It’s a battle for our creativity. We will lose if we don’t update internet’s default business model.
The dirty little secret of Big Tech is that they’ve built their empires on the backs of small businesses and individuals, who invest their time and money in giving away the content that ultimately fuels these platforms.
Take Google, for instance. Of course, Google delivers a lot of value to users. Because it’s the de facto global data repository, every content creator must be in Google. Here we have a classic network effect in play: users rely on Google because it has all the content, and new content providers join Google because all users are there.
Google makes most of its money by selling ads on search result pages, and it’s not exactly incentivized to give users a quick and precise answer to their queries. They’d rather inundate users with a barrage of results and hope they’ll click on as many paid ads as possible. It’s a conflict of interest, plain and simple.
Now let’s look at the distant second search engine: Bing, from Microsoft. It basically copies Google — from the product to the business model. Nothing weird in it — as even Google copied its sponsored search ads model from another company. However, Microsoft’s Bing is finally bringing something new to the table. After investing in OpenAI, they’re integrating ChatGPT into their search engine to provide users with a single answer, cutting down on the endless clicking and scrolling that Google forces on its users.
Google and the original Bing might have been exploiting content creators all these years, but at least those creators could get some visitors from time to time. And with those visitors, creators could make some money (by selling stuff, subscriptions, etc). But now, with Bing generating a text response by repurposing content from millions of sources, how will creators get paid? Bing shows the sources of the text, but frankly, who will click on a citation? Microsoft should pay creators who provided the content OpenAI used to generate results. It’s that simple.
Maybe it will take years, maybe a whole generation, but I’m positive that without a new business model that values content creators, we will get to a point where there will be no original content anymore. AI will be creating content based on AI content. Are we prepared to give up our creativity to machines? I, for one, am not.
We have been having nightmares about SkyNet and robots annihilating humans. We’ve been wrong all these years. They are coming for our souls, not our bodies.
Can the gaming industry grow and prosper without compromising ethics?
I had the opportunity to attend a very interesting roundtable at GDC 2018 presented by IGDA. The event was called Professional Ethics for Game Designers and was hosted by Sande Chen, Writers Guild Award and Grammy-nominated Writer and Game Designer (you should check out her interesting review of the event, by the way).
The roundtable beckoned readers to voice an opinion “as to whether or not game designers need a professional code of ethics much like the Hippocratic oath for doctors.” Here is the event description:
“With gaming disorder a mental health concern, do game designers have an obligation to refrain what would be considered ‘exploitative design,’ that is, game design that takes advantage of player addictions and/or mental defects?”
I expected to leave that event with some sort of consensus. What I really wanted was to see a core of game designers starting a movement that could culminate with a positive change in the industry. After all, we’ve seen similar movements on adjacent industries such as Social Media, where industry luminaries and even former Facebook executives complained about the addictive nature of social media (even implicating themselves). We’ve also seen organizations such as the Center for Humane Technology which was created to demonstrate how this technology could be used for good.
However, it seems that the gaming industry hasn’t reached that stage of enlightenment yet. Sadly, the roundtable ended with no consensus. What we saw instead was gamers split into three groups, which I have categorized:
The Concerned: Game designers very concerned with the wellbeing of players, and with addiction and its consequences.
The Skeptics: Those that were refusing to see the danger that games could cause. They attempted to blur the lines between an engaging experience with an addictive one.
The Pragmatists: Those who took a more profit-driven focus. This group believes that exploiting addictions and vulnerabilities is the nature of the industry, and that those who refuse to do so will be less competitive.
What I realized after leaving the event is that the industry is facing what is called a Prisoner’s Dilemma, which is a psychological experiment that tests self-interest. Basically, if two criminals betray each other, they each receive two years in prison. If one betrays the other, the betrayer walks free while the betrayed gets the maximum sentence of three years. If they cooperate, they each receive only one year on lesser charges. The criminals must make this decision without any knowledge of what the other will do.
