Paul Graham: crack, meth, internet and Facebook

Original author: Paul Graham
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Acceleration of Addictiveness

What combines alcohol, cigarettes, heroin and crack? That they are all a more concentrated form of their predecessors, which are less addictive. Most of the things (if not all) that we describe as addictive are. The worst thing is that the process of their creation is accelerating.


We would not want to stop him. This is the same process that cures diseases: scientific and technological progress. Technological means of progress allow things to work better than we want. If some new technology makes solar panels x% more efficient, we are strongly convinced that these batteries are better.

When progress is concentrated on something that we don’t want — when it turns opium into heroin — it seems bad to us. But this is the same process. [1]

No one doubts that this process is accelerating, which means that the number of things that will turn into something that we don’t really like will increase. [2]

As far as I know, there is no word that would mean that we like something too much. The closest in meaning is the word addictive (from the English. Addictive - addictive). They began to use it quite often. And this is understandable: a huge number of things have appeared that fit this definition. At the extreme end of the spectrum are crack and meth. By combining agriculture and innovation in the food industry, food has been transformed into something much more profitable and you can see the result in any American city. Checkers and solitaire have been replaced by the world of Warcraft and FarmVille. Television has become much more interesting, but even despite this, it can not compete with Facebook.

The world has become more addictive than 40 years ago. And if the forms of technological progress that produce these things do not obey other laws, the world will become even more dependent in the next 40 years.

Translation: Diana Sheremyeva
Translation support is Edison (which develops online gaming platforms and a software SMPP gateway ).

The next 40 years will give us many wonderful things. I do not urge you to avoid everything. Alcohol is a dangerous drug, but I would rather live in a world in which there is wine than in a world in which there is none. Most people can coexist with alcohol, you just need to be careful. The more things that we like, the more caution is needed.

But not all people will abide by it unfortunately. When the world becomes more addictive, the concept of “living a normal life” becomes different for everyone. For some, the norm is the so-called static norm: what everyone does. For others, the norm is what works best.

These two views are very far apart. Anyone who is already trying to live well will seem to us eccentricly restrained. This phenomenon is increasingly being made public. Now, if people do not think that you are strange, then you live poorly.

Society eventually developed antibodies to addictive things. I saw what happened with cigarettes. When cigarettes first appeared, they spread like an infectious disease. Smoking incredibly fast (according to statistics) has become the norm. There were ashtrays everywhere. When I was a child, there were ashtrays in our house, despite the fact that my parents did not smoke. Ashtrays stood for guests.

When information about the dangers of smoking spread, customs changed. In the past 20 years, smoking has been turning from something that seemed completely normal into a rather dubious habit: from something that movie stars did in public, now is done behind closed doors in small drug addicts. All these changes occurred thanks to the law, of course, but nothing would have happened if habits had not changed at first.

However, this took time - about a hundred years. And if only the speed with which society develops a kind of immunity to addictive things does not exceed the speed with which technological progress creates them, it will not be possible to rely only on habits that protect us. [3]

If we do not want to be held hostage to each new addiction - people whose sad examples become lessons for future generations - we need to figure out what to avoid and how. As a result, a reasonable strategy will be developed to consider everything new as potentially dangerous. But in fact, even this will not be enough. We need to worry not only about new things, but also that existing ones can become more addictive. This is what oppresses me. I avoided most of the dependencies, but Internet addiction overtook me in the process of using it. [4]

Most of my friends have internet addiction problems. We are all trying to develop special habits that would allow us to free ourselves from it. For this reason, for example, I do not have an iPhone; the last thing I want is for the internet to accompany me everywhere. [5]

One of my last tricks is long hikes. I used to think that running is better than hiking because it takes less time. Now the duration of the trips seems to me an advantage, because the more time I spend on the track, the longer I think without a break.

Sounds pretty eccentric, right? It always happens when you try to solve your problems, but you still do not have habits that would guide you. Perhaps I cannot consider myself Occam's razor; maybe I'm just an eccentric. But if I am right about accelerating addiction, then such a fate awaits everyone who will struggle with their addictions. We are all more determined by what we say no.


[1] Could you limit technological progress in the desired areas? Only in a limited form, without turning into a police state. And even then, your restrictions will have unwanted side effects. “Good” and “bad” technological progress are inextricably linked with each other and you cannot slow down one without affecting the other. And in any case, as the “war on drugs” shows, prohibitions often do more harm than good.

[2] Technology is constantly accelerating. By the standards of the Paleolithic, technology is evolving rapidly in the Neolithic era.

[3] Unless we are producing social habits. I suspect that the recent revival of evangelical Christianity in the US is partly a reaction to drugs. In desperation, people are drawn to a sledgehammer: if the children do not listen to their parents, maybe they will listen to God. But this decision has wider implications than you can imagine. Children will say “no” not only to drugs, but also to science. I'm afraid we are approaching a future in which only a few will be able to build their own itinerary, while the rest will order a tour package. Or even worse, the government will book vouchers for them.

[4] People commonly use the word procrastination to describe what they do online. It seems to me that this description is too soft. In fact, you just do not work. When someone gets drunk instead of working, we don’t call it procrastination.

[5] Many people have told me that they like the iPad because it allows them to use the Internet in situations where the laptop is very conspicuous.

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