YouTube and other social media are fine-tuned to 'hack our attention stream,' tech investor says

Erin Fuchs
Deputy Managing Editor

Betaworks Ventures founder John Borthwick has gotten tech companies like Giphy, bitly, and even Twitter (TWTR) off the ground, but that doesn’t mean he can’t see the major drawbacks and dangers of technology.

In a newly released interview with Yahoo Finance, Borthwick commented on the “addictive nature” of social media services in particular. For instance, he said, his son can’t even have Google’s (GOOGGOOGL) YouTube open in his web browser when he’s trying to do work on his computer.

“It's like having a bowl of ice-cream next to me ... I keep knowing the bowl of ice-cream is there,” Borthwick recalled his son saying. “And I'm just going to take a bite.”

Borthwick, whose fund has backed more than 150 companies, suggested that YouTube is not the only social media service designed to pull in a user and refuse to let go.

John Borthwick talks to Yahoo Finance's Andy Serwer.

“It's the addictive nature. And it's also the constant temptation ... These services have been fine-tuned to hack our attention stream, and to try and get in there, and try and say, ‘Hey, you need me now,’” Borthwick said, snapping his fingers.

Borthwick made the comments as part of an interview with Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on an episode of “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.

‘I’m going to close that browser down’

The early-stage venture capital funder is hardly the first person in the tech industry to comment on the addictive nature of certain tech products. Early Facebook (FB) investor Sean Parker told Axios back in 2017 that the social network was designed to “consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.”

Salesforce (CRM) CEO Marc Benioff even went as far as to liken Facebook to cigarettes last year. Some big tech companies like Google and Apple (AAPL) have responded to criticism like this by introducing so-called digital well-being features that supposedly make their products less habit-forming.

Apple, for example, introduced a digital health feature last year that delivers users weekly reports about their iPhone use, among other features.

For his part, Borthwick suggested consumers need to take their digital health into their own hands. “I think part of that's about just you, as a person, and being able to say, ‘I'm going to close that browser down, I'm going to set my notifications,’” he said. “‘I'm going to manage my life in a way that actually prioritizes what I want to do and how I want to interact with people.’”

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Erin Fuchs is deputy managing editor at Yahoo Finance.

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