Game designers seem to be faced with a similar dilemma, and few are willing to cooperate. They want to betray each other (and their consumers by proxy) by making their games more addictive than their competitors’. The harsh consequence they would receive by the betrayal of their competitor would be loss of revenue or even their company’s economic viabilities. Alternatively, game designers could cooperate and do what’s in the best interest of everyone involved.
Professor Ian Schreiber, from Rochester, NY, talks about these potential government limitations, mentioning that gridlocked US politicians looking to score easy political points with their constituents could do so by regulating loot boxes (we will talk more about them below). “It is an easy bipartisan political win that’s almost sure to happen in the near future,” says Schreiber. He pointed out that the gaming industry must work on self-regulation, and take a proactive role to stop psychological exploitation of users before it’s too late. Using the Honour of Kings case again, the Chinese government stepped in by setting a strict 1-hour-a-day limit on gaming for kids 12 years old and younger.
But Pragmatists and Skeptics don’t see it this way, so they don’t see the need to self-regulate. They tend to view it as a simple supply and demand scenario, firmly believing that if they don’t offer this addictive service, someone else will.
It’s really no different than when criminals justify their actions by claiming that they hold no personal responsibility for providing a service that people demand. You hear this over and over in movies, usually when a criminal is caught by the good guy and justifies his actions by claiming he is just one among many, a cog in the machine. “If I don’t sell, some other drug dealer will. People are looking for this anyway.”
In real life, many famous gangsters used similar lines. Otto Berman, an accountant for the mafia in the 1930s coined the phrase “Nothing personal, it’s just business”. By ignoring the wellbeing of its players, aren’t game designers ultimately subscribing to this idea as well?
Or maybe, Pragmatist game designers prefer a quote from another mobster from the 1930’s called Lucky Luciano (he ordered Berman’s death, by the way). His phrase was “There’s no such thing as good money or bad money.There’s just money.”
Personally, I think it’s really hard for game designers to argue that they’re not only in it for profit, especially when you consider another topic we discussed at the roundtable: video games and gambling. It turns out that there are a lot of disturbing similarities between the two.
Loot boxes and gambling
Take for example loot boxes. For those who don’t know what loot boxes are, they are treasure chests with random items. Players do not know what’s in loot boxes, and the chances of finding valuable items inside them are very low. Players can buy more loot boxes with real money, and are incentivized to do so, with the promise of huge payoffs, just like in casinos. The difference is that, with technology, game designers can actually personalize the payoffs depending on the individual player’s appetite for risk and reward, maximize their attractiveness. As Robert de Niro’s character in the movie, Casino, says: “In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose, and in the end, we get it all.”
To add to the pile of evidence that game mechanics are inspired by gambling, Consider that video game companies use the term “whale” to define a user who spends lots of money on virtual items. The same term is used for casino players who bet (and lose) great sums. And, like in casinos, game companies focus their marketing efforts to extract the most from those whales.
And like gambling, video games can be extremely addictive. But many Skeptics tend to use misleading language to convolute the argument and blur the line between what is compelling and what is addicting. For example, Aaron Marshall, a video game designer from LA summarizes how Skeptics think: “Video games are akin to most legal products and pastimes today. They can be responsibly consumed, or they can be abused. We do not condemn books because an avid reader is spending an irresponsible amount of time reading fiction novels. Why should video games be singled out when a player is playing too much?”
However, it turns out that there is a scientifically measurable difference between a desire to play a video game, and an addiction to video games. With a focus on internet games, the North American Psychiatric Association (APA) has defined this addiction as Internet Gaming Disorder. It is disturbingly similar to gambling addiction (which is the only recognized addiction besides substance addiction). It basically states that a person is addicted to gaming if it interferes with other aspects of their lives and the pursuit of their goals.
But there were also Concerned participants who made the same connection between gaming and smoking, specifically pointing to how some gaming companies employ similar practices used by the tobacco industry in the past. And gaming isn’t the only industry that is faced with these issues, nor is it the only industry where people are concerned with the effect that these tactics are having on children. For example, at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff was interviewed and voiced his concerns. Later on, he made the following statement via Twitter:
But again, we see the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Do game designers betray each other in a never ending cycle, continuing to make video games more and more addictive in an effort to stay ahead of the curve? Or will we eventually see an era where the industry cooperates to create better, safer games? The biggest question is whether or not game designers would be willing to potentially lose some profit in order to self-regulate.
