Disappointingly unspectacular as the truth may be, the Internet’s magnetic effect on our brains is in no way derived from the claimed technical genius of California’s IT professionals. In fact, screens owe their irresistible power over our minds to the rational, systematic use of discoveries made regarding animal and human behavioural conditioning since the mid-19th century. This intelligent use of the “classics” has enabled social engineering to divert our attention quite radically away from the functions it was initially programmed for, namely spotting imminent dangers to protect the group or tribe; concentrating uninterruptedly on an object so that we can use our skills to make it useful; communicating with others by sensing multiple different body languages; and, above all else, examining the mysteries of the Great Beyond that lies outside earthly life’s brief candle. This is why, in the space of two decades, information technology has formed a screen between humankind and Eternity. Whether we like it or not, the global Internet prospers from the reductio ad bestiam of the human sphere. We too will be treated with the same regard as Pavlov’s dogs, John B. Watson’s rats or B.F. Skinner’s pigeons. However, immense improvements have been made since the interwar period. Now that the Internet is personally informed by our personal tastes, its social engineers will be able to happily direct us towards websites and virtual spaces which tap into our animal natures. Thus caged by our basest instincts, we may become willing prisoners to our own ignorance. The deprivation inherent to classic thinking around human and animal conditioning is therefore at the root of our mental slavery. This enslavement has been carefully orchestrated via academic engineering that robs students of the only intellectual resources that enable them to grow, specifically silent reading and disputation, substituting them for ideological conditioning and technical hyper-specialisation. These “empty boxes” now having been created (and fed by research centres in which charlatans meticulously construct truncated sciences), they find themselves in natural harmony with digital teaching which is, in fact, teaching in name only.
The new science of captology
Of course, this magnetic power varies from individual to individual. Its influence over a person is inversely proportionate to his or her penchant for creativity, be it artisanal, intellectual or artistic in nature. Despite what practitioners of mental confusion may profess, there are also significant differences between the sexes. On the whole, girls appear to be much better equipped to resist the most extreme forms of Internet addiction than boys, yet are, conversely, more attached to their smartphones . This phenomenon can be explained in two ways. First, educational methodologies designed and crushingly implemented by women automatically correspond to girls’ aspirations, while ascribing male creativity with an unpredictable, marginal quality. Because they are in synchronicity with school, girls have less time to devote to keeping pace with the Internet. Second, the male sex’s genetically programmed predilection for hunting renders boys irremediably curious about the world wide web, the feminine prey with which it abounds and their virtual male adversaries against whom they can test their skills through play. On the other hand, women’s genetic programming to disseminate life makes the Internet less attractive, except where it enables them to seduce and live out the fantasy of reproducing.
The new science of captology was, moreover, formed at the dawn of the 21st century. This recently invented term refers to the study of how computers can be used to persuade people to change their attitudes or behaviours. Its designer is one Brian Jeffrey Fogg, a student of Sicilian-American psychologist Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo became famous in 1971 for the Stanford Experiment in which he randomly assigned his students the role of prison guard or prisoner within a simulated penitentiary. The initiative was funded by the American Navy and Marine Corps. Its official aim was to uncover why conflict breaks out in the prison system. In his role as superintendent, Professor Zimbardo imposed particular conditions on participants in the hope of increasing their sense of disorientation, depersonalisation and deindividuation. He advised the guards to spread fear so that prisoners could be dehumanised and, later, conditioned. The experiment lasted six days and resulted in serious abuse. As for Zimbardo, he drew interesting conclusions about how human conditioning can be enacted within a very short space of time. In 2003, Fogg published a book entitled Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do. Six years later, he completed his Fogg Behavior Model (FBM), aimed at mapping our human behaviour and founded on three criteria: the subject’s motivation, his or her ability to achieve the task in question and the presence of a prompt . Motivation is influenced by factors such as pleasure or pain which form the basis of animal training. It is clear to see that Fogg’s behavioural model hybridises behaviourism’s  long-standing lessons with neuroscience’s more recent developments. If the subject on which captology focuses its attention remains rather opaque, this is because it is located at the intersection between several independent disciplines, namely history, psychology, biology and IT. The industrialisation of human knowledge having transformed once curious minds into a mass of disconnected specialists, only those who refused to be pigeon-holed remain to be co-opted. Blaise Pascal called such individuals “universal people” :
“Universal people are called neither poets nor geometers, etc., yet they are all of these and judges of them too. They cannot be predicted. They will discuss whatever was being discussed upon their entry. One perceives in them no one quality any more than another, except when it is necessary to put such qualities into use […] One can say neither that they are mathematicians nor visionaries nor that they are particularly eloquent, but honest men. This universal quality alone delights me […] one must know a little about everything. It is much better to know something about everything than everything about something. Such universality is the finest .”
