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The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions

·943 words·

I recently watched this talk from the GOTO conferences and really enjoyed it.

Here is a summary and my general opinion on it.

The speaker is Fabio Pereira , author of Digital Nudge . He says he is a Digital Behavioural Economist — a digital nudger.

My goal is to help people make better decisions while designing and living in the digital world. —

He starts by raising the audience’s awareness to the vast number of choices we make each day and how many of those choices are nowadays influenced by the digital services we use.

When we do a Google search to aid our decision making does the Google algorithm influence our choices?

Fabio then goes into a series of examples of cognitive biases .

The one that stood out the most for me was the status quo bias. The tendency to like things to stay relatively the same. We are lazy. We keep the default choices. As an example, countries where you have to opt out of being an organ donor have a higher percentage of the population registered as donors .

Our actions aren’t always fully intentional. This can be exploited to coerce us to do things we would not do if we really thought about it.

There is a great book that Fabio references in the talk in which a theory of mind is presented. This theory is that we have two brains or in the book’s nomenclature, two systems.

  • System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control.
  • System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

I haven’t finished this book but I believe it to be a great model of our brains and it shines some light about how we make our choices.

When you’re scrolling through your Facebook feed is your System 2 engaged or just the System 1?

There is an obvious need for the general public to know these things. Once you’re aware of them you are not so easily manipulated. There is a new type of intelligence needed to navigate the digital space in this century. Digital intelligence. We need to improve our digital IQ .

Fabio also makes the distinction between persuasion and coercion before going into the ethics of digital services.

  • Persuasion — getting people to do things they want or need to do
  • Coercion — getting people to do things they do not want or do not need to do

He says that we need to help people to do things that they want and need to do and because of that he started the movement #DigitalNudges4Good .

Up to this point I agreed with him almost absolutely. I only wanted to make two points:

  1. It’s sometimes hard to know what people need to do. We are limited in our knowledge and cannot always predict the full outcome of our actions.
  2. Sometimes people want to do things that are not good for them. They might think so but they can be wrong. There is a need to discuss here who decides what is good.

After a couple of minutes the talk ended and it was very good overall. Then something happened that blew my mind.

I seldom listen to the QA session after the talks but this time I kept watching. There was a question. Never mind the question and answer, it’s all about the introduction:

What I believe in, and it’s always a belief…we believe in something. There is no such thing as real truth because we don’t even know if we are in Berlin, if this is reality.

I mean.. it’s just nonsense…

There is no such thing as real truth? Is that really true or not? Let’s think about this statement. There is only two possibilities:

  • If it is true, then there is no such thing as real truth and so the statement is false
  • If it is false, then there is such thing as real truth and so the statement is false

Either way it’s false. Real truth exists. I have three questions:

  1. Where did he get the idea that is no such thing as real truth? People that promote the idea that truth does not exist are either not very intelligent, didn’t really think about it or are actively promoting a lie. The lie that all is relative.
  2. Why did he believe it? I mean… he seems to be a smart dude. Much more eloquent than me…
  3. What are the consequences of believing this lie?

I cannot answer to 1 and can only speculate about 2, but I can say something about 3.

If it’s all relative then enabling people to do what they want to do — persuasion in his definition — is always a good thing. At least to the one being persuaded. If his perception of reality is all that is, then persuading him to do what he wants he will be the best thing to do. In another way it does not make any sense to believe that everything is relative and then try to convince everyone to be ethical on the services they provide online. Why should I not use dark patterns to have more conversions on my service? Is it true that doing so is bad? Says who?

I want to write about truth — why not everything is relative, how to find what’s true and what are the consequences of believing that there is no such thing as real truth. Maybe in Portuguese next time…