Professor Schreiber summarized this dilemma well, saying: “If the goal of game designers is to maximize the revenue a game brings, creating addictive experiences might be required”. He added, saying, “Trying to ethically monetize a game might impact the company’s profits.”.
Solving the Dilemma
But what if there were a way for Concerned game designers to create non-addictive experiences, without abandoning the goal of maximizing monetary profit? Well, there is. Companies should be more transparent with users (or parents of users) and enable them to set controls controls such as screen time. While users get the tools to effectively curb their digital addiction, game designers are incentivized to implement the feature, since they can differentiate their product from competitors and potentially charge a for the feature. It’s truly a win for everyone involved.
In light of these statistics, researchers have begun to ask the question, “how is this affecting children?” What they’ve found is that too much digital media use, just like eating too much junk food, can have adverse effects.
For example, recent studies have found that even the mere presence of a digital device (such as a smartphone) can suck concentration and disrupt cognitive function whether the device is on or off. For example, if a child is taking a test and their smartphone is turned on airplane mode and tucked away in their backpack below their desk, their concentration and cognitive function may still be affected by its proximity. While the study did not measure test scores among school children with smartphones present, we can assume that disrupted attention and cognitive function most likely has a negative effect on test scores and schoolwork in general.
Another study, conducted at Stanford University, tested media multitasking. Media multitasking has widely been believed to be a practical (and maybe even a beneficial) skill because many of us tend to move quickly between media; for example, writing a report for work, answering a chat from a coworker, and handling a sales call. This idea of media multitasking as a strengthening skill is mirrored by children and teens, many of who believe that watching TV, texting, or interacting with social media has no effect on their ability to focus and do well on their homework. However, the study found that heavy media multitaskers had a much higher difficulty allocating their attention to specific tasks, switching tasks, and identifying key elements between tasks.
While the cognitive and attention aspects of media use are certainly worthy of consideration, one of the biggest concerns about children and teens’ well-being regarding social media consumption has to do with their mental state. A recent study conducted by economists at the University of Sheffield found that social media use among children makes them less happy in nearly all aspects of their lives. Even spending just one hour a day on social media has the chance of reducing a child’s feeling of overall happiness in the areas of schoolwork, the school they attend, their appearance, their family, and their life in general by 14%. However, they did find that social media tends to make children, on average, feel happier about their friendships.
In an article in The Guardian, Longfield gave an example of the Snapstreak feature on Snapchat to demonstrate the absorbing nature of social media platforms. Snapchat users can create a “streak” when they share photos between friends for three consecutive days. If one person in the streak misses their turn, the streak is destroyed. This creates a kind of social pressure to continue interacting with the app. While it can be fun for friends, it can also be argued that the feature is inconsiderate of users’ time.
But Longfield also stresses that it is not only the responsibility of the social media networks to protect children from digital media overuse; parents must also be proactive in helping their children develop healthy habits when it comes to social media, just like they should be proactive in outlining a healthy diet for their children.
Modeling the 5-a-day campaign for healthy eating in England, which provides guidelines for balanced meals, Longfield has recently initiated a digital 5-a-day campaign that seeks to help parents teach their children and teenagers how to have a healthy online presence, balanced with a healthy life offline as well. These are the five proposed tenets:
1. Connect: Message, have fun and play with friends and family both online and offline.
2. Be active: Take some time off and get active – movement helps boost emotional well-being.
3. Get creative: Don’t just browse the internet but use digital tools to create content, to build new skills and discover new passions.
4. Give to others: Be positive online, report bad content and help others to balance their own 5-a-day.
5. Be mindful: If time online is causing stress or tiredness then take some time off and ask for help when you need it.
With the digital 5-a-day campaign, Longfield argues that children should not be entirely blocked from social media, as it is a modern fact of life. Instead, it should be moderated and used reasonably to have a well-rounded digital and non-digital social experience. To help moderate digital media consumption, parents can take advantage of parental controls to put limits on which sites their children can view, what features they can use, and when they can or cannot be online.
