A Tech Expert on Smartphone Addiction

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Apr 23, 2018

The Time Well Spent movement aims to make technology less addictive. Its head of content and storytelling explains why.

What techniques do companies use to keep us on-screen?

Every company is competing for our attention and we have a limited amount of it in 24 hours. So when YouTube starts autoplaying video, Netflix and Facebook have to do something similar. Batching notifications is another addictive design tactic; Instagram knows from your patterns that if it releases a bunch of “likes” at a particular time of the day, you’re likely to spend more time on the app.

Why does it matter how people spend their time?

These algorithms are optimised for engagement and what works at getting our attention are “filter bubbles” [information promoted based on a user’s clicks] and extreme statements. For example, if you search “vegetarian” on YouTube, you’ll be recommended vegan videos and ones against using honey. It’s like you’re never hardcore enough for the internet because what keeps you scrolling drags you deeper into the rabbit hole. Society does not benefit when the most extreme ideas rise to the top.

Was it positive that Mark Zuckerberg used the phrase “time well spent” in January, when he announced that Facebook users would see more personal posts over advertising?

It’s nice but he does seem to be misusing the term. Time Well Spent is about making lasting, fulfilling decisions. The time we spend on Facebook is ultimately correlated with shareholder value. 

What small steps can individuals take?

Turn off all notifications that are not from a human being and set your phone to greyscale. Much of the phone works like a slot machine; you push a button and sometimes you get a flashy reward – something important or interesting – but most times you don’t. Will you click a red notification dot? Absolutely you will. That’s a very addictive mechanism. 

SEE ALSO: Tech Talk with Nicola Hazell