Human Attention as Influence Attack Surface 


I’ve been thinking a lot about influence lately (partly because I’m re-reading THE book on it, called Influence (great name).

One of the models I’ve been using to think of influence is computer security, and specifically attack surfaces and code execution.


Our senses are our attack surface. What we see, hear, feel—these are what influence our behavior. It seems obvious, but imagine that it’s not possible for our behavior to be different than default without these influences.

Any input coming in to those senses are like computer code waiting to run on our CPUs. Some of that code is benign (your friend tells you to grab an extra coffee for him at the coffee shop). Other code is not (subliminal images telling you to buy or do things you’re not aware of).

The good application vs. virus analogy seems to work well here, especially when you consider that the most advanced malware can sit dormant and subtly influence your behavior.

Controlling inputs

A few years ago I stopped watching the unbelievably scary visuals in horror movie previews. My visual cortex is an input. And allowing some master director to pipe the most frightening visuals possible directly into the center of my soul seems like a bad idea.

I don’t need that shit rattling around in my head while I’m trying to sleep or whatever.

And this is the same way I view everything I experience now.

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How am I being influenced by what I’m looking at? What are the marketing angles? What evolutionary psychology principles is it leveraging? What primitive signaling tendencies in me are being used as a vulnerability in my defenses?

So that brings me to the article quoted above.

It’s about SEO technologies being used to influence people.

Read this article. If you’ve ever liked anything I’ve ever written you’ll absolutely cherish this piece. Trust me on this.

Think of it this way.

  1. Powerful and smart people want to do things

  2. They need us to press the buttons, en masse

  3. They’re mapping our attack surfaces (our attention) and crafting custom, malicious code to execute on our brains so that we will do those things

  4. When those payloads run, we buy things, we vote for things, we become outraged on Facebook—about the things they want us to care about

This is the world we live in.

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