‘Brain hacking’ Internet monopolies menace public health, democracy, writes Roger McNamee. Roger McNamee is a man who invested early in Google and Facebook and actually profited enormously off of it. He was also an early adviser to Facebook’s team. Despite all this, McNamee still believes that these large Internet monopolies are ‘brain hacking’ their users. He believes that these Internet monopolies are causing more bad than they are good. People should be terrified to the damage that these platforms could create for them. McNamee firmly believes that these major platforms like Google and Facebook are exploiting human nature, and creating addictive behaviors that compel consumers and whose only goal is to generate profit. In this paper I will be discussing two strategies used by McNamee in his writing, one source he used, assumptions, and a weakness in his work.
One strategy used was the idea of logos to show how social media outlets like Google and Facebook exploit human nature, creating addictive behaviors. For example, McNamee states that, “A 2013 study found that average consumers check their smartphones 150 times a day. And that number has probably grown. People spend 50 minutes a day on Facebook. Other social apps such as Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter combine to take up still more time.” This strategy of logos works here because it sets up the idea of how harmful this could be, and allows for the audience to become aware as to how this could be a bad part of social media. The big Internet companies are more so able to influence since they keep a personal profile on you due to your use of their platforms. After realizing a fact like this as a reader who uses social media, you are now more easily convinced to believe what McNamee has to say. The use of logos in this article is an excellent choice because the audience will always be more easily persuaded when what the author has to say is backed up by facts. Since most of us in today’s society use social media, these facts will be more personal and relatable, and will actually have an impact on our ways of thinking. Logos for McNamee’s argument is well used and establishes a great amount of compelling evidence as to why social media is not always a good thing, and will actually create addictive behaviors in humans.
Another strategy used by McNamee throughout the text was the use of analogies when it came to the idea presented that human beings have many natural tendencies that need to be monitored in the context of modern life. For example, McNamee uses the analogy that, “our craving for fat, salt and sugar, which served us well when food was scarce, can lead us astray in an environment in which fat, salt and sugar are all too plentiful and heavily marketed to us. So too our natural curiosity about the unknown can lead us astray on a website that leads us too much in the direction of lies, hoaxes and misinformation.” McNamee is comparing the craving of fat, salt, and sugar in our society due to how it is presented to us to the idea that we will be curious while on the Internet and will stumble across a wide area that we are not too familiar with. This analogy works here in the text because everyone is familiar with how good salt and sugar is, yet how bad it could be to your health. This will help the audience to understand how websites use this same thinking. Once your curiosity takes over, you will be drawn to the unknown that you feel is a good idea to look at, when in reality could be bad due to how many lies and misinformation there are all over the Internet. After looking at this analogy and realizing that this analogy is something you relate to as a reader, you will now be more easily persuaded to agree with McNamee and think about if you have ever been in this situation, which many of us could say we have. Also, McNamee states that, “YouTube has created a restaurant that serves us increasingly sugary, fatty foods, loading up our plates as soon as we are finished with the last meal. Over time, our tastes adjust, and we seek even more sugary, fatty foods, which the restaurant dutifully provides. When confronted about this by the health department and concerned citizens, the restaurant managers reply that they are merely serving us what we want.” This is another example of an analogy used in the text. This analogy relates directly with the last one, both having to do with sugar and fat. Websites that are used by many in our society today, like Youtube, use this thought that it is good to continue to feed their community with the things that they feel will draw them to come back to their site, no matter if it is good or bad. Again this is an analogy that us as an audience could relate to, and actually is a bit scary how easy it is for these large websites, that are a go-to for many, to radicalize billions of people. Analogies in this text work great to help persuade and clarify the argument McNamee is attempting to make.
A source that is used by McNamee in his text is one about brain hacking. This source comes from CBS, specifically 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper, and is title, “What is ‘brain hacking’? Tech insiders on why you should care.” McNamee uses this source to describe what brain hacking actually is and the meaning behind it. In this source, a former Google product manager is interviewed about brain hacking and reveals all of what he knows. He discusses how a phone is like a slot machine and how major platforms online use certain techniques to continuously get people to return to their app, “programming” these people in a way. This source is an incredibly reliable one since it comes from CBS and uses an interview from a man who worked for one of these major platforms who use “brain hacking” their advantage. McNamee uses this source in his favor to strengthen his overall argument and allow readers to understand a little more of what brain hacking actually is without going into great detail in his own writing. It creates more credibility for McNamee and shows another viewpoint into how these Internet monopolies are creating addictive behaviors in humans to get them to continue to return to their platforms. This source about “brain hacking” works well for McNamee in his writing.
An assumption made by McNamee occurs early on in his text where he begins with stating how technology has transformed our lives. McNamee states that, “While the convenience of smartphones has many benefits, the unintended consequences of well-intentioned product choices have become a menace to public health and to democracy.” Alone in this statement, McNamee is already assuming that all smartphones are a menace to public health and to democracy. Although many people in our society spend countless hours on their electronics, this does not mean that everyone does this. There are many people out there who only use smartphones for simple things like texting and calling, and this does not result in the idea of smartphones being a “menace to public health and to democracy” for these people. Not everyone in his audience will be on the same level with technology. There is a wide variety of uses for smartphones, and many actually use them in different ways. It is not always just all social media platforms, not everyone has experienced social media like McNamee assumes they have. This is one of many assumptions made by McNamee throughout his text.
A weakness in McNamee’s article is when he talks about and relates what Internet monopolies do to something as crazy as alcohol and heroin. He does this when he says, “Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google — most importantly through its YouTube subsidiary — produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long term. Users fail to recognize the warning signs of addiction until it is too late.” This is considered a weakness because what these major platforms do online is nowhere near as bad as something like nicotine, alcohol, or heroin. This analogy made by McNamee is very extreme and actually lowers his credibility. Many people will look at this and think it is crazy to ever compare Internet monopolies to something people struggle with real addiction to. I understand that he was making an attempt at strengthening his argument, but using these kinds of examples just ends up having people think it was too far and will not be persuaded as easily into believing that everything he is saying is not over exaggerated. McNamee could have went without using crazy comparisons like drugs and alcohol in an attempt to strengthen his argument.
McNamee believed that Internet monopolies were brain hacking their users and exploiting human nature, creating addictive behavior. He creates a compelling argument through his use of facts and analogies to real world, relatable things to persuade his audience to believe his point of view. Overall, McNamee does a good job with drawing in his audience and establishing himself as an extremely credible person in the topic of brain hacking with Internet monopolies.