[Interesting from abroad] How do we stop technology dependence?

Original author: Scott Greer
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Hyde, how to get back the time that our devices take from us.
Note translator:
This is rather not a guide, but a reflection on the topic of modern dependence on smartphones and applications. The article is already 11 months old, so when you see the phrase “recently”, consider this fact.
The article was translated from interest to the position of reducing the impact of smartphones on our personal precious time.

Enjoy reading.
You are dependent on your smartphone. I am addicted to my smartphone. The applications and services we use on a daily basis have been designed to steal our attention and are constantly evolving to make us more dependent.

In many ways, attention is the lifeblood of modern business. For large technology companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and many others, there is a direct correlation between attention and growth / income / success.

Recent technological evolution has raised many ethical and psychological issues. Do they manipulate us? Should we be more controlled? Do we really understand the negative impact of technological dependence?

Image courtesy of the author.

Addiction recipe

Adam Alter, author of The Irresistible: The Development of Addictive Technologies, focuses on the fact that people have been susceptible to behavioral addictions throughout history (long before the advent of smartphones). Be that as it may, the technologies that have emerged over the past decade have dramatically increased these trends.

After reading the book, it became obvious that our dependence on modern technologies boils down to some key elements that feed off each other:

  1. Variable rewards

    Every time you go into Facebook / Instagram / VKontakte applications, you can see five notifications, or none. Your latest photo may have 12 likes, and maybe 270. This variable system of rewards attracts for obvious reasons and always forces users to come back for a new portion. This is a gaming machine. Each reward is unique. The feedback that you get from any post is updated in real time and changes every minute. This gaming mentality is hard to resist, and we feel the need to come back often.
  2. Distraction

    Boredom is our worst enemy, so we will do everything to avoid it - even if it is something that makes us less happy. In the book, Alter refers to a fascinating experiment in 2014, in which people preferred to shock themselves rather than sit alone with their thoughts for 20 minutes. Many of us prefer chaos rather than predictability in our daily routine, and social networks reinforce this preference. Because social networks are a feedback loop that becomes more and more exciting the more we use it.
  3. Stoplights

    In 2012, Netflix officially launched a revolution of endless viewing with the release of autoplay on the entire platform. Soon enough, Facebook and YouTube have adapted this feature in themselves. This, of course, led to a rapid increase in video views. Moreover, the endless scroll also became the main design element in social networks. Content never stops, like this, five minutes turned into half an hour, although users didn't even think about it.
  4. Vanity Metrics

    In our culture, people are engrossed in the constant pursuit of numerical goals as a result of real-time feedback. You ran ten miles. Walked 10,000 steps. Your post scored 100 reposts. Your 1,000th follower has subscribed. You have the longest Snapstreak of all your friends (worst of all). These “micro-victories” mean nothing, but they give us a dose of dopamine every time, and their increasing frequency makes us spend more time and strive to achieve new trivial goals on a regular basis.

The recipe for addiction is convincing, and the worst thing is that these various factors make people avoid personal contact, spend less time with family and friends, and even risk their lives . Our dependencies make us miss many moments that we can never live again.

Alter's 2017 speech at TED (original) “ Why gadgets do not make us happier ” (Russian dubbing) is an excellent overview of these issues and is well worth your time.


Most people simply do not understand how much time they spend in their devices and “Irresistible” [book] explores many of the alarming ways in which technology has invaded our lives over the past decade. The lack of our self-awareness is one of the most alarming signs of this epidemic.

A couple of years ago, designer / developer Kevin Holesh created a terrific application called Moment , which allows people to track the time they spend daily using a smartphone and their habits during use. In general, the results are the same: people greatly underestimate the time spent in mobile devices.

On average, we check [check] our smartphonesevery six minutes, 150 times a day . Even when your smartphone is turned off, only its presence can reduce your cognitive abilities . And in less than two decades, our communication with friends and family has decreased by almost 30 percent .

Source: USC Annenberg Center for the Digital Future

There is no doubt that we admire technology for obvious reasons, but the problem is that we do not understand the consequences of our behavior. In fact, many smartphone users deny the level of distraction to their devices.

James Williams , a former Google employee and supporter of ethical design, believes that social networks impede our ability to think clearlyand ultimately affect us like a drug. Attention revolves around design for addiction, so he believes that it “ gives our impulses an advantage over our intentions .”

Honestly, I personally feel that I am not helping in solving the problem. For nearly a decade, I've managed large-scale advertising on Facebook and Google AdWords campaigns in a wide variety of industries. And the recent transition to smartphones (i.e. dependency) was massive on both channels .

The irony did not leave me. I understand that I depend on these companies to make a living, but one of the main reasons for my concern is that their advertising platforms work. Very good. Someone might say scary good.

