Robinhood Has Gamified Online Trading Into an Addiction
Tech’s obsession with addiction will hurt us all
Warning: This post contains a discussion of suicide.
Addiction is the inability to stop consuming a chemical or pursuing an activity although it’s causing harm.
I engage with almost every substance or behavior associated with addiction: alcohol, drugs, coffee, porn, sex, gambling, work, spending, devices, and social media. I’ve abused all of them, but don’t think I’m addicted. On a balanced scorecard, these substances and behaviors, abuse and all, have been a net positive in my life, even @twitter.
Most disease and hardship for our species has been a function of scarcity — too little salt, sugar, fat, approval, safety, opportunities to mate. As a result, when we find these things, our brain produces the ultimate reward, the pleasure hormone dopamine. And it makes sense. Nature rewards behaviors that ensure the propagation of the species.
The assembly line, processing power, and Amazon Prime have not only met the minimum thresholds for survival but created a new threat to our species: superabundance. Diabetes, income inequality, and fake news all are a function of our belief that more is better. Jeff Bezos capturing and hoarding the GDP of Norway doesn’t make sense for the species, but his instincts (fear of starvation, wielding power) reign supreme.
Survival, propagation, and consumption should result in the next generation being smarter, faster, and stronger. Where things have come off the rails is a function of our innovation economy moving faster than our instincts. Historically, humans have engaged in activities that have natural stopping cues — the end of a chapter, the end credits. Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Netflix have systematically eradicated stopping cues. Even casinos are deliberately laid out without hard angles, so it’s all one continuous space and you keep moving through it, on to the next game.
Technological progress lapping the calibration of our instincts culminates in an endless scroll. We’re unable to find the off switch. Unlike our parents and grandparents, for us, dopamine release no longer depends on…