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Astral Codex Ten Podcast

May 15, 2021


[This is the tenth of many finalists in the book review contest. It’s not by me - it’s by an ACX reader who will remain anonymous until after voting is done, to prevent their identity from influencing your decisions. I’ll be posting about two of these a week for several months. When you’ve read all of them, I’ll ask you to vote for your favorite, so remember which ones you liked. If you like reading these reviews, check out point 3 here for a way you can help move the contest forward by reading lots more of them - SA]

I was scrolling through TikTok videos a few weeks ago when I came across a TikTok-sponsored video telling me to stop scrolling and go outside. I was confused. Here I was, perfectly willing (nay, wanting) to spend hours watching dance routines and drawing tutorials I had no intention of copying, but TikTok wanted me to stop? Why? Shouldn’t they have been taking advantage of me to maximize “eyeballs,” “time per session,” and “user engagement”?

One explanation is that TikTok is a good corporate citizen that helps its users maintain responsible screen time habits. Another explanation comes from Natasha Dow Schüll’s excellent book Addiction by Design: Machine Gambling in Las Vegas (2012). Schüll talks about gambling machines, people who use them, and the addictions that develop between the two. I think the conclusions she draws are applicable not only to the gambling industry, but also to other peddlers of vice like TikTok.

The Machine

Sometimes employees at Netflix think, ‘Oh my god, we’re competing with FX, HBO, or Amazon’ … [W]e actually compete with sleep.

- Reed Hastings