October 18th, 2017

In 1954, James Olds and Peter Milner conducted an experiment with rats whose brains were wired to stimulate the pleasure center. The rats could choose to press lever A, and get a food pellet, or lever B, and get a shot of pleasurable feelings in their tiny brains. Pleasure beat out food and the rats starved.

Jump to 1970. Larry Niven publisheD the first Ringworld book. Niven takes the research of Olds and Milner and asks, what if? The answer is Drouds, Wireheads and Louis Wu. Wireheads, like the rats, would rather press the lever. The 200-year-old Wu, however, can control his addiction, as demonstrated in the book’s opening:

Louis Wu was under the wire when two men came to invade his privacy.

He was in full lotus position on the lush yellow indoor-grass carpet. His smile was blissful, dreamy. The apartment was small, just one big room. He could see both doors. But, lost in the joy that only a wirehead knows, he never saw them arrive. Suddenly they were there: two pale youths, both over seven feet tall, studying Louis with contemptuous smiles. One snorted and dropped something weapon-shaped in his pocket. They were stepping forward as Louis stood up.

It wasn’t just the happy smile that fooled them. It was the fist-sized droud that protruded like a black plastic canker from the crown of Louis Wu’s head. They were dealing with a current addict, and they knew what to expect. For years the man must have had no thought but for the wire trickling current into the pleasure center of his brain. He would be near starvation from self-neglect. He was small, a foot and a half shorter than either of the invaders. He —

As they reached for him Louis bent far sideways, for balance, and kicked once, twice, thrice. One of the invaders was down, curled around himself and not breathing, before the other found the wit to back away.

Louis came after him.

What held the youth half paralyzed was the abstracted bliss with which Louis came to kill him. Too late, he reached for the stunner he’d pocketed. Louis kicked it out of his hand. He ducked a massive fist and kicked at kneecap, kneecap (the pale giant stopped moving), groin, heart (the giant bent far forward, with a whistling scream), throat (the scream stopped suddenly).

The other invader was on hands and knees, breathing in sips. Louis chopped at his neck, twice.

The invaders lay still in the lush yellow grass.

Louis Wu went to lock his door. At no time had the blissful smile left his face, and it did not change when he found his door fully locked and alarmed. He checked the door to the balcony: bolted and alarmed.

How in the world had they gotten in?

Bemused, he settled where he was, in lotus position, and did not move again for over an hour. Presently a timer clicked and switched off the droud.

Amazon is evil. (This is why I’ve stopped shopping at Whole Foods.) Jeff Bezos has discovered how to exploit our own nascent wireheads, people too busy to be bothered engaging, and supporting, their community by actually interacting with other humans.

Maybe Amazon, and what the company represents, will be the death of humanity.

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