[His study] turned out to be the crowded basement sanctum of an inveterate tinkerer and gadget guy. Lacking WiFi and Bluetooth in his office, Skinner had jury-rigged strings and all sorts of wooden and cardboard doodads that enabled him to tweak his environment from his desk chair: by hiding the face of a clock he found himself watching, or by turning on a tape recorder that inspired him to organize his thoughts.
Though more advanced in execution, today’s electronic nudges and tweaks are identical in purpose: use what you can control to affect what you can’t. The simple elegance of this concept flips on its head Chomsky’s suggestion that behavior modification treats people as if they were no more intelligent than animals. What distinguishes our intellect from animals’ is not that we can go against our environment—most of us can’t, not in the long run—but rather that we can purposefully alter our environment to shape our behavior in ways we choose.Pause and consider; and then we can discuss.