"Write what you need to read." ~Brene Brown

Friday, February 22, 2019


I picked up a new word for my vocabulary last week. 
Any technological innovation carries the seeds for good and not-sah-good.
New to me. I heard this word for the first time at a gathering of Social Workers celebrating the 20thanniversary of a distance learning program made possible through innovations in technology.  Apparently it has been around for a while.It is the brainchild of a man named BJ Fogg who created the word in 1996. He used the acronym CAPT (Computers As Persuasive Technology) to create a field of study which he conducts at the Stanford Design Lab. Since 1993, he has been studying how computers can be used to persuade people to change their attitudes and behaviors. 
"Why should we care?" you say.
Most of us carry a little computer  around with us wherever we go. They track us, they inform us, they help us. They also hold the potential to lead us down some dark collective rabbit holes, even though we may be all by ourselves in the process, and we may feel utterly safe and completely confident.  
This is an important word to learn and understand because there is a wealth of behavioral psychology driving it. As it turns out, BJ Fogg is well versed in behavioral psychology. As he has been studying how computers can be used to persuade people to change their attitudes and behaviors, he has discovered the potentials as well as the pitfalls. He and his students have applied what they have learned about human behavior to apply it to how your behavior and your mindset can be manipulated as you use social media.  Understanding these concepts is what one of my teachers used to describe as “consumer protection for your mind.”

The more technology advances, the more we can advance. Unfortunately, the same technology that leads us toward positive gains can be used for more nefarious purposes.  Here's an example I read recently as I was driving along:
Car accidents are one thing.  We can do other dark deeds as we click, share, text, and snap. We may feel virtuous, but we as humanoids have blind spots.  We all want to be good people, but sometimes our best intentions can be deadly. Nobel prize winning author of the Gulag Archipelago and survivor of said Soviet Socialist gulags Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote, 
 “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Another metaphor for this concept comes from the Cherokee story of the old man who told his grandson that two wolves live inside each of us: one that is evil. It is filled with anger, jealousy, revenge, hatefulness, prejudice, false pride, guilt, arrogance, and malice. The other is good. It is filled with love, joy, kindness, compassion, serenity, and generosity. The old man told his grandson that these two wolves battle with one another. The grandson thought about it and asked, “which wolf wins?” The old man replied, “the one we feed.”

In his first inaugural address, President Lincoln spoke to the impending civil war. His final words were, “I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Steven Pinker chose that beautiful last phrase as the title for a whole book on the subject. In his book, he spoke to our human drive to violence, and that we must be mindul of our innate capacity for violence.  In his book, he described five inner demons that Motivate us toward violence. They are as follows:
  1. Predation:  Our genetically inherited urge to compete for survival. The innate drive to “kill or be killed.
  2. Dominance:  An internal drive to gain power or position.  We compete for access to resources, and have a drive to Again, this is an innate drive to attain resources: food, water, shelter, desirable mates for reproduction.
  3. Revenge:We have within us a pleasure response to meting out revenge upon those whom we have come to dislike.. 
  4. Sadism:Sadly, human beings derive pleasure in causing pain for others. It explains why many of us love to watch horror movies as a form of entertainment.  Here's a word you may have seen recently. Schadenfreude.  (It's German).
  5. Ideology:  We formulate ingroups who hold a commonly held collection of ideas of right and wrong. We are right. They are wrong. We hold the moral high ground and they have been corrupted by evil.  We justify the slaughter of those who stand in the way of our ideological beliefs as a necessary sacrifice in the name of all that we see as holy.  THEY are being duped by ‘Fake News.’
Since I mentioned all that is holy, let us turn then, to the Countering the four Better Angels of our nature that move us away from violence. They are:

  1. Empathy:  A concern for the well-being of others which stops us from harming people and perhaps offer support and understanding. We identify with the plight of the other. 
  2. Self-Control:  Our capacity to refrain from acting impulsively. This capacity is one that shows up in greater and lesser amounts, and is a capacity that we strengthen with practice. I am reminded of an Aikido practitioner commenting that the world would be a safer place if everyone practiced Aikido, which involves self-control and the ability to protect oneself without harming another.
  3. Moral Sense:  the difference between what’s generally accepted as “right” and “wrong” can provide us with a compass that can help us navigate our way out of violence. Some people derive this from their spiritual beliefs. Some derive it from ideology or philosophy. 
  4. Reason:Fortunately, with the innovation of our cerebral cortexes, we developed the power of reason. Some of us were taught the art of critical thinking in school. Critical thinking calls upon us to analyze objective facts to form judgments. 

At this point, you may be thinking, “But wait a minute Liz, aren’t some of those better angels seeming very similar to that fifth demon? That's what makes this whole thing so complicated, and it's why I would redirect you once again to that quote from Solzhenitsyn.