Longfield also suggests that parents talk to their children about the strategies that social media networks use to keep them engaged and the effects that digital media overuse can have on their development. This gives children the tools to navigate their own lives and make informed decisions.
Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that, even though we live in a world surrounded by digital media, it’s not impossible for children and teens to maintain a healthy relationship with social media and keep a balance between their offline and online life.
I was introduced to mindfulness meditation in 2016 by my friend and business partner at Nossa LabsFlavio Rump. He has been practicing mindfulness meditation for some years and had already been to a couple of meditation retreats. I decided to give a try despite the fact that I always thought that this “whole meditation thing was a bit hocus pocus”. After been guided in a few sessions by Flavio and sometimes using apps I started to enjoy meditating. I subscribed to 10% Happier and have been using the app almost on a daily basis. I calmed myself down a bit and was able to understand that I could tackle my obstacles one by one without feeling anxious about them.
And let me tell you something: feeling less anxious is great! Being calmer gives me more room to think thoroughly about the issues and ultimately get closer to better outcomes. However, besides feeling calmer I also felt that I lost a bit of my drive, a bit of the urge I had in the past to do stuff – as if I had normalized my emotions: I don’t feel that sad anymore but also not that happy as well. I am not sure this change is due to meditation or if it is happening because I am simply getting older and more experienced (I’m now 40 years old). Anyway, I decided to research the side-effects from meditation. Turns out, some people are also studying this and I will try to summarize some of the conclusions were made about how meditation can be harmful to some people.
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly popular
Before we get to the potential negative effects meditation could give us, I would like to give some sense on how popular mindfulness has become. Below we can see the interest for Mindfulness in Google searches grew over four-fold since 2004.
Not only businesses have been created around meditation and mindfulness but the subject is also popular within the academia. A quick search for “meditation” in Google Scholar returns 114,000 articles, with a steady growth as you can see on the chart below.
Is mindfulness a mere hype or it is really beneficial for everyone?
Now, the hidden secret about meditation that almost no one talks about: Meditation can be dangerous to some people.
According to Shonin, E., Van Gordon W., & Griffiths, M. D, mindful-based interventions can be indeed harmful if practiced without proper supervision. The authors note that, although mindfulness meditation derives from Buddhist practice and has been practiced for over 2500 years, there are no dedicated regulation nor accreditation bodies to guarantee that instructors have a minimum knowledge on the subject. Basically, anyone can claim to be a meditation teacher and incorrectly guide others. What to say about meditation apps then? If instructors can teach mindfulness in a wrong way, meditation apps can be risky as they offer a completely unsupervised practice.
Other authors and researchers also studied possible adverse effects from meditation and mindfulness. According to Deane Shapiro from the University of California Irvine, almost 2/3rd of people that went to a meditation retreat reported at least one negative effect from meditation and some even mentioned serious adverse effects such as panic attacks, depression and anxiety. Important note: this study was performed on a very small sample (N=27) . However, at Just Neurons we still believe that even if only a few people reported suffering after meditation, this is already enough to be concerned about the dangerous aspects of meditations.
There are small signs of more critical voices becoming more mainstream. Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm have written the book The Buddha Pill, where they talk about the lack of research about the potential adverse effects meditation can cause.
According to research, what are the most common negative side effects from meditation?
There is very little data on how frequent adverse effects occur, however, these are the most common negative effects people can get from meditating:
Feelings of depression, including
Decreased life motivation/boredom
Feelings of depersonalization and derealization, including
Feelings of anxiety, including
Panic and/or tension
Feelings of dissociation, including
Feelings of meditation “addiction”
Reports of pain
Why is there so little research about the negative side effects?
There are many more scientific papers that show benefits of meditation than ones that talk about negative effects. Here are the main reasons we believe this is the case
Researchers have a bias to design their experiments in order to prove their hypotheses, as we presented in our inaugural article article.
