He explained that when Facebook was being developed the objective was: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?” It was this mindset that led to the creation of features such as the “like” button that would give users “a little dopamine hit” to encourage them to upload more content.
“It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.”
Parker is not the only Silicon Valley entrepreneur to express regret over the technologies he helped to develop. The former Googler Tristan Harris is one of several techies interviewed by the Guardian in October to criticize the industry.
“All of us are jacked into this system,” he said. “All of our minds can be hijacked. Our choices are not as free as we think they are.”
Social media companies are deliberately addicting users to their products for financial gain, Silicon Valley insiders have told the BBC’s Panorama programme.
“It’s as if they’re taking behavioural cocaine and just sprinkling it all over your interface and that’s the thing that keeps you like coming back and back and back”, said former Mozilla and Jawbone employee Aza Raskin.
“Behind every screen on your phone, there are generally like literally a thousand engineers that have worked on this thing to try to make it maximally addicting” he added.
In 2006 Mr Raskin, a leading technology engineer himself, designed infinite scroll, one of the features of many apps that is now seen as highly habit forming. At the time, he was working for Humanized – a computer user-interface consultancy.
Infinite scroll allows users to endlessly swipe down through content without clicking.
“If you don’t give your brain time to catch up with your impulses,” Mr Raskin said, “you just keep scrolling.”
He said the innovation kept users looking at their phones far longer than necessary.
Mr Raskin said he had not set out to addict people and now felt guilty about it.
But, he said, many designers were driven to create addictive app features by the business models of the big companies that employed them.
“In order to get the next round of funding, in order to get your stock price up, the amount of time that people spend on your app has to go up,” he said.
“So, when you put that much pressure on that one number, you’re going to start trying to invent new ways of getting people to stay hooked.”