“The platforms” should help us “self-regulate”, says a specialist

“The platforms” help us “self-regulate” in our use of the mobile phone, explained Dominique Boullier, professor of sociology at Sciences Po-Paris, on franceinfo on Sunday, February 7. The digital specialist, author of How to get out of the grip of social networks (Le Passeur editions), reacted on the occasion of the world day without mobile phone.

franceinfo: Are we all really addicted to our cell phones?

Dominique Boullier: When we remember that at one time we still thought of the cell phone as a telephone, that time now seems very, very far away. That is to say, we do a lot of things with our phone, but which is in reality a multifunction tool, now including activities to pay, to access, etc. Everything we have in our wallet, for example, ends up being in the phone. So we understand that we have a fairly frequent use. But when we are especially worried about our possible addiction, it is not so much about these functions, but it is mainly about the rhythm of conversations, relationships, networking and the fact that our attention is without stopping requested with the applications that it is used. This is especially what we highlight. And so, all of these things are ways of tightly pairing us to a device. It is very difficult to part with it, even when we are in bed, it must be close to hand, almost. These are things that show that we have been transferred. I say, me, that we are a mutant species: humans with phones.

Do you think this mutation is harmful?

We can see that there are functions, as I said, which can be more general, which are quite useful. And then, we can see that there is also a way of designing applications by social networks mainly, but not only, by platforms in general, which are not necessarily what we would have liked, and which are in particular oriented by the fact that they are remunerated by advertising. Being paid by advertising, they need to create a network activity and make us react. And these platforms are going to be condemned, I was going to say, almost, by their algorithms, to provoke us and to ensure that we favor everything that is a little new, what is called the novelty score and that will get our attention. There, it starts to be negative because it captures our attention and above all it chops our attention, that’s the difference. It’s not just volume, it’s not just duration, it’s also rhythm. This rhythm, when it invades all our mental space, it becomes difficult to survive in this environment. Individually, but also collectively.

The telephone is a great tool for us. But we also now know that it is a tool for operators, for manufacturers, for sellers, the tool that allows us to know everything about us. We use the smartphone, but the smartphone uses us.

It is true that this is one of the paradoxes of this coupling with this tool. We could say that ultimately, we end up inhabiting the mobile. If you want, it becomes something where you should feel at home. In reality, not at all. We are always with others, in this case the platforms. Indeed, we capture the traces and we recover all the behavioral elements that will allow us to analyze, anticipate, make predictions, as we say, and which will also allow us to make micro-targeted advertising placements.

“It’s a drift that was not really necessary in the digital system in general, or even in the phone or in the smartphone version. Now it’s very difficult to get out of it.”

Dominique boullier

to franceinfo

That said, we are starting to realize that we will have to take control of this again, regulate all of this because we cannot allow our data, our traces, to be exploited in the way they are currently.

Hence the interest in cutting yourself off from these machines from time to time. One day, why not. But if I follow you, it is especially on a daily basis, during the other 364 days, that you have to try to control yourself.

It’s a good exercise, a day without, it shows that we are still able to do without. But the idea would be rather to have every day with less phone. You have to be able to regulate yourself. It’s a collective affair too, because if you have a friend bombarding you with text messages or messages or Facebook posts, obviously you tend to have to react. And then, you have a hard time saying no to him. But in reality, the platforms, the interfaces, the way we interact with all of this should also be really designed to tell us ‘self-regulate, we will help you do it’. However, we can see that this is not at all in their interest. We can imagine a design that allows you to be alert to the fact that we have sent too many messages, that we react too quickly, etc. What Twitter does when it says, for example, that you should still read your tweet before retweeting it. Because that’s what’s happening now: 60% of those who retweet haven’t read the tweet they are retweeting. You can see what is at stake: platforms could help regulate all this more. But this is not the case. It is not necessarily really their interest, in their economic model.

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