Social media platforms are using the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and ingrain their products in the lives of their users, experts warn.
These methods are so effective they can activate similar mechanisms as cocaine in the brain, create psychological cravings and even invoke “phantom calls and notifications” where users sense the buzz of a smartphone, even when it isn’t really there.
“Facebook, Twitter and other companies use methods similar to the gambling industry to keep users on their sites,” said Natasha Schüll, the author of Addiction by Design, which reported how slot machines and other systems are designed to lock users into a cycle of addiction. “In the online economy, revenue is a function of continuous consumer attention – which is measured in clicks and time spent.”
Whether it’s Snapchat streaks, Facebook photo-scrolling, or playing CandyCrush, Schüll explained, you get drawn into “ludic loops” or repeated cycles of uncertainty, anticipation and feedback — and the rewards are just enough to keep you going.
“If you disengage, you get peppered with little messages or bonus offers to get your attention and pull you back in,” said Schüll. “We have to start recognising the costs of time spent on social media. It’s not just a game – it affects us financially, physically and emotionally.”
Recreating the slot machine
The pull-to-refresh and infinite scrolling mechanism on our news feeds are unnervingly similar to a slot machine, said Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist for Google who has been described as the closest thing Silicon Valley has to a conscience.
“You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing,” Harris wrote.
We cannot know when we will be rewarded, and more often than not we don’t find anything interesting or gratifying, much like gambling. But that’s precisely what keeps us coming back.
“The rewards are what psychologists refer to as variable reinforcement schedules and is the key to social media users repeatedly checking their screens,” said Dr Mark Griffiths, a professor of behavioural addiction and director of Nottingham Trent University’s International Gaming Research Unit.
“Social media sites are chock-a-block with unpredictable rewards. They are trying to grab users’ attentions … to make social media users create a routine and habitually check their screens.”
Like gambling, which physically alters the brain’s structure and makes people more susceptible to depression and anxiety, social media use has been linked to depression and its potential to have an adverse psychological impact on users cannot be overlooked or underestimated.
For instance, phone dependency, driven by high social-media usage, can lead us to think our phone is vibrating, or that we have received a message, even when we haven’t.
“Phantom calls and notifications are linked to our psychological craving for such signals,” said Professor Daniel Kruger, an expert in human behaviour, from the University of Michigan. “These social media messages can activate the same brain mechanisms as cocaine [does] and this is just one of the ways to identify those mechanisms because our minds are a physiological product of our brain.”
“There are whole departments trying to design their systems to be as addictive as possible. They want you to be permanently online and by bombarding you with messages and stimuli try to redirect your attention back to their app or webpage.”
However, the number of monthly active users of Facebook hit 2.13 billion earlier this year, up 14% from a year ago. Despite the furore around its data privacy issues, the social media monolith posted record revenues for the first quarter of 2018, making $11.97bn, up 49% on last year.
A key reason for this is because Facebook has become so entrenched in our lives: we can’t put it down.
Behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products, has conceptualised how people become attached to social media.
“It starts with a trigger, an action, a reward and then an investment and its through successive cycles, through these hooks, that habits are formed. We see them in all sorts of products, certainly in social media and gambling. This is a big part of how habits are changed.”
Once a habit is formed something previously prompted by an external trigger, like a notification, email, or any sort of ring or ding, is no longer needed, Eyal remarked.
It is replaced or supplemented with an internal trigger meaning that we form a mental association between wanting to use this product and seeking to serve an emotional need.
“The products are built to be engaging and what’s engaging for some is addictive for others, that’s clear.”
"... a collaboration between Apple and Cochlear, a company that has been involved with implant technology since the treatment’s early days ... announced last week that the first product based on this approach, Cochlear’s Nucleus 7 sound processor, won FDA approval in June—the first time that the agency has approved such a link between cochlear implants and phones or tablets.
