making fun of myself (I’ve always loved the saying.. I do think I’m funny, especially when I’m taking myself most seriously.  It’s always blown my mind that humanity could believe evolution got to us and stopped — that we are the be-all and end-all of creation.  Such self-centeredness is so extreme I can’t help but laugh at it’s absurdity, and this gives me a humorous perspective on my own significance. Third, I turn to my gut (also called intuition, self-awareness or Divine Guidance) and check out how the situation “feels.”  Doing this requires putting the noise of the world aside and going into stillness where truer voices can be heard.  There are many ways of doing this – meditation, hiking, fishing, watching a sunset, etc.  When I get into this quiet space, there’s “no place to go, no thing to do” and I can “know” what makes the most sense for me at this time.   It isn’t that I can change myself quickly, but I can see, and do, the things necessary to let the change evolve in me.  An example of this was when in 2001 I “knew” I needed to give up my consulting work and create space, perhaps for three or four years, to let go of my Second Age identity so my Third Age self could emerge (it helped my rational mind and ego to recall this was just what Carl Jung did at a similar point in his life).  I’m now about halfway through this process (I think), and even at this still uncertain point, I recommend it very highly. So my advice is — work if you want to, and don’t work if you don’t want to — it’s your life and your call.  If it matters to somebody else, that’s entirely their problem… __________ Now it’s the end of 2016, thirteen years after the exchange above took place, and it seems my Third Age self has grown into my Fourth Age self. Many of my earlier imprintings like needing to be “cool” or “popular” or “creative” or “successful” or “spiritual,” etc., etc., have been left by old roadsides and seldom interfere these days. What a blessing this sloughing off of obsolete beliefs has been! I wonder how I might have shown my younger selves the joys of a peaceful mind so natural to me now. But I see no way my younger selves could have understood or even wanted to. They would have opened to my being a non-judging witness to their “explorations,” but my younger selves were way too wrapped up in my own dramas to be of much use to anyone, including me. So how can we elders be of service to our younger generations as they do their exploring in these times? The stereotype of non-judgmental grandma or grandpa is not unhelpful here, but we each need to find our own ways of “being available.” My peace includes wanting to stay home in my solitude and not interact personally. These newsletters, emails and Skype chats are ways of giving that suit me. In contrast, Donna is a gift in person, and she spends much time being with others. We each are learning to relax into liking and  honoring who we are now, and we will try to extend this into whoever we may become in the future. But honoring ourselves is not easy in an external world that stuffs minds with sophisticated marketing images and political propaganda. The pieces that follow can help us understand how to honor ourselves in order to honor others. May we all find our own ways to balance our inner and outer experience so peace of mind fills our hours… Much love, FW ============================================== 2.  “NOT‑KNOWING” WISDOM        BY DAVID ‘LUCKY’ GOFF, THE SLOW LANE, DECEMBER 27, 2016 It’s Christmas! I’m staying in, actually I’m a shut-in, celebrating in my own way. This time of year — add being sick, and alone, amounts to slowing down. This is a wondrous time to reflect. My mind could go back to the year I’ve just lived through, or travel further back to other Christmas scenes, but instead it is riveted upon this moment, wondering what all the uncertainty I feel portends. This is ostensibly the beginning of a New Year. I wonder, will there be anything truly new about the New Year? The election continues to resonate. There is a lot of uncertainty in the air. The emotional tides are high. It seems that many of the old horrors are being warmed up. It is a time rich with feelings, fears, anxieties and apprehensions. There is an aura of teetering that colors the yuletide cheer. Going forward or going back, over the cliff or around it, becoming closer or more divided? — the moment quivers. I’ve heard so many times this is the moment to stand up. Values are on the line, possibly the planet, certainly how we feel about each other, and ourselves. So much seems to be at stake. I feel peculiarly out of step with the times. I am nervous, like many people, but I feel a sense of expectancy, like I’m participating in some kind of birth phenomena. The unknown, I sense, is delivering to us something unimaginable.  