We believe human beings are always looking for a way to become happier. There is something about meditation ‘intuitively’ feels right. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could reduce our suffering by sitting and observing our breath for a few minutes a day? Since we all want to believe this to be true, we end up conducting studies to validate our intuition. It is rather uncomfortable to talk about negative effects to a tool that seems to provide so much relief. Unfortunately, this bias affects everyone, including esteemed researchers.
There’s no shame in giving up on meditation if it does not make you feel well.
Some people tend to feel somehow “forced” to meditate since mindfulness is so mainstream now, with so many books, articles and people talking about it. Some people even stick with meditation even not feeling well, as if they are not feeling well while meditating because they are doing something wrong and they should meditate even more to finally get better. No one should force herself to meditate if doing so increases suffering instead of reducing it, which is one of buddhism’s main objectives. In fact, we should not forget that there are many paths to well-being like exercising or conducting other behavioral therapies.
So, should we meditate or not?
Overall, I still feel like meditation is an invaluable tool to be connected with yourself, see the impermanent nature of emotions and thoughts and create space between stimulus and reaction. in other words, when something difficult arises, you don’t take action that creates more harm but can choose a wise (non)action. Again, as the comprehensive meta-analysis made by Madhav Goyal and others, there are proven beneficial effects one can get from meditation.
My recommendation is to start meditating under the guidance of an experienced meditator or teacher. If you had any prior mental condition such as depression, trauma or PTSD, please avoid unsupervised meditation and look for some well-known meditation teacher or therapist to guide you. If you want to give a try on one of the meditation apps, start with around 10 minutes a day and keep practicing only if you are still feeling well. Remember: meditation is not a panacea and is not indicated for everyone.
I moved to America at the end of 2014 to pursue happiness, not just for me but mostly for my family. Since 2003 I’ve been seeing someone I don’t support being elected for presidency in Brazil. In fact, I just realized that in my whole life just twice I voted for someone that got elected president. Being so different from the majority of the population is something hard to cope with.
My wife and I decided to leave Brazil as, after over a decade of bad policies in all areas we realized that things were not changing at a pace that could justify us to stay. Since we were kids we were “thought” that Brazil was the country of the future, like a sleeping giant that one day would wake up for its grandiosity. We thought that in 2012 that future was finally happening. Brazil’s GDP grew by over 7% that year, 30 million people got out of poverty as the country had a massive influx of people in the workforce and was surfing the wave of commodities, plus a massive oil reserve was found. The international recognition came as Brazil was picked to be the host of two major global events (summer Olympics and Soccer World Cup). The Economist cover featured the Christ Redeemer statue flying as a rocket. But a mere couple of years later the rocket was landing forcefully and everyone was bracing for impact.
This frustration proved to be too hard for me and my wife and we concluded that Brazil would never progress at a pace that anyone of my family could ever benefit from. As my great grandfather did while moving from Italy to Brazil back in the early nineteen hundreds, I realized I have one life to live and I don’t want to waste it in a country where people don’t agree with the way I think and don’t appreciate my contributions. I’m tired to do my best and see that it’s never enough to make a change. I voted, I paid huge taxes, all for nothing. I want to offer a brighter future to my kids and an environment where they can prosper and be free to pursue their passions and dreams. That’s my duty as a responsible parent.
Don’t get me wrong. I miss Brazil, I miss my friends and the stuff I know and I’m comfortable with. It’s sad that my Brazilian culture will not be fully passed on to my kids and will die with me. My references are different from yours. You know that joke you’ve been hearing since you were a kid? My jokes are all from the TV shows, folklore, lullabies I was exposed to when I was little in Brazil. My sense of humor is quite different from yours and I start seeing this with my daughters and their jokes. They are absorbing America’s culture and will have a different background than mine. Hopefully, I’ll be able to inject a bit of Brazilian influence but even the Portuguese language they are starting to lose.
As people who adopt children, my love for America wasn’t inherited – I picked America because I wanted to. Even though I’m also European and could move to Europe I believe in the American Dream. Despite all the difficulties, America is the place my wife and I chose to work, prosper, raise our kids. Is the place we want to get old and die. We had and have other opportunities but we left our comfort zone and moved to America because we believe this is the best place to live.