This is where life gets messy, and why our current newsfeeds are awash with items that trigger our emotions, and which beg us to click “Like” “Love” or “share.”  

It's what gets the tables flipped at Thanksgiving dinners, and what caused all sorts of people to cull their friends lists on the morning of November 9, 2016.  Or thereabout.

People have joked that there is no HATE option. That’s part of the psychology. You feel virtuous in your small click of the mouse because it’s a positive action. It’s funny. You love it. It makes you think, “Wow.” Or you want to share that the whole darn subject has you steaming between your ear bones, and rightly so. 

Confirmation Bias:  We tend to favor posts, articles, and blogs that align with our pre-existing beliefs. We hold certain biases and naturally we are attracted to items that confirm our beliefs, and we shy away from posts, articles, or people who would disconfirm our beliefs. 

We don't wish to have our mind palaces disrupted. 

How many times do we share something impulsively because it fills us with revulsion? We become outraged and want everyone to know that such and such a thing has happened. We add lines to emphasize how despicable it is, or what we wouldn’t want to do to that person if we could catch up with them. 

And then a few days or weeks later, we come to the realization that there was more to the story. We may be quite loathe to acknowledge it because of our confirmation bias, but there it is.  It all happened with a tiny, innocent click of the mouse, or tap on your phone.

Let's get back to professor Fogg again for a moment.  He has a formula to explain human behavior. It may be grossly simple, but it's worth taking a look.  Here is the formula. 

Here is how to understand the formula:

Your Behavior can be a result of your motivation, your ability, and a trigger.  
Trigger warning: A trigger is something that stimulates us to consider an action. Here's how it works. If you are triggered to do 20 pushups because you read it's good for your health, you may have high motivation. If, however, you are overweight and out of shape as I am currently, your ability is low. Even if your motivation is high, your low ability will keep you from the behavior that would lead to being able to do 20 pushups. You WILL fail. If, however,  You need to find an intermediary activity you can do that would lead you, with improvement over time, to those pushups, you will carry out the behavior and you will, in time, succeed. Yay, you.

How does this apply to social media?  It's so easy to click a button or tap your phone screen. If you're highly inflamed, inspired, etc., they got you. Click bait. That's how posts go viral. The more you can't wait to share it, the more you'll give in to the impulse. 

The reason why it's good to come out of your bubble and have a look around is that if you don't, you run the risk of developing a blind spot. Your group may suffer from Groupthink.  You might share something that is hurtful, wrong, or that might incite violence. I just watched a video today where person A punched person B over an idea. Suddenly a nice person has become hateful. While I describe a physical manifestation, raise your hand if you've ever gotten into a heated exchange over the inter webs?  It can be addicting, and it can bring out things in us that we'd best leave as just inside-our-own-mind ideas. 

What happens when people begin to fear that if they have a thought which does not align with the narrative of the group, they may be shunned or punched?  They fall silent.  Or they attack the group to find another one. 

Ultimately there is a reason why we have thrived through the healthy debates between people with differing ideas. Our ideas can only be strong if they can hold up to opposing arguments. When we talk to someone who questions us, our ideas get smarter. If we aren't willing to do this, we may develop some bad ideas and not know it because if nobody is going to disagree with you, you may think you're brilliant.  Imagine what a nice world it would be if we could discuss something, admit disagreements, find agreements, and share a nice sandwich and a lemonade?

We are smarter Together.  Jack Johnson sang about Better Together. 
Both are nice.

Here's what John Stuart Mill wrote, and is something to consider embracing (please insert whatever pronouns work for thou. He was a cisgender white male of privilege who lived before such ideas were constructificated):

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion... Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them...he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”  

                                                                                          ~John Stuart Mill

How do we decide what to share or not to share? I’ll leave you with a beautiful and succinct, easily memorizable quote:

“Is it true; is it kind, or is it necessary?” 
                                             ~The So Crates Dude.

(And how many of you will remember it because I said, "The So Crates Dude instead of just Socrates?)

Okay, well that about wraps 'er up.  Be kind, check for truthfulness, and know that you can't even always count on Snopes because confirmation bias abounds everywhere. Stick to cute puppies and kitties, rainbows and unicorns, and memes that uplift. 

Think before you interact on social media, and practice Schadenfreude avoidance. People will think you're smart.  

Also, please like or share if you found this to be interesting or of use, and then feel free to laugh uproariously at the irony of it all…   And if you're not motivated by these ideas, here's a cute puppy.
The better angels in me see the better angels in you. Thank you for reading. 
AWW. A cute puppy with a heart on her forehead. What's not to like?

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