Time for a change?

“Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” – Mark Twain. “Politicians are a lot like diapers. They should be changed frequently, and for the same reasons.”

— Benjamin Franklin

I’m stunned. I googled the quote and found attribution to two different people! That means one of the attributions has to be incorrect! Who knew; I thought things had to be true before they could be posted on the internet! I’m stunned and disappointed.

Speaking of diapers, have you heard about a “diaper product”? I’m not talking about “Huggies” for youngsters or “Depends” for oldsters, I’m talking about computer games. A “diaper product” is the perfectly designed game for computer engineers and game developers. It is so addictive that people don’t want to stop playing even long enough to go to the bathroom. They wear diapers and keep right on playing. Wait, let me think…. Maybe there is some parallel to the original quotes… maybe there’s a politicians’ term limit angle… I’ll have to think about that some more….

Anyway, I’ve mentioned my tech-savvy young pal with whom I discuss and lament all things technological. He is patient and tries to enlighten me. Sometimes he is moderately successful explaining things, but most of the time, not even moderately.

He was aware of the diaper product idea and explained some of the ways game developers use players’ patterns of behavior to try to get them diapered. Games can be set up to track how long people typically play time-wise, difficulty-wise, or success wise. When the algorithms suggest a player is about to give up, they are awarded some kind of surprise prize, like some sought-after item or a serendipitous turn of events. And guess what, the player is buoyed up, there’s a dopamine rush, and the player keeps playing!

He also explained how people can “jump ahead” in a game by simply purchasing (for real money) the tools of the trade needed to be successful. These tools can be earned for free by proficient, dedicated players. But if you’re not good enough or don’t have the time, “ORDER BY MIDNIGHT TONIGHT!!!!” so you can play ’til dawn with giant leaps toward a successful outcome.

Once I got into this, I really wasn’t surprised. Isn’t the background data being collected and the games the game developers play with players’ psyches much like what Facebook and Amazon do? Isn’t this similar to the data collection/information-providing systems being investigated with regard to influence of voters? In all these cases, the people reviewing all the data can tell us what we want to hear and help us do what we want to do even if it’s all the kind of stuff that fills diapers. There’s no money to be made in arguing or convincing. We turn our eyes away from things we don’t like. But there’s lots of money to be made when the tech folk can show how much “eyeball time” their games and posts get. They sell our eyeball time to advertisers.

A recent Time Magazine article by Haley Sweetland Edwards suggested that we are not customers of Facebook, Amazon, etc.; we are their product. In other words, they’re selling us and all the information their systems gather on us, to others and those others use it to contact us. Or, if you’re into conspiracy theories, to influence our votes.

So, the “diaper product” might not be just for game developers, it could be for anyone who wants to keep your eyes glued to your screens and their ads. Could be a special deal on shoes, a recipe for something you’ve expressed interest in, YouTube squirrel surfing videos “recommended for you”…. And every one of those includes ads trying to get your business and making money for the platforms owners and the advertisers.

I have a couple ideas on how to break this cycle of eyeballs to diapers to data-selling. Maybe a tekkie hacker type could invent a “mirror code.” If I’m browsing and something comes up I don’t like, I enter the code and everything is sent back to the source a million times. If enough people did this, maybe it would overload the servers and shut them down. If I didn’t have to wade through all the customized stuff, I might even have time to go to the bathroom.

Gary Lester is a lifetime area resident, a former photographer for the Times-Observer, former market manager for WhirleyDrinkworks, retired Executive Director of Family Services of Warren County, and current Director of Leadership Warren County. He is a life-long student and commentator on human behavior.