I canâ€™t remember the last time I picked up a book, started reading and wasnâ€™t even sure why. Now replace the word â€œbookâ€ with â€œsmartphoneâ€ and it becomes less absurd.Â Weâ€™ve reached a stage with devices wherein, despite not knowing why, we’re reaching for them more and moreÂ in our every day.
For most of us, our heightened interest in our smartphones borders on addiction, but it isnâ€™t necessarily our fault. Unsurprisingly, itâ€™s the exact outcome app programmers are aiming to have on your brain.
Read More:Â In Defence Of Your Binge-Watching â€œProblemâ€
Former Google product manager Tristan Harris made an enlightening appearance on the US version of 60 Minutes last week to explain how the addictive nature of some of the worldâ€™s most popular apps isnâ€™t at all coincidence â€“ theyâ€™re specifically programmed to have you use them more and more. He compares it to the pokies, and we all know how problematic they can be. He also calls it “brain hacking”.
“This is one way to hijack peopleâ€™s minds and create a habit… What you do is you make it so [that] when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward.”
â€œEvery time I check my phone, Iâ€™m playing the slot machine to see, â€˜What did I get?â€™â€ he told journalist Anderson Cooper. â€œThis is one way to hijack peopleâ€™s minds and create a habit, to form a habit. What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward. And it turns out that this design technique can be embedded inside of all these products.â€
Anyone whoâ€™s stayed up late into the night for no reason other than to endlessly scroll through your InstaÂ feed knows that the cognitive reward of yet another perfectly captured flat-lay is enough to keep you going, even if youâ€™re not sure why.
Following a study at the University of Derby, researchers â€“ who found that 13Â per cent of participants have a full-blown addiction and spend over 3.5 hours per day on their phones â€“ have suggested including health warnings for any app withÂ an addictive quality.
â€œPeople need to know the potential addictive properties of new technologies,â€ the studyâ€™s co-author Dr Zaheer Hussain warns. â€œ[The warning] could be before they purchase them or before they download an app. If youâ€™re downloading a game such as Candy Crush or Flappy Bird, there could be a warning saying that you could end up playing this for hours and you have other responsibilities [that could be neglected].â€
If youâ€™re a little too interested in your friendâ€™s response to your meme-tagging spree, maybe itâ€™s time to step away from the smartphone.