The Internet Trap — Book Review

The internet trap — The internet has revolutionized our lives, but at what cost? In The Internet Trap, Ashesh Mukherjee uses the latest research in consumer psychology to highlight five hidden costs of living online: too many temptations, too much information, too much customization, too many comparisons, and too little privacy.

3.52 (34 ratings by Goodreads)

Read the Book: The Internet Trap

The Internet Trap — Book Review

The internet trap signifies our dependency on the internet. The internet trap discussion focuses on five key areas, as the title success, the five cost of living online. In short, those five costs are

  1. too many temptations
  2. too much information
  3. too much customization
  4. too many comparisons
  5. too little privacy

Ashesh Mukherjee discussed these five costs in depth, putting the internet trap in perspective. His explanation followed a pattern which goes like this

  1. first, he describes the importance of these costs
  2. then he explained how it could be helpful
  3. and how these costs are affecting us
  4. and then he concludes with ways how we can avoid becoming another victim
  5. and how we can benefit from them.

Some might argue that the internet trap presents no new perspective but it is fun to read.

MAB Rating

I rated the book at 3/5★.


The Internet Trap — Book Summary

Being Online Reduces Our Attention Span

The internet has become central to our life, hence making the danger of the internet trap far more potent. Almost everything we do nowadays connected to the internet from work-related and even our personal life.

“Constantly switching between phones, tablets, laptops and wearables could reduce our attention span and ability to focus on extended tasks.”  

excerpt from the internet trap

The internet provides us with up-to-date information and news which attempts to both educate and informed us. But in the wrong hand, it could lead to mass manipulation and a devastating propaganda pushing tool. For example the recent Cambridge Analytica case. It caused such a shock wave that we started to question the safety of our data and privacy on Facebook.

However, the internet does make life a bit easier. Shopping, travel booking, and review could be easily accessible and they are open 24 hours a day. And some even offers remarkable customization for product and services. You can even put your name on your watch now. There are watch manufacturers who make such customization as their niche.

The Internet Trap Cost

The saying “if it is too good to be true, it probably is” should ring a bell here. As it turns out the easy access to vast information, communication and consumerism is not always a blessing. Living online has a price to pay. The price can be sump up into five major costs:

  1. too many temptations
  2. too much information
  3. too much customization
  4. too many comparisons
  5. too little privacy

Most of us don’t even aware of such cost and thus we tend to dismiss and overlook them. The worst kind of danger is the one we don’t even know was there.


This cost can be further group into two categories

The first category is the commercial cost. Online shopping tends to create a pain gap of losing money which in turn makes us spend more. As “Happy Money” suggest, buying material things won’t make us happy, they just give us temporary bliss. The products we buy will easily lose their value and we tend to buy another product, to get that short buzz of happiness, a short bliss.

The second category is the social cost. Without seeing others face-to-face, criticism and cyberbullying is a piece of cake. People tend to form a negative judgment, and most people like being judgy although they themselves don’t like to be judged. Hence, time spent online anonymously can develop bad habits and behaviour on individuals. Not to mention the potential mental scars those behaviour and action might bring.

“More than a billion people now use Facebook, with the average user spending almost half an hour every day.”  

excerpt from the internet trap

The internet as mass manipulation and fakes news tools

There are no regulators online, no one to verify and check on the facts and figures. Hence, who knows if the news is fake or not. Besides the only thing that matters is the popularity of the posts. Will it get the “like” and will it be “share”?

This is a huge problem. And our tendency to believe what we read online magnifies the problem. Thus making us easy marks for manipulation, propaganda, and fake news.

Protect yourself from such cost by maintaining the integrity and always question everything. Never take everything at face value. The internet trap suggests to put us structural barriers to defend ourselves against these traps.

Now let us discuss the five costs of living online and how we can manage them accordingly.


Five costs of living online

1. Too many temptations

“Since self-control increases with goal clarity, we should make an effort to clarify our goals before browsing e-commerce retailers.”  

excerpt from the internet trap

The temptation is a destructive addiction to three areas of the internet which can be very addictive are gaming, shopping, and pornography. Some hardcore gamers spend 18 hours a day at play. Online catalogues and erotica can be equally addictive if not more.

“Too much information can lead to ‘buyer’s remorse’ or post-choice dissatisfaction, where we end up regretting the choice we just made.” 

excerpt from the internet trap

You can read more on buyer remorse from my article on “happy money” which discusses the science of happier spending.

How to protect ourselves?

Imagine your structural barriers as “moats” that prevent temptations from crossing over to burden you unnecessarily. Create your structural barriers during rational times of self-protection, times when you are able to defend yourself against those other moments when you may be irrational and weak in the face of temptations that waste your time and money.

One effective structural barrier is special software that monitors what you do online and for how long. This software automatically limits how many websites you can visit as well as the total amount of time you can spend on the Internet each day. This type of application at times also available on your phone, try checking them out.


2. Too Much Information

You can find out what reviewers think of books, movies and anything else you might subscribe to or buy. This nearly limitless availability of different products and services often results in “choice paralysis.”

Hence, in order to deal with it, the internet trap recommends to try these solutions:

1. Satisfice, don’t maximize

Marketing’s primary message to consumers is no matter what the product or service is, you should always buy the best. Resist that message; don’t shop forever or consider everything. Be willing to accept a “good enough” choice. That makes selecting what to buy online much simpler.

