How technology's built in "engagement maximization" destroys mental health in the Trump age, and what to do about it

Originally published at:

We live in a weaponized news-cycle, a political moment in which a cadre of ruthless looters are destroying the world, magnified by technology’s design ethic that uses experimental methodologies to maximize “engagement” (that is, how much attention you give to a tool or application), without any regard to whether your “engagement” is driven by pleasure or anxiety.


I got derailed half way through reading this article by the trump nuclear war threat!


Good suggestion on removing auto suggest to remove distractions and unnecessary anxiety when searching.
At the bottom of the article though there were two separate ads for skin whitening products. I’m currently in India. Maybe you should consider the algorithm producing your advertising when talking about anxiety inducing suggestions.


Fear Sells


Good points are raised about how we are assaulted by irrelevant and alarming distractions in places where we shouldn’t be but the examples provided are very easily dealt with. In fact I’m not even familiar with how Android Search and Android’s weather app do this because I rejected them long ago. Not because they were telling me that Trump might start a nuclear war (or whatever the alarmist headline of the day was) but because they were noisy and annoying. I quickly decided searching directly from a web browser was a better experience and I found a weather app (Weather Undeground) that focused on the weather and only the weather.

Sure, the problem isn’t limited to a couple of commonly used app on your phone. It’s on cable news, in the paper, all over Facebook, in late night TV monologues, etc But my point is that it’s not hard to avoid a lot of these sources of anxiety without struggling. It’s included when you decide to reject annoying things.


Just like with the TV set [boob box], technology in this case, you gotta step away from time to time to get some real reality.


“In the era of Trump” is becoming the “…IN SPACE!!!” of boingboing.


What The Forecast is the new hotness, I hear.


It verges on the negligent that schools don’t require at least one semester of modern media literacy to kids who are immersed in the digital world and screens almost from toddlerhood. Knowing what (and who) to ignore, mute, or turn off is something that has to be taught, yet from what I observe in young people there seems to be no formal or informal training in these matters.


uh… none of that stuff works that way for me. I’m guessing Corey doesn’t allow google to keep any sort of history of searches or anything. I get a list of stuff I recently searched for, this is useful for completing tasks. When google gives me stories? it’s related to my interests and previous searches. I’m sure I’m doing it wrong though.


You can dodge this problem by insisting on free open source software tools, staying away from social media, and turning off the teevee! Unfortunately these are difficult things to do for most consumers.


But you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

(BBC Weather is good though obviously YMMV. And it places me just over the village boundary.)

1 Like

He might be talking about the mobile Google search widget in Android, which behaved like this for me, too. The autocomplete displays trending stories (AKA the top aggregate news searches by ignoramuses and stupid people) by default the moment you tap the search bar. You can turn it off, but the setting is buried.


I’ve been training my Android weather-news app. Sites like Infowars and Breitbart are locked out, celebrity fluff is flicked off the screen unread. It seems to learn and tailors its output.

Weird. I have an android phone (metropcs) and the stock weather app it has just shows the weather.
I long ago shut down the news alert cause I don’t give a fuck about Justin Beiber’s haircut and other such things it was telling me as well as it was annoying.


turn off the tv, throw away the paper… don’t allow ‘them’ to get you to stimulate yourself to death.

1 Like

Including the unnecessary phrase “in the Trump age” in the article title is also a good way for Corey Doctorow to ensure “Engagement Maximization”.

How technology’s built in 'engagement maximization" destroys mental health in the Trump age, and what to do about it.


How technology’s built in “engagement maximization” destroys mental health, and what to do about it.

Technology itself may share some of the fault, but surely, the words the writer chooses should take the brunt.


Let’s not get distracted into a thread where we BBers teach ourselves and each other how to adjust the settings on these things. Because that misses the key point: these technologies are designed to distract us in this way. It’s a design feature for it to be hard to turn the distractions off. This is not a problem that can be tackled by an individualist strategy of teaching a few of the more technically aware members of society to adjust their settings.


Partly Cloudy with a Chance of Nuclear Winter or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb


I’m on pixel 2 XL… we talking about the search bar now at the bottom of the page? There’s that… then there’s the google now (swipe left home page/stories/weather/bills etc) whatever that brings up things it thinks are relevant to you. The caveat is it has to know something about you. I just have never come across any google search that’s ever suggested anything I haven’t already googled on a blank input field. I probably don’t care enough about my privacy though.