This is a talk I gave back on October 13, 2015 for a company meetup. I cut out the introduction because I was super awkward. (Even compared to what I left in.) I also cut the questions at the end as they weren't mic'ed and I didn't repeat 'em.
My presentation is available if you want to see some slides I cut out. I originally titled this talk “Crack Overflow”, but the joke requires some context to be not unfunny. (And even then...)
Relistening to the talk, I notice I never addressed the ethical problems with using behavioral psychology to manipulate others. For instance, gambling can be quite harmful when people risk money they can't afford to lose. Day-trading and certain types of in-game purchases share that same potential for danger. More often games waste time, which has the advantage of no easy method of leverage. I anticipate the coming of the Borderlands 3 Skinner box, but I'm also cautious since it could easily consume time I don't want to spend.
Stack Exchange sites avoid exploiting people for money and I feel pretty comfortable with how most people spend their time. Still, I worry about activities such as the review queues, which perhaps over-promise the good they do. Is it really helpful to close a question that would only get a handful of organic views and never be answered anyway? So it's our ethical duty to avoid wasting our users' time. That's one of the reasons I'm so happy the Ask Wizard has reduced the number of bad questions.
Networks like Twitter and Facebook are practically designed to waste time. Last month I stopped using those sites and it was honestly difficult for a few days. I woke up the first morning wondering how many responses my post saying I was leaving had prompted. After 40 days of not feeling angry about trivia, I don't see myself going back. If I did, it's certain I'd be sucked back into the trap.
At the end of the day, our network provides incredible value to people searching the internet at remarkably low cost. It's difficult to know exactly how much time users spend asking and answering questions, but we do know that many people enjoy sharing their knowledge. So it's a symbiotic relationship between people who have spare time and people who desperately needs to find knowledge. It's great that the voting and reputation and badges and so on help users do the things they already want to do.