I don’t know what is here. I don’t have a name for it. I don’t know how to greet what is taking shape. Strangely, I can feel it happening in the midst of all the rehashed actions that are being called for. Evolution is taking the mess we (humans) currently are, and working us into a different shape. It is times like this that I find myself wanting to pause, like this holiday season is helping me do, and turn to that rarest of wisdom’s for guidance. Here, I’m not referring to the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of tradition and what we know, but the unknown wisdom of the present. It is the degree of bafflement in the air that arouses in me a sense of wonder, expectancy, and a desire to be open and wait. I am poised at a vibrating threshold. How I comport myself now will determine in some way what I will meet. This is a quantum moment, what I find, will be determined by my expectations, thus I want to be as open and as free of assumptions as possible. It is at times like this when I feel so strongly the pull of not-knowing. There is such a spaciousness in the unknown, a darkness that is rich with possibility, a creativity that is guided by the formless. This is what I want to stand for.  There is a miraculousness afoot, which doesn’t depend at all upon the election results, but becomes palpable when one opens up to the larger Mystery — of what is going on here.  Let’s stop pretending we really know what’s happening. All of the certainty, ideological nightmares, and historical references are apt, but insufficient to this time. They are good for stirring up fear, anxiety, and hatred, but not very good for soberly leaning into the moment. I am growing old. I’m not as interested, as I once was, in chasing my tail. Now, each moment has grown more precious, and I want to meet it, as it is. In being dragged around the block by Life, as many older folks have been, I’ve learned to open myself to each moment, to spend some time with it, to let it be, and to relish what is unknown about it. Life has introduced me to a whole set of unforeseen possibilities, I would have passed by many of them, because they looked familiar. Now, I come to this moment, with continued reverence for the Mystery that brought me here, ready to be surprised anew. Not-knowing releases me into the moment, it allows me to experience what is, and shields me from the tides of emotional upheaval that I am surrounded by. There is one other thing I want to be sure to mention before I stop for this Christmas day. Not-knowing isn’t only good for calming the emotional waters, but is essential for re-enchanting the world. Magic dwells in the spirits of those, most generally elders, who are savvy enough to know, that they know enough, to know, they don’t know very much. There is a form of elder innocence that forms late in life. It isn’t like the innocence of childhood, based upon an ignorance of the world; in elder life it is giving up on relying upon adult like certainty, and meeting the world naked in a different way. The miraculous nature of Life is obscured by too much knowing. Not-knowing wisdom frees the imagination, releases potential, and honors what does not want to be changed by fickle human emotions. To recognize the blindness knowing brings, means liberating all that has suffered the slavery of human hubris. The world is enchanting, and so is this uncertain moment in our nation’s history. Something is happening, and let’s wait and see what it is. l/d ============================================== 3.  YOU SAY YOU WANT A RESOLUTION…      BY MARTHA BECK, WWW.OPRAH.COM, JANUARY 2017 

But your actions say otherwise.  Here’s help discovering what you really hope to accomplish this year.