Those using the system can not only get phone calls directly routed inside their skulls, but also stream music, podcasts, audio books, movie soundtracks, and even Siri—all straight to the implant.
It connects with hearing aids whose manufacturers have adopted the free Apple protocols, earning them a “Made for iPhone” approval. Apple also has developed a feature called Live Listen that lets hearing aid users employ the iPhone as a microphone—which comes in handy at meetings and restaurants.
An iPhone or iPod Touch pairs with hearing aids—cochlear and conventional—the same way that it finds AirPods or nearby Bluetooth speakers.
[...] Merging medical technology like Apple’s is a clear benefit to those needing hearing help. But I’m intrigued by some observations that Dr. Biever, the audiologist who’s worked with hearing loss patients for two decades, shared with me. She says that with this system, patients have the ability to control their sound environment in a way that those with good hearing do not—so much so that she is sometimes envious. How cool would it be to listen to a song without anyone in the room hearing it? “When I’m in the noisiest of rooms and take a call on my iPhone, I can’t hold my phone to ear and do a call,” she says. “But my recipient can do this.”
This paradox reminds me of the approach I’m seeing in the early commercial efforts to develop a brain-machine interface: an initial focus on those with cognitive challenges with a long-term goal of supercharging everyone’s brain. We’re already sort of cyborgs, working in a partnership of dependency with those palm-size slabs of glass and silicon that we carry in our pockets and purses. The next few decades may well see them integrated subcutaneously."
"A ban on pedestrians looking at mobile phones or texting while crossing the street will take effect in Hawaii's largest city in late October, as Honolulu becomes the first major U.S. city to pass legislation aimed at reducing injuries and deaths from "distracted walking."
The ban comes as cities around the world grapple with how to protect phone-obsessed "smartphone zombies" from injuring themselves by stepping into traffic or running into stationary objects.
Starting Oct. 25, Honolulu pedestrians can be fined between $15 and $99, depending on the number of times police catch them looking at a phone or tablet device as they cross the street, Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters gathered near one of the city's busiest downtown intersections on Thursday... People making calls for emergency services are exempt from the ban... Opponents of the Honolulu law argued it infringes on personal freedom and amounts to government overreach."
In a related article:
"The city of London has tried putting pads on their lamp posts "to soften the blow for distracted walkers..."
Children refusing to put down their phones is a common flashpoint in many homes, with a third of British children aged 12 to 15 admitting they do not have a good balance between screen time and other activities.
But in the US, the problem has become so severe for some families that children as young as 13 are being treated for digital technology addiction.
One ‘smartphone rehab’ centre near Seattle has started offering residential “intensive recovery programs” for teenagers who have trouble controlling their use of electronic devices.
The Restart Life Centre says parents have been asking it to offer courses of treatment to their children for more than eight years.
Hilarie Cash, the Centre’s founder, told Sky News smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices can be so stimulating and entertaining that they “override all those natural instincts that children actually have for movement and exploration and social interaction”.
Child psychotherapist Julie Lynn Evans, who has worked with hospitals, schools and families for 25 years, said her workload has significantly increased since the use of smartphones became widespread among young people.
“It’s a simplistic view, but I think it is the ubiquity of broadband and smartphones that has changed the pace and the power and the drama of mental illness in young people,” she told The Telegraph.
A ComRes poll of more than 1,000 parents of children aged under 18, published in September 2015, found 47 per cent of parents said they thought their children spent too much time in front of screens, with 43 per cent saying this amounts to an emotional dependency."
Distracted. Addicted. Alone Together. Emotionally dead. Disengaged from the real world. A parody of itself.
Animation by Steve Cutts. Music by Moby & The Void Pacific Choir, These Systems Are Failing.
"Scientists say they can deduce the lifestyle of an individual, down to the kind of grooming products they use, food they eat and medications they take, from chemicals found on the surface of their mobile phone. Experts say analysis of someone's phone could be a boon both to healthcare professionals, and the police.
