I have been reading Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter, a professor of marketing at NYU. The book is about our behavioral addictions to our smartphones, video games, social media, and email and how to break them.
He describes the “Ludic Loop,” a cycle of repeating the same activity because every so often you get a reward. The term was coined by Natasha Schull, also on the faculty at NYU and an expert in addiction.
Slot machines have a Ludic Loop where people get sucked into a cycle of dropping in coins, pulling the handle, and hoping for a Jackpot or reward. Like slot machines, people check their emails and social networks repeatedly because they have a Ludic Loop embedded. The diagram below illustrates a Ludic Loop in checking your email.
Recently, 60 Minutes did a piece on Brain Hacking or intentionally designing apps so you feel the need to to check in constantly. The 60 Minutes piece include an interview with Larry Rosen, an expert in the psychology of technology, author, and research psychologist who studies multitasking, social networking, and other topics.
Rosen’s research has found that the average person checks their phone every 15 minutes or less and that approximately 50% of the time there isn’t a notification beckoning them to do so.
The urge comes from within – a thought or prompt that says “You haven’t checked your email or social media, check it.” Checking in generates cortisol, the same stress hormone that made primitive man anxious and hyper aware of his surroundings so he would not get attacked by a saber tooth tiger. According to Rosen, we check our phones to reduce anxiety.
Our technology (mobile phones, email, and social media apps) create stress for us and the only way to reduce it is to reach for your phone and check your email! This is a Ludic Loop!
Rosen’s research can not yet determine what the impact is on our brains and lives as it too soon. However, I can’t imagine that it is good. Can you?
They also interviewed a former Google product manager, Tristan Harris, about how tech companies are intentionally creating a large scale epidemic of behavioral addiction to our mobile phones and apps.
While at Google, Harris produced an extensive presentation titled “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention,” his first effort as a design ethicist. The presentation inspired with Ted Talk and then a popular Medium post that discusses how interface design influences people’s behaviors.
Arianna Huffington’s new site Thrive is devoted to wellbeing which also has a section called “Time Well Spent” that includes articles and tips about how to better understand our technology addictions and more importantly how to overcome it. (Thrive also has a terrific section about how to unplug, packed with practical advice.)
This post, “Five Ways To Organize Your Phone To Unhijack Your Mind” by Tristan Harris, the former Google employer mentioned above, was particularly useful. Here are his five tips:
- Receive notifications from people only, not machines.
- Set up custom notifications for special people.
- Put only “tools” — and not apps designed to consume more of your attention — on your home screen.
- Scramble your apps regularly to create a pattern interrupt, so your thumb doesn’t get in the habit of going to the same apps.
- Put everything else in a folder on your second screen, and use your phone’s search function to get to non-tool apps.
It is also worth reading his earlier essay on this topic as well.
How are you avoiding getting addicted to your mobile phone? What are your tips?