In January, a gajillion Americans make the same resolutions, and by July, according to one study, only 46 percent are still sticking to them. Clearly, something is wrong—and if you ask me, it’s not the people, but the promises. Maybe when we “fail” to keep a resolution, it’s because deep down we know it doesn’t necessarily align with our truth. Recently, I pulled out the list of resolutions I made for 2016 (which, of course, is almost exactly the same list I made for 1987) and contemplated it from a new perspective—that of a jaded crone. I asked myself, “Do these goals resonate with me? Are they really what I want most in the entire world?” And you know what the answer was? No. So I thought about how I actually want to spend the next 12 months. Then I made brand-new resolutions: 1. GAIN WEIGHT. How much did Florence Nightingale weigh when she founded modern nursing? How much did Rosa Parks weigh when she took her seat on that Alabama bus? How much did Malala Yousafzai weigh when she started writing about the lives of girls in Pakistan under Taliban rule? You don’t know? That’s the right answer! Because it doesn’t matter. For so many people, January 2 is D day—diet day, that is. Losing weight can be a laudable goal, but this year I’m going to think about weightier matters—weighty as in “of great importance,” a definition that does not apply to dress size. I have found that I feel instantly lighter when I stop asking “Why are my thighs so squidgy?” and start asking “What would really make me happy right now?” Whenever body shame creeps up on me, I resolve to refocus on adding meaning to my life. 2. SPEND MORE. Saving is a virtue. But when frugality becomes extreme, it can create feelings of deprivation—which can lead to compulsive buying. I’m going to avoid the cycle of consumption by paying more. Not more money, but more positive attention to what I have. That’s what author Glennon Doyle Melton did after she posted a photo of her kitchen on her blog and readers chimed in with unsolicited decluttering and remodeling advice. Suddenly, Glennon found her cabinets and counters shabby—but instead of overhauling the room, she decided to redo her attitude. She praised the things her kitchen gives her, like cooked food and clean tap water. Under a photo of her fridge, she wrote, “This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD.” It’s energizing to be around someone who heaps positive attention on what she already has. Do it yourself and you’ll feel rich. 3. MAKE MESSES. I grew up in a topsy-turvy household, and as an adult, I’ve struggled to master basic skills like cleaning, managing finances, and remembering my kids’ names. If you’re likewise genetically disorganized, you may feel as unfit as I often do. But you may also be ignoring something that I noticed about myself: My inability to follow routines and put stuff into boxes also means I tend to combine ideas in unusual ways and come up with unconventional solutions. As a life coach, I get paid to do this—and for me, the job requires disorganization. In fact, just now I’m sitting in a nest of pens, teacups, papers, and pillows, resolving to embrace the chaos. 4. BE SELF-INVOLVED. Many people vow to be more attentive to relationships—less irritable with their kids, kinder to coworkers. But relationships are fluid, and we can’t dictate how we’ll feel as they evolve. This year I’m going to be more attentive to me. If your parents ever forced you to kiss scary Aunt Mabel with the braided chin hairs, you know that trying to force love actually destroys it. This year take a moment every so often to check in with yourself about how you’re really feeling, and let your actions match your truth. Share with people who feel welcoming. Distance yourself from the ones you don’t trust. Peacefully explain your opinion to those who anger you. You may ruffle some feathers, but in the long term, your life will be more genuinely loving. 5. FORGET WHAT I’VE LEARNED. The ancient Chinese Tao Te Ching taught me that to attain knowledge, every day you must learn something, and to attain wisdom, every day you must unlearn something. A deep intelligence lies within us, and wisdom comes from releasing misperceptions that cloud it. So this year I resolve to unlearn. I’ve noticed that when I scrutinize thoughts that create negative feelings—for instance, I never do anything right—they fall apart. (I do a lot of things right!) I pledge to steer my brain toward truer stories, until it develops new, less paralyzing thought patterns. Lesson unlearned. That’s my list. I encourage you to compile your own. You may want to underachieve. Oversleep. Fritter away more of your days. When December rolls around, you may find you’ve finally kept your resolutions—and that 2017 really was a happy new year. Martha Beck is the author of, most recently, Diana, Herself: An Allegory of Awakening. Illustrations by Anna Parini ============================================== 4.  DESIDERATA  ==============================================  5.  THIS YEAR’S LINKS:       100 DRONES ACCOMPANY A SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA!       REMEMBERING THE GADGETS THAT CHANGED US...       LISTEN TO RADIO IN ANY DECADE & ANY PLACE       THE WORLD’S MOST CREATVE STATUES & SCUPLTURES…       SOLAR PANELS BECOME CHEAPER THAN FOSSIL FUELS ============================================== © Copyright 2015, by William R. Idol, except where indicated otherwise. All rights reserved worldwide. Reprint only with permission from copyright holder(s). All trademarks are property of their respective owners. All contents provided as is. No express or implied income claims made herein. We neither use nor endorse the use of spam. Please feel free to use excerpts from this blog as long as you give credit with a link to our page: Thank you! ==============================================