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Day 24

The Reason You’re Addicted To The Web, Social Media And Your Smartphone

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Over the last 24 days The 2018 Digital Wellbeing Advent Calendar has outlined a set of practical strategies to live better with technology. We’ve shared ideas regarding your Netflix binging, excessive WhatsApp messaging, unrelenting email checking and Snapchat FOMO. We hope the strategies have been helpful.

But there is a deeper reason behind technology addictions.

That reason is called variable reward. And it’s the same reason gamblers get hooked.

Variable rewards are random positive reinforcements delivered after a task is completed. In other words, you get something good, for doing something good, some of the time.

And it’s the ‘some of the time’ piece that keeps us coming back time and time again.

We can thank pattern recognition as one reason humans have survived so long as a species. Evolutionary, it’s been advantageous to recognise patterns and respond accordingly. For example, that sounds like a dangerous animal I should run. Or, that looks like a delicious piece of fruit I should eat it.

Dopamine, an important chemical in the reward system of our brains, is released as a reward for completing behaviours our body believes to be good for us. Over time, as we repeat a dopamine-delivering-action, the neural pathway is reinforced.

As we try a novel piece of fruit, we get a little reward. The second time we try the fruit, we get a little reward again. But over time, the size of this reward fades and we’re incentivised to find new fruit for new rewards. However, if each time we ate the fruit the reward size was unpredictable, we’d struggle to find a pattern keeping our curiosity fixated on finding more of these curious fruits. This is variable reward.

This useful evolutionary trait is now being used against us.

The advertising model of technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, requires user attention in app. How do they convince us to spend more time with them? Yep, variable reward.

Below are examples of popular apps and how they use variable reward to keep us hooked.

Smartphones notification

Email & WhatsApp

Facebook

Netflix

Snapchat

Instagram

Let's recognise the cues now we know what variable reward is.

Strategies

Despite a complex topic, today’s strategy is simple: recognise the cues.

Next time you catch yourself mindlessly scrolling, swiping or tapping, ask yourself...

Should the answers be 'I don't know' and 'Yes', variable reward has you hooked.

Take a second to consider your intentions and if this time is time well spent.

Wrapping up

Today was the final post. We hope you’ve enjoyed The 2018 Digital Wellbeing Advent Calendar. It’s been a pleasure to share our positive strategies for better relationships with the web, smartphones and social media. If you’re interested in more digital wellbeing tips (including a heads up for next year’s advent calendar) register for our newsletter below…

Merry Xmas everyone!

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Author

Fraser Deans

Today's article was written by Fraser Deans. Fraser is a Digital Product Designer and founder of The Wholesome Technology Company, focused on practicing and spreading ideas for living well with technology.

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