Smartphone / Social Media Addiction

“If we have lost control over our relationship with smartphones, it is by design. In fact, the business model of the devices demands it. Because most popular websites and apps don’t charge for access, the internet is financially sustained by eyeballs. That is, the longer and more often you spend staring at Facebook or Google, the more money they can charge advertisers. To ensure that our eyes remain firmly glued to our screens, our smartphones–and the digital worlds they connect us to–internet giants have become little virtuosos of persuasion, cajoling us into checking them again and again–and for longer than we intend. Average users look at their phones about 150 times a day, according to some estimates, and about twice as often as they think they do, according to a 2015 study by British psychologists. Add it all up and North American users spend somewhere between three and five hours a day looking at their smartphones. As the New York University marketing professor Adam Alter points out, that means over the course of an average lifetime, most of us will spend about seven years immersed in our portable computers. These companies have persuaded us to give over so much of our lives by exploiting a handful of human frailties. One of them is called NOVELTY BIAS. It means our brains are suckers for the new. It makes us twig helplessly to Facebook notifications and the buzz of incoming e-mail. That’s why social media apps nag you to turn notifications on. They know that once the icons start flashing onto your lock screen, you won’t be able to ignore them. It’s also why Facebook switched the colour of its notifications from a mild blue to attention-grabbing red. Matt Mayberry, who works at a California startup called Dopamine Labs, says it’s common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding ‘likes’ from certain users. If the photo-sharing app decides you need to use the service more often, it’ll show only a fraction of the likes you’ve received on a given post at first, hoping you’ll be disappointed with your haul and check back again in a minute or two. ‘They’re tying in to your greatest insecurities,’ Mr. Mayberry said. Some of the mental quirks smartphones exploit are obvious, others counterintuitive. The principle of ‘variable rewards’ falls into the second camp. Discovered by the psychologist B.F. Skinner and his acolytes in a series of experiments on rats and pigeons, it predicts that creatures are likelier to seek out a reward if they aren’t sure how often it will be doled out. Pigeons, for example, were found to peck a button for food more frequently if the food was dispensed inconsistently rather than reliably each time, the Columbia University law professor Tim Wu recounts in his recent book The Attention Merchants. So it is with social media apps: Though four out of five Facebook posts may be inane, the ‘bottomless,’ automatically refreshing feed always promises a good quip or bit of telling gossip just below the threshold of the screen, accessible with the rhythmic flick of thumb on glass.”

“Your smartphone is making you stupid, antisocial and unhealthy,” The Globe and Mail, Apr. 10, 2018