"You can narrow down male versus female; if you then figure out they use sunscreen then you pick out the [people] that tend to be outdoorsy -- so all these little clues can sort of narrow down the search space of candidate people for an investigator," said Pieter Dorrestein, co-author of the research from the University of California, San Diego.
Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the U.S. and Germany describe how they swabbed the mobile phone and right hand of 39 individuals and analyzed the samples using the highly sensitive technique of mass spectrometry.
The results revealed that each person had a distinct "signature" set of chemicals on their hands which distinguished them from each other. What's more, these chemicals partially overlapped with those on their phones, allowing the devices to be distinguished from each other, and matched to their owners.
Analysis of the chemical traces using a reference database allowed the team to match the chemicals to known substances or their relatives to reveal tell-tale clues from each individual's life -- from whether they use hair-loss treatments to whether they are taking antidepressants.
Mark Serrels writes in The Age about how he knows he's addicted to his phone. He says "he's too far gone," "living inside your own head can be terrifying," and that he's addicted to the escapism over confronting the real world.
"Yes, social media is a poisoned chalice of pure narcissism," but, "if you have someone who depends on you, particularly children, it's probably a good idea to have a functioning mobile phone on you at all times. And that's precisely why I decided to stop being silly and get a mobile phone again."
"Nah, just kidding. It was totally social media. I gotta get those Facebook likes. I need that validation. And the podcasts. I really missed the podcasts."
Minutes after a police officer shot Philando Castile in Minnesota, United States, a live video was published on Facebook of the aftermath. Castile was captured in some harrowing detail and streamed to Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, using the live video tool on her smartphone. She narrates the footage with a contrasting mix of eerie calm and anguish. But the video was removed from Facebook due to, as company says, a "technical glitch." The video has since been restored, but with a "Warning -- Graphic Video," disclaimer.
Now an article has come out commenting on how Facebook has become the "de-facto platform" for such "controversial" videos, and that there's a pattern in these so called glitches--as they happen very often time after "questionable content" is streamed.
It has long been obvious to anyone paying attention that Facebook operates various nefarious controls over all aspects of how information is displayed and disseminated on their network, not just with advertising and the filter bubble:
Smartphones, tablets and e-readers should have an automatic "bedtime mode" that stops them disrupting people's sleep, says a leading doctor.
Prof Paul Gringras argued the setting should filter out the blue light that delays the body clock and keeps people awake later into the evening.
The doctor, from Evelina Children's Hospital in London, said every new model was "bluer and brighter".
He said manufacturers needed to show more "responsibility".
As it gets darker in the evening, the body starts to produce the sleep hormone melatonin - which helps people nod off.
Certain wavelengths of light, those at the blue-green end of the spectrum, can disrupt the system.
Prof Gringras was part of a study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, analysing the light emitted by devices.
It concluded there was a clear trend for new devices to be bigger, brighter, have higher levels of contrast and emit more blue light.
The professor of children's sleep medicine told the BBC News website: "That is great for use in the day, but awful for use at night.
"There is converging data to say if you are in front of one of these devices at night-time it could prevent you falling asleep by an extra hour."
Thanks for the link KMA.
"Ladies and gents, put down your technology and have more sex.
That's the advice from a team of scientists who found people are becoming so enveloped by their phone and tablets that their love lives are being put on the back burner.
So if you are one of those reading this on your smartphone in bed, a glance across the sheets is likely to reveal your partner is engrossed in theirs too.
The researchers discovered 70 per cent of women said smartphones were interfering in their romantic relationship.
The study said technology and the screens that consume us are creating 'technoference' in couples."
Compare to declining birth rate in Japan in this article here. Could there be a link?
"Various reasons have been cited for the population decline, including:
The rising cost of childbirth and child-raising
The increasing number of women in the workforce
The later average age of marriage
The increasing number of unmarried people
Changes in the housing environment and in social customs."