It is not only the “finest” but the most useful too. Who, then, presides over persuasive technology’s uses?
There are no simple answers to this question. There is a varied, sharply defined range of operators in whose interest it lies to orientate our choices. All that can be said of them is that these “lucid” operators are few in number but share an initial aim of encouraging the purchase of consumer goods. Their ultimate end, therefore, is to create “oniomaniacs”, or sufferers of compulsive buying disorder. Oniomania was studied by Emil Kraepelin in the late 19th century. It entails the alternating highs and lows that characterise addiction. The euphoria of a purchase is immediately followed by guilt. The addictive buying cycle is fundamentally connected to a need for social recognition . As for the hand directing these purchases, it remains invisible. This is nothing out of the ordinary. The animal world is governed by territories whose heart is ruled by male aggression. This heart is invisible to potential prey. It forms neither the space’s geometric centre nor its uppermost parts, nor even the place where food reserves are most abundant. It is simply the centre of gravity for an animal’s movement. The male sparrow never fails to start his day by singing at the centre of his territory, before ceaselessly moving in such a way as to obscure the invisible centre’s location.
This is not a new phenomenon: revolutionary transition
Captology’s lucid operators are, without a doubt, a minority. It is entirely within their interests to confine IT specialists to a purely technical role so that they get only the most diffuse and indistinct glimpse of the aims behind remotely programmed imperceptible movements. As for the consumer masses, they must, of course, never emerge from an ignorance enforced through permanent connectivity. This is not a new phenomenon. The history of social transformation has been exclusively shaped by minorities working in mutual opposition to ensure their individual interests prevail. Having from the year 1870 invested all his energy in creating a colossal archive of France’s Revolutionary transition , the positivist historian Hippolyte Taine was struck by the fact that the French Revolution was driven entirely by a violent, determined minority. He wrote that:
“The regime projected by Saint-Just envisages an oligarchy of invaders gaining and maintaining power upheld by a subjugated nation. Through such a regime, 10,000 Spartans took control of 300,000 Helots and Perioeci after the Dorian invasion of Greece. It was through such a regime that 60,000 Normans took control of two million Saxons after the Battle of Hastings in England. It was through such a regime that 200,000 English Protestants took control of one million Irish Catholics after the Battle of the Boyne in Ireland. And it was through such a regime that 300,000 French Jacobins were able to take control of six or seven million Girondins, Feuillants, royalists and merely indifferent citizens. It is simplicity itself, as it entails maintaining the subjugated population in a state of both extreme weakness and extreme terror. To this end, the people are disarmed, monitored, deprived of all right to common endeavour, under constant threat of violence and imprisonment, ruined and decimated.”
Keenly aware of the impending danger, Danton wrote that “we must maintain our hold in Paris by all means necessary. The republicans are the lowliest minority and the only ones we can count on when it comes to combat. The rest of France is attached to royalty. We must strike fear in the royalists!” Ultimately, it mattered little that there were no more than 300,000 Jacobins in all, as their strength was not measured in number. They were a gang in a crowd or, more precisely, a gang in a disorganised, inert crowd which was determined to surge ahead like an iron tool through a heap of rubble. After all, the Jacobins were under orders themselves. Behind them lay clubs’ own strength.
There is no more effective machine; there has never been a better combination at manufacturing artificial, violent opinion, lending it the appearance of a spontaneous, national avowal and conferring the rights of a silent majority upon a noisy minority, thereby forcing the government’s hand. Our tactics were simple,” said Grégoire. “We agreed that one of us would seize an opportune moment to suggest their proposal in a sitting of the National Assembly. It would undoubtedly be applauded by a very small few and booed by the majority. No matter. He asked and we agreed that it be sent to a committee, where its opponents hoped to bury the issue. Paris’ Jacobins seized their chance. Through circulars or in their newspaper, the issue was discussed in three or four hundred affiliated societies and, three weeks later, addresses rang out in the Assembly demanding a previously rejected decree. It would now be backed by a resounding majority, because public opinion had matured through discussion.”
Mental manipulation and digital revolution
The techniques of mental manipulation used during the Revolution to enable a minority to exert power over a majority are of great interest during the era of digital revolution. One can claim a sort of parentage over the other. This parentage works in two ways. First, it transposes the old blueprint onto new times; and second, it hybridises technology.
