Data Use and Habit-Forming Products

Since being back from the field, I have been reading Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction and Nir Eyal’s Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. 

The two books do well as companions, with O’Neil providing full overviews on the gathering and use of data at a societal level, stories such as how data gathered by companies is increasingly used to target vulnerable populations to purchase overpriced education from for-profit universities.

In contrast, Eyal focuses on the micro design processes of constructing habit-forming platforms. He analyzes how Instagram and other programs move users from joining the platform through the use of external triggers (paid advertisements, word-of-mouth) to habitually logging in or scrolling on Instagram as the result of internal triggers (feeling lonely, wanting to capture a moment).

While Eyal acknowledges that habit-forming products can be used to either positively or negatively impact users, O’Neil goes into great detail on how addictive data-gathering platforms have been used to hurt people.

Adding a new lens onto both of these texts, I picked up Sociobiology, the classic tome by Edward O. Wilson. On the first page of the text (page 3) he states that “The biologist, who is concerned with questions of physiology and evolutionary history, realizes that self-knowledge is constrained and shaped by the emotional control centres in the hypothalamus and limbic system of the brain” (Wilson 1980: 3).

I find Wilson’s words good to think with in relation to O’Neil’s societal reflection on the gathering and socially detrimental use of data by governments and companies and Eyal’s micro analysis of how to construct habit-forming products. Wilson brought me back to thinking about how we process the platforms/information available online, in print advertising, in institutions at the human level.

Reflections such as O’Neil’s can wake us up as individuals to the larger dynamics that are attached to products that we interact with in our daily routine, products that increasingly hardwire habit through our hypothalamus and limbic system. How might such social level knowledge exist within our brains biologically, in relation to our habitual interactions with data gathering platforms?

Information for thought.



Eyal, Nir and Ryan Hoover. 2014. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. New York: Penguin Group. 

O’Neil, Cathy. 2016. Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. New York: Broadway House.

Wilson, Edward O. 1980. Sociobiology: The Abridged Edition. Cambridge: Belknap Press.


Finance: A Perspective

Financial logic and markets dominate much of the flow of goods and information across the globe today.

Institutions such as banks, corporations, government branches, and others, evaluate information on internal and external activity through forms of accounting that bleed across both public and private sectors.

To a large extent, finance is about communication. Providing a large number of people from both different communities and geographies, benchmarks to both evaluate and act in the world.

2018: A year of writing

I have spent the majority of the last year living in London and working in climate finance while simultaneously reflecting on my lived experience through the lens of anthropology.

Now I plan to write about the last year (really the last three since I have been doing research in the green bond market) through the rest of the current year and halfway into 2019 (isn’t it great that academia gives you such long stretches of time to think about!).

Time, I was talking with a fellow anthropologist/finance hacker two days ago here in London about how to perceive/categorize elite forms of work and a lot of our conversation focused on the timescales involved to distinguish different classes. If you are a bartender your work is immediate, you pour drinks and give them to clients who give you cash, or tap their credit cards on wireless machines (at least in Europe, the US doesn’t have the EU to push forward payments technology legislation).

Elite labor, as accountants, investment bankers, architects, have jobs where their impact is not direct, they are on the side of great financial flows, developments, systems, of which they analyze and interact with on wider timescales than providing beer direct to a bar’s clientele.

Of course there is a lot of gray area here, beer makers are engaged in longer term production processes, stock traders are focused on immediate returns much of the time. Mark Carney of the Bank of England focuses on tragedies of horizon within finance as a system.

“It is all about adaptability as well” I write this blog post in the creative coffee space of Husk in Limehouse, London. These are the types of statements that move in the air around me as sound waves.

These are some thoughts that I am willing to put online attached to my name and livelihood. To share with the togetherness collective of the broader public and internet connections that attach to the institutions and organizations, robots that populate the cloud.

Cheers | Ciao