By basing Bitcoin design around self determination versus game mechanics, we lean in to and encourage more naturally-rich learning and creative experiences.
“Biomimicry is innovation inspired by nature. In a society accustomed to dominating or ‘improving’ nature, this respectful imitation is a radically new approach, a revolution really. Unlike the Industrial Revolution, the Biomimicry Revolution introduces an era based not on what we can extract from nature, but on what we can learn from her.” — Janine Benyus
Where we are headed appears more complicated than perhaps understanding how we got here. Because history is our teacher and can inform how we choose to cocreate our future, we must pay homage to our past. The early web was about connecting machines to machines, and the early digital engineers in social media and gaming realized they needed a machine-to-human design prototype, one which interfaced their digital constraints with human engagement. Given their industrial-era legacy thinking and proclivity toward skeuomorphism (overlaying an old design on top of a new technology), this new interface inevitably needed to somehow involve the measurement of user behavioral outcomes to “validate” what they constructed. But how?
The mid-1900s, psychologist B. F. Skinner’s behaviorist theory of “operant conditioning” came to their rescue. This methodology of psychological behavioral conditioning provided an almost seamless fit with their digital limitations. The engineers’ binary computations could now integrate behaviorist operant conditioning as the basis of a machine-human interface, and human behavioral outcomes could be designed to be objectively measurable. A huge advantage further accrued when the engineers and company management soon learned that the thinking and behavioral outcomes among huge swaths of populations could be manipulated and “managed” as well. However, this was not without repercussions. We now see Facebook and other social media companies hauled into congressional hearings answering for their engagement design and its widespread social and behavioral manipulation. Meanwhile, billion-dollar, class-action lawsuits have been filed against gaming companies claiming “addictive design.” I submit that we need to deeply question whether this centralized digital design for mental and behavioral manipulation, or something similar, is what we want overlaid on the new decentralized Bitcoin protocol.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” — Peter Drucker (business management guru)
Simply stated, B. F. Skinner’s “operant conditioning” is a method of rewards and punishments used to modify behaviors (aka, behavior modification) by “programming” for desired behaviors using exogenous reward incentives and reinforcements. It’s basically a well-crafted way to psychologically “bribe” the user with extrinsic incentives for desired behavioral outcomes. While behavior modification may work well for the training of our pets, it can reduce highly complex and nuanced human thinking and behaviors (analog) into narrow and limited binary outcomes, when, in fact, the rich human condition and capacity for learning, creating and expanding comprise so much more. Yet despite all this, B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning theories best fit the design needs of the early human engagement engineers.
Operant conditioning, sometimes also known as “game mechanics,” is regarded as the major foundation of contemporary engagement design. Hence, humans in all our diversity and unique richness must currently narrow and contort ourselves to adapt to digitized, standardized, industrial-age centralization. Instead, we need to flip this model and empower individualized user experiences so technology adapts to, personalizes, enriches and expands each unique person. Each of us has the fundamental right to develop our own “self-determination.”
Unlike today’s Skinnerian “game mechanics” that permeates today’s machine-human interface platforms, free, self-generated, self-motivated and self-sustained play is Mother Nature’s innate meta-design for disintermediated authentic engagement. Unlike gaming, authentic play is a survival drive, and unlike gaming design, it is non-addictive. Game design and most contemporary engagement design is meant to “hook” the user; their designers even refer to it as the “attention economy” and consider (your) attention a “scarce commodity.” Conversely, the true authentic player can play and then leave as he chooses, then re-engage again when he chooses. This is because, unlike centralized game and social media design, authentic engagement is not only disintermediated, but self-generated/initiated, self-motivated and self-sustained. Designing for authentic play engagement “fixes” addictive design and foments self-sovereignty. This points us toward the new, personalized, user-empowered, cross-sector design solution for the 21st Century.
As we leave the predictable and relative certainty of Newtonian industrialism and explore the quantum realms of possibility, we are rapidly recognizing the quantum world as inherently paradoxical (is it wave or particle?). We also now know that play and the exploration of the possible are biologically hardwired into humans. This is also true to varying degrees in all animals. The most often-viewed YouTube videos are those of spontaneous frolicking encounters of cross-species animal play: bears play-chasing dogs, cats playfully swatting at crows, a baby deer trusting the exploratory touch of a human toddler. Why is that? What instinctually and emotionally drives us to seek and deeply enjoy the novelty of self-generated and self-sustained play? In short, play is how we “explore the possible” and pursue the novel. Play is self-motivated and intrinsically driven. We know we are on the right path when nature rewards those who play with resiliency, creative adaptability, joyful vitality and healthy outcomes. As such, we must acknowledge that play provides the “first principles” of human engagement and design accordingly. This is Bitcoin’s great opportunity to recreate legacy engagement design using a better model!
