I live in Vegas, and here it’s common knowledge that the casino industry spends billions on psychological research and testing to make their slot machines as addictive as possible (which is why slot machines outnumber table games by as much as 100 to 1).
And one only needs to make a short visit to a local casino, to observe the masses of people sitting around pulling levers and pushing buttons as they feed their paychecks and savings into the machines (and now, believe it or not, casinos are even offering credit cards too!), to realize just how effective the technology is in addicting people (thus the infamous “Lost Wages” in reference to Las Vegas…)
Now, I’ve studied addiction psychology for over a decade, including the work of leading pioneers in the field such as Dr. Gabor Maté, Dr. Lance Dodes, Dr. Stanton Peele, and others—and even long before that, I’d managed to beat many of my own addictions over the course of my life: 30 years ago, I quit tobacco (in various forms); 20 years ago, I ditched TV; a little over 10 years ago, I beat a long, hard battle with alcohol; five years ago, it was unhealthy foods; and along those lines, I’ve never in my life owned a video game console—I simply know better than to invite yet another type of temptation/distraction/addiction into my life.
But in the past year or two, I found myself struggling with what seemed to be developing into an addiction to social media; and, though I recognized the addictive aspects of the habit and endeavored to beat it, I wasn’t aware until very recently that the addictive aspects are intentionally programmed in, using the same techniques as the casino industry, to make their apps and platforms as addictive as possible, keeping billions of people glued to their screens—and thus the company’s apps, sites…and of course their marketing & advertising.
This fact is why industry insider and now whistleblower Tristan Harris, in a 60 Minutes interview with Anderson Cooper entitled Brain Hacking, held up his smart phone and proclaimed: “This thing is a slot machine,” and then went on to describe how apps are programed to utilize the same addictive features that casinos utilize in slot machines.
Cooper goes on to interview others involved in programming technology to impact users psychologically in order to elicit the preferred actions and behaviors that benefit the companies implementing the tech. You can watch the entire 60 Minutes episode here:
Anyway, in order to get my use of social media under more stringent control before it progressed to actual addiction, my first step was to optimize: scrutinize my use of the platforms, determine the real benefits (if any) that their use afforded me or my life, then focus on tailoring my use in such a way as to maximize the benefits received, while minimizing my time, energy, and attention spent—otherwise known as digital minimalism, now a growing movement.
In his latest book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, computer science professor and bestselling author Cal Newport defines the digital minimalism philosophy thusly:
Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.
(Coincidentally, this is basically what I was endeavoring to do, even before learning of Newport’s book or the digital minimalism movement. In fact, I wrote a blog article detailing my efforts: How I Optimized Social Media For Maximum ROI, Instead of Leaving It Altogether, and also a short but related article: The Need to Re-establish an Appropriate Degree of Disconnectedness).
First, after some realistic analysis, I deleted all of my social networking accounts other than Facebook (the only one that seemed to provide any real benefit to me or my life), and then reduced/tailored my use of Facebook as detailed in the aforementioned article.
But that wasn’t enough—I still found myself “checking in” way too often, often habitually (subconsciously), and I knew that the distraction was taxing my productivity, probably even to a greater extent than I suspected. And, I could also feel that I was often left with negative emotions afterward—as participation in most any addictive activities, rather than mindful activities, will do.
So I went even further: I deleted the Facebook apps from my mobile devices (phone and tablet). And voilà—amazingly, my struggle suddenly ended! In hindsight, I now compare this move to ridding the kitchen of unhealthy foods (or alcohol), or ridding my life of tobacco products, or getting rid of the TV, or refusing to acquire a video game console: out of sight, out of mind.
(A quick aside: I AM currently dabbling with the new “Flote” uncensored social media platform launched by some friends of mine—but it’s still in the exploratory stage…)
But back to the issue at hand—the fact that tech companies are intentionally programming their apps and platforms to be as psychologically addictive as possible, thus keeping billions of their users hooked and their minds essentially under the company’s control for as long as possible: I’m in the process of deeper research on this issue, and hope to write a more in-depth blog article (or two) about it in the near future. But meantime, I thought I’d go ahead and share what knowledge/information I have, in case anyone else out there is also struggling with this issue and would like to better understand why, and what they can do about it.
Meantime, take a few minutes to watch Tristan Harris’s TED Talk, How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day:
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