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How today’s big 4 tech giants appeal to human biology…but is this good for our health?

How today’s big 4 tech giants appeal to human biology…but is this good for our health?

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

To understand why today’s leading digital businesses are so successful, we need to bring it back to human biology, says Scott Galloway, founder of digital performance company L2 Inc. Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple…we turn to them daily like trusted friends, and our usage and loyalty continues to increase year-on-year; but why do they have such a persistent hold over us, which has endured in some cases for 15 years or more?

“Business mimics biology” says Galloway and his compelling talk along with the illustration below offer food for thought, and the overall message is quite striking.

Google has become our number one port of call for information, and we trust that it will give us the answers we’re looking for. The search giant processes trillions of searches every year, and yet 15% of those daily queries have never been seen by Google before. Our problems get bigger and bigger, although globally we are better educated than ever before. Google’s Knowledge Graph acts and functions a lot like the human brain and has more than 570 million entities and a staggering 18 billion facts about connections between them, by Google’s count.

I remember Google back in the early days, when it was only just beginning to understand where we, the searcher, were in the world; when we needed to know complex ‘hacks’ to ensure it responded to our query as specifically as possible, and when we couldn’t always rely on Google returning the information we were after. But today individuals ask Google questions that they would be too embarrassed to ask in public, they seek medical advice from Google before seeing a doctor, and our children rely on it to supplement their education. Google has become an artifical extension of our brain and it’s hard to imagine life without it.

Facebook, by comparison, feeds on the human desire to feel needed and loved, and helps to create empathy at scale. In the real world, love and friendship have been proven to extend life expectancy. Some studies have shown that having more “friends” on Facebook gives people a greater sense of social support, for example.

But there has also been much research to show that Facebook could be creating mental health issues too. Holly Shakya from the University of California, San Diego and Nicholas Christakis from Yale carried out a broad study published earlier this year, which points to the negative impact of Facebook. The researchers tracked just over 5,000 adults over the course of three years (2013–2015), gathering information on their use of the social network as well as self-reported information about their health, both physical and mental, their weight, and general well-being, and findings were also compared with real world interactions. The most notable finding of the study was that for every 1% increase in “likes,” clicks on links and status updates, the researchers saw a 5% to 8% decrease in the individual’s self-reported mental health.

A separate study published last year also found that envying your friends on Facebook can also lead to depression , but despite this more than 70% of users continue to check Facebook daily. This begs the question “why”? It’s a self-perpetuating cycle it seems, and researchers say the repetitive behaviour stems from a psychological term called affective forecasting. Studies confirm that people assume (incorrectly) that Facebook is going to make them feel better, and they fail to recognise how it is actually making them unhappy…and so the cycle continues.

When it comes to the giant that is Amazon, it fuels a biological desire that is hardwired into us for ‘more’. Galloway refers to it as our “consumptive tract”, similar to our own digestive system. We never reach the point of feeling like we have enough, as once we’ve consumed, it’s only a matter of time before we feel that we need more. In 2015, 44% of product searches began on Amazon, and this rose to 55% in 2016. It’s virtual assistant Alexa was one of the biggest tech innovations of last year.

But the problem with this, Scott Galloway at L2 argues, it that Amazon has a monopoly on society as a whole. He claims we’ve lost Amazon to the dark side, and writes: “If Jeff Bezos announced tomorrow morning that he saw opportunity to leverage Amazon’s infrastructure to reimagine overnight delivery, I speculate DHL, FedEx, and UPS would also puke a Latin American nation’s GDP from their market cap.”

And finally, as the image above reminds us, Apple appeals to the human urge to “propogate” and our desire to be attractive. Apple’s remarkable product design is sleek and sexy, and above all creates a sense of lust within the consumer. In an interview, Jonathan Ive, chief design officer of Apple, said: “A big part of the experience of a physical object has to do with the materials…understanding, that preoccupation with the materials and processes, is [very] essential to the way we work.” Whether you’re an Apple fan or not, you can’t deny how easy it is to be drawn to its products, and how they might make us feel if we own one.


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