“A civilizing structure acknowledges a human drive and corrals it into positive-sum behavior, where most or all parties are better off. A decivilizing structure amplifies a human drive in negative-sum ways, leaving most people worse off. These are often created unintentionally.”— Balaji S. Srinivasan (angel investor, entrepreneur)
In the 1970s, Richard Ryan and Edward Deci out of the University of Rochester collaborated to develop the “self-determination theory” on motivation. This theory confronted B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning and basically toppled the dominant belief that the best way to get humans to perform tasks is to reward their behaviors. These maverick researchers thought it was important to distinguish the types of motivation and distinguish between controlled and autonomous motivation.
So, what are the basic characteristics and differences between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation? This chart provides a concise, easy-to-understand overview:
As you can see, intrinsic motivation comes from within and is self-motivated. It is long-lasting and self-sustaining over long periods of time. Intrinsic motivators develop grit and cultivate self-determination. This fits with the Bitcoin ethos.
On the other hand, extrinsic motivation does not foment long-lasting engagement. It is fueled by exogenous rewards and incentives (seductive bribes), it’s often based on measurement and sometimes threats of punishment. Centralized fiat ethos.
Of particular note, there exists a huge deficit that has long existed in contemporary motivational science, and we see its absence in the chart above and its omission in the research. Motivational science simply neglects to integrate what we now know about play. The cognitive bias within the research and academic knowledge base precludes linking the identification and development of human intrinsic motivators to the affective neuroscience of play. I believe this oversight in the research is related to academic bias and the historic cultural “taboo” against play found in industrial-era design, e.g., “play gets in the way of work,” “it’s unproductive,” “it’s frivolous,” “play is not easily measured and has no value.”
Let’s use a little common sense and critical thinking. If play is trivial and has no value, why is it hardwired into all animals? I have a two-word response to this: “Occam’s razor.” The self-organizing principle and “solution” to human chaos and polarization and conflict sits right under our noses. And if that isn’t enough, isn’t it simply ironically paradoxical that the law of parsimony comes into play through play?
“With all things being equal, the simplest explanation tends to be the right one.” — William of Ockham
If play is intermediated or controlled, it is no longer authentic play, and the healthy beneficent outcomes of authentic engagement are lost. And if play is suppressed or hijacked over time, negative behavioral compensations associated with play deprivation emerge, including the pervasive mental illnesses we see today.
Technology is a tool, not a solution.
Intrinsic motivation is the bedrock of free choice of the self-sovereign individual with a healthy internal locus of control. Intrinsic motivators are identified and developed through authentic play. Play is how humans self-organize when we are awake, similar to another survival drive, sleep and dreams, where we self-organize when we are unconscious. Our ability to self-organize through authentic play engagement is the foundation to self-sovereignty. It’s how we come to internally know (without any intermediation or controlling forces) who we are, what we like and what we are good at. Our ability to self-organize helps us identify and pursue meaning and purpose in our lives.
Intrinsic motivators are essential to self-sustaining, non-addictive engagement behaviors. If our authentic play engagement has been hijacked or suppressed by centralized intermediation, we don’t develop the internal locus of control necessary to the psychologically healthy, emancipated, self-sovereign identity. Centralized programming can then swoop in and “own” us. We become narcissistic and needy, anxiously obsessed with whether we are good enough, if we fit in, and if we have enough “likes,” “followers” or other forms of external validation. We isolate and become obsessed with addictive social media and gaming. Or perhaps we gravitate toward the perceived security and sense of belonging of polarized “group-think.” Anxiety, depression and other forms of mental illness are at all-time high crisis levels today. If our “sense of self” has been narrowed, controlled and validated by intermediated centralized design and exogenous criteria, and not authored by the expansive development of our own authentic selves, is it any wonder so many of us seek to comply and fit in? It doesn’t have to be this way!
“The perfect dictatorship would have the appearance of a democracy, but would basically be a person without walls in which the prisoners would not even dream of escaping. It would essentially be a system of slavery where, through consumption and entertainment, the slaves would love their servitude.” — Aldous Huxley, 1931
While today’s behavior modification design depends upon the extrinsic validation of measurement, rewards and enticements, and user engagement may initially appear effective, it is usually, and unfortunately, short-lived. Research by Ryan and Deci and others show extrinsic reward systems cannot provide the sustained long-term engagement needed to transform human behaviors. Yet behaviorist operant conditioning, unfortunately, persists as our design model. Perhaps this explains the poor engagement efficacy of contemporary gamification reward systems, the drop-off in participation, and hence the additional compensatory addictive design strategies. On the other hand, self-generated, self-motivated and self-sustained engagement is fundamental to identifying what one loves to do and developing grit. This intrinsically directed engagement is also key to healing ourselves from mental illness disorders and negative behavioral compensations. Identifying and developing intrinsic motivational drives unique to the individual and integrating them into today’s engagement design will help develop the mental emancipation and self-sovereign identities that transform authentic engagement into meaningful, recreational work. In such a manner, and starting with each unique individual, this promises to build the decentralized P2P creator-economy and Renaissance 2.0 on top of Bitcoin.
It cannot happen soon enough!
This is a guest post by Kristen Cozad. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC, Inc. or Bitcoin Magazine.