How businesses have learned to exploit our curiosity

Don Norman attempts to explain Why bad technology dominates our lives:

Curiosity is, on the whole, a virtue. We have evolved to be curious. Our nervous system is especially sensitive to change, and changes in the environment attract attention. But the technology-centered view labels this natural, creative trait as a liability: Curiosity is renamed as distraction. A human virtue is now turned into a liability.

Worse, many businesses have learned to exploit our curiosity. The continual bombardment of tantalizing tidbits of information deliberately designed to grab our attention away from other, potentially more valuable activities are distractions that can lead to accidents, injury, and interpersonal problems. What kind of business exploits curiosity for its own ends? Almost any business that discovers there are profits to be made by continually engaging people’s curiosity, hopes, and interests. For example gambling, computer games, social networks, and even television series that can go on and on, week after week, year after year, trapping their viewers into addiction.

We talk a lot about “personal responsibility” and how it’s up to each person to make good choices about how they spend their time. That is true as far as it goes, but it brushes over the incredibly strong forces of persuasion theory and how easily humans are manipulated. “Personal responsibility” doesn’t give us a hall pass to exploit the human brain’s weaknesses.