Have been experiencing frustration with presidential elections for almost all my life, I want to calm down my friends that are worried about Trump’s election. Guys, America is the best place on earth – has solid institutions, bright minds and an ever-boosting economy. America is much bigger than any person that may take the office. We will thrive. Always. We might zig-zag a bit but I truly believe we will always move forward.
My friends didn’t expect that Hillary wouldn’t be elected. Here in San Francisco Bay Are where I live, almost everyone is Democrat, supported Hillary and criticized Trump’s lack of concrete program and his personal behavior towards women and minorities.
That being said, even though almost all the media and all polls also didn’t anticipate Trump’s victory, I still think the surprise my friends felt was amplified by Facebook. Facebook’s immense scale makes us think that our activities inside its platform replicate our real lives but in reality, our virtual relations are dictated by how Facebook works.
You see, we all tend to live and have relationships with people that think like us. That’s why, if we can, we move to a neighborhood or city where we feel comfortable living close to people that are also like us. This is a conscious decision we make. In Facebook, we know that we invite friends to be part of our network and the posts they write are theirs. Again, most of our friends think like us so we see posts that in general share our own beliefs.
However, Facebook morphed to become a news aggregator and after a while, our news feeds started to show all sorts of, er, news and supposedly unbiased content. So if I liked the New York Times or Techcrunch, I can see in my news feed posts these outlets write about their articles. However, on a daily basis, I also find several posts citing articles from dubious sources being liked and shared by people the same way articles from reputable outlets. Plus, advertisers can target me as an audience that likes Techcrunch to sponsor a post about anything they want. Facebook then push these dubious articles as they generate engagement and or revenue. And the cycle goes on with people believing in stories without giving any thought on its veracity.
Political campaigns explore this Facebook flaw. As people don’t want and don’t care to fact check what candidates claim, we have all sorts of untrue, biased and dubious content being shared and propagated within Facebook. People that want to believe or already do believe in what is being shared get their beliefs reaffirmed. We pick friends that are trustworthy and thus we trust what they write and talk about. Facebook’s eager to generate engagement can cause us to mistakenly think that what is presented in our news feed is also trustworthy content, endorsed by our friends and mixed with content our friends write themselves.
Another problem with Facebook is that we believe we are discussing politics by writing a post and getting likes from our friends. Sorry to inform you that Facebook was never made to foster political discussions but, again, to generate post engagements and revenue (with engagement they can sell more ads).
I saw in Brazilian’s last presidential elections the same behavior I just saw again in ours. I couldn’t find a single Facebook post with contrarian view compared to mine. With the exception of my sister who has opposite political views in Brazil and a close friend here, all Facebook posts in my news feed were containing comments that I somehow already agreed with. My sister’s newsfeed was totally different, though: all she saw were posts from friends and media outlets she agrees with.
As a result, Facebook’s algorithm is creating polarizing echo-chambers. We believe we’re talking politics on Facebook but the truth is that we just engage with people that already share our current political views. By liking and getting likes on posts with our beliefs we just reinforce what we think. We now believe that everyone we know thinks like us and when we meet anyone that thinks differently it becomes an unpleasant surprise. In our minds, as so many people think like us that it’s not possible that we could be wrong. We are not prepared to discuss with people with contrarian views anymore. We don’t respect contrarian views anymore. We’re all becoming radicals and Facebook is partially responsible for that.
It’s time for us to wake up. We need to have a better place to discuss politics than Facebook. We need to appreciate the contrarian view and understand that people usually act in good faith and share the same end goal as us. We need to agree that although we might have different views, we all look for a brighter future. We need to find a way to listen to the other side independently from Facebook likes. Ultimately, we need to respect each other’s point of view, even if we disagree. As someone who moved to America to pursue happiness, I still believe that respect and honesty are inherent qualities of the American people. I hope with Trump we don’t become more radicals and we can coexist with different opinions. I hope to have made a good choice moving to America.