Addicted to Social Media? Relax, it is not your fault.

Another early morning where my wife caught me checking my phone while feeding my little baby girl. Now that she is 7 month-olds, she got some serious moves and a lot of energy which would actually require full attention. But some for reason, I just cannot resist checking on my iphone.

Is the World getting mad?

Looking at people walking on the street, one could easily realize how this phone addiction as spread across the city in the last decade. I am literally avoiding pedestrians looking at their phone while “piloting” my stroller.

A research done by The Dscout found that average users spent 145 minutes on their phones and swap or tap their phone 2,617 times a day. Apple confirmed two years ago that a user on average was unlocking his iphone 80 times per day. Industry insiders believe it could be much more today, up to 150 times a day. And this issue does not stop on the sidewalks, it gets on the road too.

The issue, which also involves messaging and texting, is getting so serious that public authority in charge of road prevention in France has started a public campaign stating that using your phone while driving increases by 23 your risk of getting involved in a car accident. If this trend continues, self-driving car could not only be a breakthrough technology but could also very much be our life saver.

Campagne Sécurité Routière sur bus RATP Réseaux Sociaux

Another prevention campaign worth noticing comes from the government of South Africa called « No call or text is worth your life #ItCanWait ». Watch this out:

So how come we just can’t resist grabbing our phone to text and check social media status, again and again?

Congratulations, you have been hooked!

Nir Eyal, conference organizer and author of “Hooked: How to build habit-forming products” describes on his book how the most successful companies design tech products we can’t put down. At the heart of the « Hook Model » is a variable schedule of rewards: a powerful hack that focuses attention, provides pleasure, and infatuates the mind.

We all experience the effect of those variable rewards when using our favorite applications. Have you noticed this subtle good-feeling when someone retweeted you or liked your photo, the pleasure to scroll down and hunt for interesting yet unpredictable tweets, or the curiosity led by the uncertainty of friends’ posts that are liked and shared on your endless Facebook stream? All you have to do to access that interesting content is to keep scrolling, using the same psychology used when pulling the handle of a slot machine.

It actually goes back to brain chemistry and a neurotransmitter playing a major role in reward motivated behavior called the dopamine. Every time you look at your unpredictable news feed or someone engage with your content, you receive a dopamine hit! The dopamine controls the release of various hormones, including the ones activating happiness. So, in a way, scrolling down your feed and interacting gives you a feeling of happiness.

The most successful applications have been using those psychological triggers to hook users. Those malicious tricks are so powerful that we start seeing some social network executives expressing remorse, such as former Facebook President Sean Parker confessing last November that Facebook knew they were creating something addictive that exploited a vulnerability in human psychology. And what about this other Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya, stating during the same month that Social Media was ripping society apart? A little bit too dramatic one might say, but still worth noticing coming from people who built Facebook as we know it (and earned billions along the way). 

Facebook indirectly responded to the negative press coverage that followed with a blog post sharing a study measuring the impact of technology on users. The conclusion of the research they conducted was the following:

Actively interacting with people — especially sharing messages, posts and comments with close friends — is linked to improvements in well-being […] while passively consuming content was creating bad feeling and impacting negatively mental health.

A self-serving study that clearly does not align with the seriousness required for such topic. It is probably time for independent studies at large scale to emerge and feed the debate that actually goes way beyond Facebook.

Time to build technology on our values.

Social media companies have increasing societal and moral responsibilities due to their global footprint and impact on people’s life. It actually does not stop at social media. Psychologist Sherry Turkle demonstrates that the phone itself has redefined modern relationship, making us “alone together”.

But hey, there is hope! First, users need to become more aware of what create addiction and understand the mechanisms to take back control. And application architects need to build products responsibly. Check out this video from digital marketer, storyteller and poet based in NYC named Max Stossel who created a beautiful manifesto to « imagine a future where technology is built on our values, not our screen time.« 

Ok, now time for me to unplug and feed my baby girl, she deserves my full attention :-). Don’t forget to like, comment and share my post and let’s continue the conversation on LinkedIn and twitter, so that I can get my hit of dopamine! After all, I am addicted, but it is not my fault.

Credit image header par @norebbo

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