Contrary to popular opinion, captology’s masters do not necessarily operate from the top down. In fact, they are more likely to operate from the space beyond – in other words, from the opaque circles just below power. Consider, for example, the class system. At the bottom is a mass of inert conservatives who use 90% of their energy protecting microfiefdoms and occasionally uniting to resist change. Their main tactics are simply to be present and delay the action that is to be taken as far as possible. Change management is beyond them, so they adopt a strategy of inching along as slowly as possible. The bureaucratic heart of this mass of people is protected by a cartel of obtuse centurions. At the top, there is a small minority of rather comical and piffling decision-makers. They are merely passing through a transitory stage in their cursus honorum. They adopt ambiguity as their strategy to coerce their subordinates into accepting whatever whim their own bosses have favoured, while claiming it as their own. Most crucial for them is ensuring that the instruction they receive from on high remain unseen so that they can expertly play the empty role of decision maker. When they take a firm stance, it is generally because their superiors have backed them to do so. It is between these two strata that the interloping world of influencers is found. Their objective could hardly be clearer, and they operate in small, fluid and complex groups that can be recomposed any which way. They are akin to a small colony of cuckoos which seeks to take the so-called “decision-makers’” place. They play several fiddles at once to achieve this and advance their interests. Very often, their political aim is simply window dressing for their individual interests, although this is not always the case. These influencers align themselves into competing groups. To be effective, they have to be up to date with the latest information, coordinate information-sharing and use their intuition to decipher the weakest signals emanating from the mysterious phony decision-makers. They have to position themselves such that they can move their pawn forward and take their adversaries by surprise. These adversaries are twofold: the inert masses represent one; their rivals for influence another. As a result, neither the bureaucratic masses nor the phony decision-makers shapes opinion. The captology which emerges out of this netherworld operates via three successive, clinical acts: first it hypnotises; then it conditions; and finally it manipulates the mental slaves it has created.
Pour en savoir plus :
Thomas Flichy de La Neuville, Les Esclaves psychiques d’Internet, DMM, 2020, 102 p.
 Young male students make up more than 70% of patients at Kanagawa hospital’s internet rehab centre in Japan.
 Christian Bastien and Gaelle Calvary write that : “Pour Fogg, la persuasion par le biais des technologies de la communication prend place à deux niveaux : un niveau micro (la micro-persuasion) et un niveau macro (la macro-persuasion). Les systèmes de micro-persuasion sont des systèmes dont l’objectif premier n’est pas la persuasion, mais dont certaines de leurs composantes peuvent avoir de tels objectifs ou effets. La micropersuasion est alors incorporée à certaines boites ou séquences de dialogue. C’est le cas par exemple lorsque Word vous indique des erreurs de frappe et vous propose des solutions. Pour Fogg, tout système qui vous rappelle ce que vous avez à faire, qui vous permet de visualiser votre activité ou encore vous encourage ou vous louange est un système de micro-persuasion, car il change votre façon de penser, d’agir. Toujours selon Fogg, des sites Web comme Amazon.com ou ebay.com dont l’objectif principal est de persuader les utilisateurs à acheter sont des exemples de macro-persuasion. Pour ces sites, la persuasion constitue leur seule raison d’être. Mais le commerce n’est pas le seul enjeu des technologies de macro-persuasion. Tous les aspects de la vie sont concernés (éducation, économie d’énergie, activité sportive, alimentation, conduite automobile écologique et durable, arrêt de la cigarette, développement durable, etc.)” J. M. Christian Bastien, Gaëlle Calvary. “Technologies persuasives”, Episciences, p.1-200, 2015.
 A variant of behavioural science, behaviourism is based upon the idea that all human beings can be trained using positive stimuli (or rewards) to behave appropriately to the best of their practical abilities.
 Blaise PASCAL, Pensées, Hachette, 1950, p. 32.
 “Les achats d’objets de toute nature sont devenus des indicateurs de statut dans la société actuelle. Les valeurs sociales favorisent la dictature de la mode et du superflu, et de nombreuses personnes partagent la croyance que posséder plus, c’est valoir plus ou exister davantage. Acheter est une activité banale et sans importance de la vie quotidienne pour la plupart des personnes mais, pour un petit nombre d’individus, elle devient difficile à maîtriser au point d’entraîner des conséquences néfastes sur la vie familiale et sociale. Les achats compulsifs sont considérés comme une conduite addictive…” Lucia ROMO, “L’addiction aux achats”, Isabelle VARESCON éd., Les addictions comportementales. Aspects cliniques et psychopathologiques, Mardaga, 2009, p. 19-47.
 Hippolyte Taine wrote Les Origines de la France Contemporaine between 1870 and his death in 1893.