As an Englishman, I found this full-beam enthusiasm a little disconcerting at first, but after a while, I learned to appreciate it, just as Europeans who move to California eventually cease missing the seasons and become addicted to sunshine.
Besides, Fogg was likeable. His toothy grin and nasal delivery made him endearingly nerdy. In , during his final year as a doctoral student, Fogg spoke at a conference in Atlanta on the topic of how computers might be used to influence the behaviour of their users. Yet technologists were still focused on the machines they were making rather than on the humans using those machines. What, asked Fogg, if we could design educational software that persuaded students to study for longer or a financial-management programme that encouraged users to save more?
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Answering such questions, he argued, required the application of insights from psychology. Fogg presented the results of a simple experiment he had run at Stanford, which showed that people spent longer on a task if they were working on a computer which they felt had previously been helpful to them. The experiment was significant, said Fogg, not so much for its specific finding as for what it implied: that computer applications could be methodically designed to exploit the rules of psychology in order to get people to do things they might not otherwise do.
Captology later became behaviour design, which is now embedded into the invisible operating system of our everyday lives.
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The emails that induce you to buy right away, the apps and games that rivet your attention, the online forms that nudge you towards one decision over another: all are designed to hack the human brain and capitalise on its instincts, quirks and flaws. The techniques they use are often crude and blatantly manipulative, but they are getting steadily more refined, and, as they do so, less noticeable. It could be worth billions of dollars.
The second group has certainly been proved right. Numerous Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and engineers have passed through his laboratory at Stanford, and some have made themselves wealthy. Fogg himself has not made millions of dollars from his insights. He stayed at Stanford, and now does little commercial work. He is increasingly troubled by the thought that those who told him his ideas were dangerous may have been on to something.
A t the workshop , Fogg explained the building blocks of his theory of behaviour change. The person must want to do it, they must be able to, and they must be prompted to do it. A trigger — the prompt for the action — is effective only when the person is highly motivated, or the task is very easy. Talking to its users, he discovered that parents, who really wanted it to work, found it tricky to navigate — they were frustrated. Parents would get over the action line if the program was made simpler to use; children if it felt like a game instead of a lesson.
Frustration, says Fogg, is usually more fixable than annoyance. When we want people to do something our first instinct is usually to try to increase their motivation — to persuade them.
Revisiting the Fogg Museum
Sometimes this works, but more often than not the best route is to make the behaviour easier. The bank advertises the quality of its current account instead of reducing the number of clicks required to open one. Your motivation is high, because the last episode has left you eager to know what will happen and you are mentally immersed in the world of the show. The level of difficulty is reduced to zero. Actually, less than zero: it is harder to stop than to carry on. After my first Uber, I never even thought of getting around Palo Alto any other way.
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This, says, Fogg, is how brands should design for habits. The more immediate and intense a rush of emotion a person feels the first time they use something, the more likely they are to make it an automatic choice. Such upfront deliveries of dopamine bond users to products. Consider the way Instagram lets you try 12 different filters on your picture, says Fogg. But the real transaction is emotional: before you even post anything, you get to feel like an artist. Fogg took ambivalent satisfaction from the example of Instagram, since he felt distantly responsible for it and perhaps distantly guilty.
One of the two students, Mike Krieger, went on to co-found Instagram, where over m users now share sunrises, sunsets and selfies. Fogg built his theory in the years before social media conquered the world. Facebook, Instagram and others have raised behaviour design to levels of sophistication he could hardly have envisaged.
Social-media apps plumb one of our deepest wells of motivation. The human brain releases pleasurable, habit-forming chemicals in response to social interactions, even to mere simulacra of them, and the hottest triggers are other people: you and your friends or followers are constantly prompting each other to use the service for longer. Fogg introduced me to one of his former students, Noelle Moseley, who now consults for technology companies.
She told me that she had recently interviewed heavy users of Instagram: young women who cultivated different personas on different social networks. Their aim was to get as many followers as possible — that was their definition of success. Every new follow and every comment delivered an emotional hit. Fogg comes from a Mormon family, which has endowed him with his bulletproof geniality and also with a strong need to believe that his work is making the world a better place. The only times during our conversations when his tone darkened were when he considered the misuse of his ideas in the commercial sphere.
He worries that companies like Instagram and Facebook are using behaviour design merely to keep consumers in thrall to them. W hen B. Skinner performed further experiments with his box, he discovered that if the rat got the same reward each time, it pulled the lever only when it was hungry.
The way to maximise the number of times the rat pulled the lever was to vary the rewards it received. It became psychologically hooked. Something heavy dragged along the ground. A thin scream. Her red cloak—red as blood, red as fire, flaring like a torch—protects her. My mother stayed up all night, cooking and baking. Dumplings stuffed with potatoes and cheese. A stew of braised pork and prunes. Roast chicken. Two loaves of bread, golden and crusty. She packed it all in the basket, along with honey and butter and jars of peach preserves bright as the sun.
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Poor Grandma. Grandma all alone in the woods.
Grandma who makes my mother cry. My mother pleads on the phone, sitting slumped on the floor against the kitchen wall. Nothing but growls on the other end. My mother silent, winding a curl of her hair around her index finger as she listens. She twists that curl tighter and tighter, until her finger goes white. My mother slamming doors and drawers.