The Price of Free


So-called "free" apps are the biggest scam in human history, and consumers are the ones paying the ridiculously high price, with their health, wealth and wisdom.



Zeynep Tufekci - "persuasion architecture" - "candy at kids' eye-level at the checkout counter"

Iatragenics - unintended consequences of the structure and business models they are building.


The MAGA base is the beating heart of the Republican party.


US Judiciary Committee Hearing, Protecting Our Children Online

Mitch Prinstein, PhD, American Psychological Association, Feb 14, 2023^[Opening remarks to the committee.].

Depression for teens doubled between 2009 and 2019.

Sub-cortical development typically begins at the outset of puberty (age 10-12), while the areas of the brain responsible for premeditation, reflection, and inhibition don't fully develop until early adulthood (age 25), meaning young people are "all gas pedal with no brakes", craving "social rewards" (visibility, attention, positive feedback) long before they can resist temptation and inhibit their own behavior. Social media intentionally exploits this vulnerability with features scientifically designed to addict users to rewards such as "likes" and "retweets" and "follows".

features of social media capitalize on youths’ biologically based need for social rewards before they are able to regulate themselves from over-use

scientific data are beginning to suggest areas of serious concern that must not be allowed to continue unchecked.

For kids:

  1. Loneliness - features of social media offer the "empty calories" of social interaction, incentivizing behavior that creates the exact opposite qualities than those needed for successful relationships (disingenuous, anonymous, depersonalized).

    research reveals that in the hours following social media use, teens paradoxically report increases rather than decreases in loneliness

  2. Increased acceptance of or even affinity for maladaptive behavior - normal reaction to illegal or dangerous activity until they see others liking the activity, which reduces their inhibition towards such behavior and predicts the likelihood they will engage in such behavior (eg. heavy episodic drinking).

    individuals are more likely to “like” a post that they see others have “liked” before them, and this may increase (will increase) the likelihood of exposure to similarly themed-posts, via AI-derived algorithms.

  3. Addiction

    the regions of the brain activated by social media use overlap considerably with the regions involved in addictions to illegal and dangerous substances

    almost half of all adolescents report that they use social media "almost constantly"

    A recent study revealed that over 54% of 11– 13- year-old youth reported at least one of these symptoms of problematic social media use -- inability to stop using, remarkable efforts to maintain access, use to regulate emotions, need for increasing use to achieve the same level of pleasure (ie tolerance symptoms)

  4. Brain Development

    Recent studies have revealed that technology and social media use is associated with changes in structural brain development (i.e., changing the size and physical characteristics of the brain).

    Objective data measured by teens’ phones themselves indicated that the average number of times that youth in sixth grade picked up their phones was over 100, with some interrupting daily activities to pick up their phones over 400 times a day

  5. Cyber-Bullying

    Results reveal that the effects of online discrimination and bullying on youths’ risk for depression and anxiety are significant above and beyond the effects of experiences that these same youth experience offline. The permanence, potential for worldwide dissemination, anonymity, and the like, repost, and comment features afforded on most social media platforms seem to contribute to youths’ mental health difficulties.

  1. Stress - including connection overload, FOMO, the need to constantly be available, approval anxiety

  2. Social Comparison -

    Research suggests that these social comparison processes, and youths’ tendency to seek positive feedback or status (i.e., more “likes,” followers, online praise) is associated with a risk for depressive symptoms.

    Psychological science demonstrates that exposure to this online content is associated with lower self-image and distorted body perceptions among young people [which] creates strong risk factors for eating disorders, unhealthy weight-management behaviors, and depression.

  3. Sleep

    60% of adolescents report using technology in the hour before bedtime, and more screen time is associated with poorer sleep health and failure to meet sleep duration requirements set by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, partly due to delayed melatonin release, delayed bedtimes, and increases in overstimulation and difficulty disengaging from online social interactions.

    insufficient sleep is associated with poor school performance, difficulties with attention, stress regulation, and increased risk for automobile accidents.

