Ask almost anyone and they will tell you that, for the most part, they make their own choices. Our ability to make decisions about our own lives is a foundation of what it means to be free.
We take pride that each day we make choices that define us: we choose where we live, where we shop, what we wear. And click on what we choose to click on. Or do we?
There is now exponentially more content available for us to consume online than we could ever consume in 100 lifetimes. 500 hours of video content is uploaded every minute to YouTube alone. To help sift through all of this content, social media platforms use algorithms to prioritize what we see, click on, and thus the “choices” we make.
With the release of The Social Dilemma on Netflix, it is now becoming clear that our online decision-making process is much more influenced by outside forces than we have ever imagined. Our blog post on this systemic manipulation by social media giants looked at ways to try and “beat the system”, one of which is to adjust the ‘Autoplay’ settings on your games and apps.
Our ability to make choices is limited by:
- how quickly we can think through all the possible options we have, and
- our ability to remember commitments we have made in the past, which require us to prioritize our time to fulfil those tasks.
This thought process involves competition between two of our most valuable assets: our time and our attention.
We simply cannot make a good decision that is based on what is best for us, if we don’t have both the time to think about it and the ability to focus on the decision-making process.
Autoplay settings hijack both of these invaluable assets at the same time. Take YouTube as an example: Firstly, our attention is diffused or spread out, as, alongside the video we have just watched, we can see many other eye-catching video thumbnails. These thumbnails are ranked according to how many other people have clicked on them in the past. Secondly, there is a countdown timer embedded, to ensure that the next video will automatically begin playing, requiring us to take any action to STOP the next video, rather than START it.
YouTube takes advantage of the fact that it is almost impossible at the moment, to recall all the things you need to do, consider if you have the time to watch another video, and then decide to do so, all in the 6 to 7-second count down to the next video. So, before you know it, you are stuck in a revolving door of endless video feeds.
We need to realize that we are not as free from manipulation as we may think and that it is ok for us to accept our human limitations and consciously adjust how we interact with technology, to control rather than be controlled by technology.
Here’s a quick and easy first step. Reset the default autoplay settings on your games and apps, use the links below for a handy guide.
It’s time to take back our time, and our attention, and harness all the good things that technology offers us
Change your settings using the guides below:
Change YouTube Autoplay settings: Computer (same as apps)
Change Netflix Autoplay settings: Computer (same as apps),