Now consider addiction by design. What is not understood about modern slot machines – certainly not by the UK’s Labour party, which recently tried to spark a moral panic on the subject – is that they do not try to drain your money away quickly. They do so slowly, by maximising “time on device”. The machines are cheap to run: what is the hurry? Machine gamers do not even play to win: they play to play. The aim of the machine is to deliver constant reinforcement – for instance, the “false win”, where a player is treated to fanfares and flashing lights after betting $3 and winning 60 cents.
Here, the natural analogy is with Facebook, Twitter and Google. These companies, ultimately, are selling one thing: our attention. Nothing about Facebook makes sense until you view it as a well-honed system for persuading you to check Facebook one more time.