Paul Graham has a interesting little missive over on his website on the increasing trend toward addictiveness in our society:
I don’t think it is bad as far as it goes, but I wonder why he didn’t ask what I thought was the obvious question: “why are things becoming more addicting?”
Let’s consider what we eat as an example. Hardly a day goes by when you can’t find a story about the obesity epidemic that is going on here in the United States. We’re getting fatter, and we are having fatter kids. And everyone is asking why this should be happening.
I think the answer is really quite simple: we are addicted to food. Well, not food precisely, but to things that we eat which sort of vaguely resemble food, but are engineered to be addicting.
No doubt some of you are tsk-tsking. You’ll probably post a comment which says that what we eat is a personal choice, that we have control, and that we simply don’t exercise enough and that we eat the wrong things. You probably will also look at the people you know who still smoke, and wonder why they simply don’t quit.
I’m going to say that while you are right in a sense (nobody can get you to quit except you) but you are wrong in that it is simple or easy. Nobody really likes to be overweight, if it were easy to avoid being so, they would. If you examine the rate at which people successfully lose weight and keep the weight off, you’d find it was vanishingly small. In that respect, it seems very similar to drug and alcohol addiction. The actual effectiveness of even well accepted treatment options like AA is near zero, if not actually negative. But that’s another posting…
If there is an acceleration in addictiveness, it seems to me that there is an increase in the number of suppliers of these addictive products. Let’s call them what they really are: pushers. Pushers are willing to sell products to consumers which aren’t really good for them. They are eager to reduce the cost of their product, to increase its availability, and to increase their potency. They may not start selling addictive products intentionally, but let’s face it: it’s much easier to sell products to addicts than to people who can take or leave your product.
Pushers will tell you that they are just filling a demand, and that their consumers are adults who are responsible for their own choices. At best this is denial. At worse, it’s just a lie that attempts to shift responsibility to the addict.
It astonishes me that there are still people farming tobacco and making cigarrettes. Not because it should be illegal, but because it takes an inhuman lack of respect for others to profit from selling them products which are so dangerous. I’ve begun to feel the same way about many packaged food producers and fast food purveyors, who carefully market “food” which is sadly nutritionally deficient and which maximizes the use of things like HFCS and processed white flour to reduce costs and to unnaturally manipulate appetite. And perhaps we should begin to consider companies like Facebook to be in this realm as well: they are using games and social interaction as an enticement to reveal much of your private information, and this only works if they can entice you to return again and again.
If we are concerned about our increasingly addictive, impatient, immediate gratification based society, perhaps we should all be asking ourselves whether we are becoming pushers: purveyors of behaviours which are ultimately bad for us. If we are, perhaps we should consider forgoing the profits that dealing addiction can reap, and figure out how to apply our effort and ingenuity in more productive directions.