2. Delegate choice

Let professionals like travel agents make crucial decisions for you. For less-complicated choices, set up decision-making rules before you shop.

3. Decision tools

Utilize “product-filtering tools” such as those that Expedia makes available, to narrow down your purchase options. For instance, you can filter plane ticket choices by cost or number of stops.


3. Too Much Customization

The Internet allows us to apply extraordinary customization capabilities to a wide range of products and services. But this has several drawbacks.

For example, we might choose to hear and see what we wanted to hear and see. The confirming biases. Take the opinions you choose to consider. Since you can tailor your online associations, your choices can create echo chambers in which you hear only those other Internet users who hold the same attitudes. People often find that they’re congregating online only with like-minded counterparts. They stop hearing new ideas or learning new facts or facets of issues. Everything communicated to them matches what they’ve already been exposed to in the past. This inhibits creativity and analysis.

What can we do?

To avoid the echo chamber effect, open yourself to considering different thinkers, including people who hold contrasting opinions. Spend time on Quora, a website that enables people with different backgrounds and viewpoints to weigh in on various “hot-button questions.


4. Too Many Comparisons

Comparison is the leading cause of ingratitude. Take Facebook, for example, it has 2 billion users with each user has an average of 200 Facebook “friends”. It is dangerous to compare yourself with your “friends”. Don’t do that. Focus on being you, doing you!

This also applies to other social media as well.

Many of these comparisons are “upward social comparisons,” where we contrast ourselves with those who are seemingly doing better financially. Such comparisons hurt. When people present themselves to others on the Internet, they try to look as good as possible. Say that one person online presents one bit of positive personal information. Another follows with a better individual update, then the first person writes something more self-aggrandizing, and on and on. Communication online becomes “keeping up with the Joneses.”

Thus the costs associated with these billions of comparisons can be huge: envy, jealousy, covetousness, and sadness.

What can we do?

We can deal with hurtful upward social comparisons by making some “downward social comparisons.” Meaning, compare yourself to people who don’t do as well as you. Downward social comparisons can make you feel thankful for what you have and who you are. This might also give us a kinder and more humane look at the less fortunate and motivate us to lend a helping hand.

“Fight…envy with gratefulness.”

This reminds me of a hadith from the Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH, where

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “If one of you looks at those blessed over him in wealth and appearance, let him look at those below him.”

In another narration, the Prophet said, “Do not look to those above you, lest you view the favors of Allah as trivial.”

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6125, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2963


5. Too Little Privacy

“Today’s Internet could turn out to be the real hidden persuader, working through sponsored entertainment, fake news and echo chambers of like-minded people.”  

excerpt from the internet trap

Whatever hits the Internet stays on the Internet – FOREVER. This information resides online in credit card databases, Google archives, Facebook servers and in the electronic vaults of the National Security Agency. Smart operators can try to access all of your online information to learn all about you so they can sell to you or steal your identity.

Internet service providers and governments now can record your text messages, even your phone calls. And they publicly announced this when they said: “this conversation will be recorded for customer service improvement”.

Data companies can combine this personal information with geolocation data from cellphone towers to trace your movements. Facebook is even looking at a mobile app that would activate your cellphone’s microphone to capture the audio from TV shows or songs playing in your vicinity. The app could then annotate your Facebook status in real-time.

For example, it might indicate that you currently “are listening to the band Arcade Fire or watching Game of Thrones.” Do you want people to know that much about your activities all the time?

What can we do?

Many online organizations now post statements on their websites that outline their privacy policies. Review these statements from Facebook, eBay, Expedia,iTunes, and the like before you become an active user. Unfortunately, few people actually read them. Some online firms publish “privacy certifications” on their sites saying that they subscribe to the “best privacy practices.”

However, you can modify your privacy settings on websites and on browsers such as Internet Explorer and Firefox – and thus increase your privacy protection. Another way to protect your privacy is to use the settings on your smart devices – televisions, computers, phones, cars, and refrigerators – to prevent them from collecting data that then ends up in the hands of marketers.

What I usually do when marketing calls me is to ask from where did they get my information from.


The Internet Trap: Mental Heuristics

“When was the last time you started browsing the web for ‘only a few minutes,’ but ended up spending more than an hour on your favorite websites?”  

excerpt from the internet trap

The costs associated with using the Internet affect your mental heuristics: the shortcuts in thinking that people use to make decisions and figure things out. But the usual heuristics fail when it comes to the Internet, which can overwhelm clear thinking with too much information and never-ending temptations.

Consider the challenge of trying to optimize your decision making when shopping at any store with thousands of different products. This challenge becomes infinitely more complicated when you try to figure out what to buy online, where virtually all the world’s products are for sale. As people rely increasingly on the web, these challenges will grow in frequency, complexity as well as the degree of difficulty.

In addition to the suggested solutions, you can use to counter the costs of web use, engage in an “occasional Internet detox.” Turn off your computer and other electronic devices to get away from the web and its often-noxious effects. Don’t take your smartphone or laptop on your next vacation; avoid the Internet while you are away. When you return, turn your devices back on. This way, you’ll benefit from the advantages the Internet makes available when you’re freshly equipped to mitigate the costs that can undermine your effectiveness and harm your psychological well-being even when you’re offline.

Read the book: The Internet Trap



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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