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In a near future-tech scenario, mankind is plagued by rampant technology addiction to the point the point that it begins to threaten the overall stability of society. Tech companies have become more influential than many governing bodies to the point that no one really has the authority to meaningfully curb the trend of tech companies introducing more and more addictive patterns into their software design to maximize their market share of ad space/screen time. After many failed attempts to challenge the tech companies in courts (thanks to their incredible ability to manipulate public image), one government decides to side-step the problem by genetically enhancing its citizens to be more resistant to the addictive properties of false reward systems so that their citizens can continue to live normal healthy lives alongside their technology usage.

This civilization already genetically modifies its citizens to weed out many genetic disorders, but this is their first time doing a broad spectrum psychological modification; so, you can assume that apart from this change that humans act and think more or less like they do now.


Scope of Technology Addiction to Address

For context, technology addiction is a real world phenomenon that happens when a technology interface is designed to exploit the reward mechanisms of the human psyche. For purposes of this question I will be focusing on technologies that are designed to give false/intangible rewards that cause humans to believe we have been rewarded for a behavior without actually receiving any benefit.

Video Game Addiction

a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

~ World Health Organization

This can include any gamified system that use points, badges, mood inducing sound effects and colors, or objectives to exploit the same reward systems that video games exploit. So, things like stack exchange could be included in this category even though they are not technically a "video game".

Social Media Addiction

Social media addiction is a behavioral addiction that is characterized as being overly concerned about social media, driven by an uncontrollable urge to log on to or use social media, and devoting so much time and effort to social media that it impairs other important life areas.

SEE: https://www.addictioncenter.com/drugs/social-media-addiction/

This can include any system that exploits the human need to feel relevant and approved by others; so, things like Blogging, Product review systems, etc. could fall into this category too.

Kinds of Technology Addiction that this does not apply to:

  • Merchant Reward Point Systems: Cash Back rewards, Discount Plans, Sale incentives, etc. produce real world rewards.
  • Risk Reward Systems: Online gambling, trading, auctioning, etc. Since these can potentially produce real world rewards.
  • Compulsive Information Seeking: The acquisition of real world knowledge would be considered a tangible reward in this context.
  • Technology Reliance: Systems that make your life meaningfully easier produce real world rewards.
  • Any form of Technology Addiction that only affect persons with pre-existing OCD.
  • Cybersex Addiction: ...a real orgasm is a real orgasm...

How much power do the Tech Companies Have?

Nearly the Nation's entire technology stack funnels through a trust of private tech giants. So, while the government on paper has the money and authority to launch social programs that might oppose them, it's very easy for the tech giants to subvert these programs if they don't line up with their goals. Politicians can't purchase campaign ads that go against the trust, and they can not meaningfully compete with private tech companies when it comes to distributing information to the public. About 80-90% of people trust their social media platforms more than they trust their government, completely unaware that their social media feeds are curated by algorithms designed to subvert anti-tech-trust agendas; however, most people who work in politics are at least generally aware of the problem.

The government also can not risk forcefully dissolving these companies. Even the threat to do so would causes nationwide riots.

The only tech industries the government can meaningfully control are those that have nothing to do with the distribution of information, such as the Genetic Augmentation industry.


[Science-Based] Answers based on things like Systematic Desensitization (Psychology) or Dopamine reuptake (Neurochemistry) are good. I am not looking for something vague like "when A happens people do B instead of C".

The best answer will be one that can effectively mitigate false reward based technology addiction while creating the least negative behavioral changes in regards to real world motivation systems.

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  • $\begingroup$ Does it have to be genetic therapy? Genes related to addictions are the very same genes that are associated with the emotional sphere and various cognitive processes. Modification of those genes is very likely to result in other behavioural changes. $\endgroup$ – Otkin Sep 16 at 17:16
  • $\begingroup$ It would be tough. You see, many real life domains like education and career development include "points" and "badges" to reward performance. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 16 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ @Otkin Yes, and that is why I am looking for "least negative behavioral changes", not no behavior changes at all. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Sep 16 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander Yes, I expect my society will need some of that restructured to appeal to different reward systems. So a person may no longer be motivated by getting an "A" on a test, but if their allowance or some other tangible reward is tied to their grade, then ideally it should still motivate them. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Sep 16 at 17:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki If we go that route, we have to reduce people's ability to understand symbolism and do abstract thinking. For a modern person, \$1 in a bank account (symbol) is almost as valuable as \$1 banknote (another symbol) and \$1 silver coin (has intrinsic value). If we reduce reliance on symbols, people would distrust banks and paper money and start hoarding coins. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Sep 16 at 18:04
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If you want to make people insensitive to technology addiction, you probably need to break the reward loop that you mention, and thus make people insensitive to the molecules triggering that mechanism, modifying the steric configuration of either the receptors or the molecules.

The problem with this approach is that the reward mechanism is a key element for learning: you eat a ripe fruit, the positive sensation is greater than the one you get when eating an unripe fruit, next time you will eat a ripe fruit.

Without the learning it will be difficult to grow a toddler into something resembling a functional adult in the way we intend it for a human being, or even an animal. At the very end even an earthworm or a slug seeks gratification (food, shelter) and escapes unpleasant actions.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps diminishing rewards as you grow into an adult? I mean, life gets much less fun when you have to pay bills anyway... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 17 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs That sounds like it's just going to encourage more and more reckless, stimulation-seeking behavior, like how people who develop a tolerance for a drug start taking more of it. People tend to be grumpy when their rewards are taken away from them. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Sep 17 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence I was envisaging more of a gradual descent into a dull, repetitive existence where rewards are meaningless and the race for some modicum of security and status consumes every moment... Wait.. At some point there I just started talking about adult life... $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Sep 17 at 15:32

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