    Neuroscientific research has demonstrated that inconsistent sleep schedules are associated with changes in structural brain development in adolescent years. In other words, youths’ preoccupation with technology and social media may deleteriously affect the size of their brains

  4. Distraction - while driving or working, we think we can multitask, but we can't. We are task-shifting, and our attention suffers with poorer memory and comprehension at best, or injury or death in car accidents, at worst.

    Evidence shows that these phenomena only worsen with heavier use of social media, with more common symptoms such as mind wandering and higher levels of impulsivity among young adults who use social media more frequently


  1. New tech vs. old tech -- AI algorithms pore over mountains of data and perform billions of calculations are aimed at our brains, which took 60,000 years to evolved and have not changed materially in thousands of years.

  2. Algorithms are latest tech advances - weapons of mass delusion - aimed at human minds whose tech has not changed in thousands of years

  3. Americans spend 11 hours a day consuming 'free' media through free apps and websites.

  4. The advertising industry spends about $633 for every adult in the U.S.

According to Jesse Hercules, "selling human behavior to the highest bidder is the business model" for social media companies. He also said that "technology designed to maximize attention, capture and re-sell attention and behavior to the highest bidder, is not safe for us to use. We’re like Marie Curie working bare-handed with radium.

If you're not paying for the product, you are the product.

Free apps don't have your best interests in mind. They have the best interests of their creator.

"will of the people" -- when the will is hacked by the advertisers and behavior modification

evil of belief

Yuval Noah Harari - "those who control the flow of data in the world, control the future not just of humanity, but maybe the future of life itself."

land -> machines -> data (political struggle)

sapiens are serial killers

paradox of knowledge - the more knowledge you have the more ignorant you become about the future (predictive power)

acceleration of change

data is the raw material of power -- if too concentrated, too dangerous - need to disperse (decentralize) giving our data away "we are never as free as we thought we were. free will was an illusion. in the past, nobody could manipulate people on scale. Now free will might become the most dangerous illusion because the people that believe in free will will be the easiest to manipulate."

Ken Roth: before social media, there were mediating institutions that could break down messaging or filter for objective assessment of the truth. Social media eliminates that mediating. Social media algorithms prioritize engagement, which tend to be messages of hate and fear. Emotions. Hacking our emotions.

Hurari met with Zuckerberg, but he doesn't think Zuckerberg matters much, because the machine has already been unleashed to grab attention. "We need to change the business model for tech companies; they make so little money on advertising for the damage they are doing."

Social Dilemma

  1. Many of the tech entrepreneurs don't let their kids use social media.
  2. Noticed they were getting addicted themselves.

Jaron Lanier - 2018 Ted Talk

  1. Leftist idealism that everything had to be free juxtaposed against the equal fervent belief in tech entrepreneurs "Neitzschean myth of this techie who could dent the universe." Two different passions -- out of the conflict came the advertising model.

  2. Cute in the beginning, but Moore's Law and increasing computer power combined with more sophistication. Advertising turned into behavior modification just as Norbert Weiner worried it might. "I can't call them social networks any more, I call them behavior modification empires.

  3. He thinks it is an astounding mistake rather than a "wave of evil."

  4. Behavioral science -> punishment and rewards, likes and followers and attention grabbing content. Negative stimuli work better, and are cheaper.

    • easier to ruin trust than it is to build trust.
    • easier to destroy love than create it.
    • cranks, the paranoids, the cynics, the nihilists get amplified by the system.
  5. Can be fixed with two things:

    • Make people who could afford services pay for services (done today with media services like Netflix).
    • Peak social media - factual, truth-based valuable content you PAY for.
    • Certain the Googles and Facebooks would still thrive in for-pay world.
  6. Google and Facebook are hooked/addicted to the model, even though the model doesn't work.

  7. "I don't believe our species can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which if two people wish to communicate the only way that can happen is if it is financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them."

  8. Great video here

  9. "A Blueprint for a Better Digital Society" by Jaron Lanier and E.Glen Weyl - "Data Dignity"

Data Dignity