That is why theyown the digital advertising industry . Experienced advertisers around the world generate billions of dollars in revenue, targeting users on social networks and search, and the data that Facebook and Google have will only become more extensive over time.

Facebook Issue (s)

At first glance, Facebook is the most obvious provider of dependencies and primitive trends. Even the former president of the company, Sean Parker, recently stated that Facebook’s original goal was to “ consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible .”

People do not trust Facebook . There have been many allegations that a social network can negatively affect an emotional state. In response, Facebook promised to make changes to the product after it finally recognized that the content on its platform could make people “feel worse” after leaving the site. However, the latest update of the news feed is just the beginning.

Roger McNamee, a successful venture capitalist and former mentor of Mark Zuckerberg, believes that serious changes in business must occur before users notice the difference. In his opinion, nothing will improve with Facebook or Google, “ until they give up their current advertising models .”

McNamee and many others agree that Facebook is responsible for solving this problem . And let's be honest ... they have several. Fake news is one of the biggest issues on Facebook right now.

In 2016, Zuckerberg, as we know, refuted the idea that fake news could become common on the platform. Former President Barack Obama even warned themabout this before the election of Donald Trump, but they did not listen , and the rest is history . Now we are faced with a situation where users are becoming more susceptible to manipulation and lies, as they spend more time on the world's largest social network.

In John Battelle , CEO of NewCo, there are some interesting ideas about how Facebook can develop, but argues that the federal regulation of Silicon Valley is a must. And some lawmakers are outragedlack of regulation to date. Facebook has no problem changing its platform on a regular basis (both for users and advertisers), but it may be time to think about serious changes in how we derive revenue from attention. Currently, any form of attracting content is equal to profit, whether it is positive content, negative or fake.

Devices and children

We can criticize social networks, apps, and games all day, but it's important to note that the root of the problem began with the release of the iPhone in 2007. Since then, nothing will be the same.

By all accounts, the Apple product is a phenomenal invention that has changed lives and revolutionized industries, but the nature of device dependency (and smartphones in general) is as clear as day . And, unfortunately, we still do not understand the long-term impact on children who grew up with them, and whose parents do not know anything better than their smartphones.
I am also afraid that the tactics of manipulation and addictive behavior increase with each generation.

Recently, two large Apple investors have expressed their concerns about dependence on smartphones in an open letter.companies from Cupertino. This is an important step in the right direction, because young children spend more and more time with devices every day. The numbers [in USA] are alarming:

  1. A whopping 40 percent of children aged 0–8 years old have their own iPad.
  2. The average time spent on mobile devices every day between the ages of 0 and 8 years increased by 860 percent (from five to 48 minutes) between 2011 and 2017.
  3. On average, children under the age of 18 use their devices almost twice as often as adults.

Dependence on smartphones also contributes to problems in relationships and makes the younger generation feel unhappy .

At the end of 2017, Facebook added fuel to the fire by launching an application for children aged 6 to 12 years called Messenger Kids, which has already caused a lot of controversy . As a parent, I can say that there are many reasons for concern. So what do we do now?

Well spent time

Tristan Harris , another former Google employee and expert on technology dependence, has been at the forefront of this discussion for the past few years. He urged Silicon Valley companies to be more thoughtful about designing and changing the way they develop their products and business models.

In practice, which Harris calls “ race to the bottom of the brain stem, ” technology companies continue to borrow tactics from each other to make us more dependent: automatic video playback (Netflix, YouTube, Facebook), photo tags (Facebook). , Google, Instagram), like button (Facebook, then all the rest), push notifications (all). The list can be continued.

In another fantastic performance on TED, he explains that this prioritization of attention is just another way of manipulating users for financial gain.

Together with several other former employees of Silicon Valley, Harris recently launched an inspiring project called “ Center for Humanistic Technologies ”. The idea is to create a community of former ones. insiders who are working to eliminate the “crisis of digital attention” and create a new model.

What started out as a small movement, known as “Well spent time,” developed into a national discussion , and Harris took the lead. The task before us is not small. But, given the current pace of technology development, I would say that we have no other choice.

Take control

Of course, it is easy to criticize, but I do not want to downplay the importance of technology and the opportunities it provides us. My whole career revolved around technical advances, and I am grateful for that. However, I am also afraid that the tactics of manipulation and addictive behavior only increase with each generation.

As parents of two children (one for 2 years, the second for 2 months), my wife and I decided to discuss the use of technology and ensure that any time on the screen looked like a social rather than an isolated activity. But we are not perfect. Sometimes I blame myself for using my phone instead of just being with my children here and now, which makes me feel terrible, because every minute is so precious. I know I can do better.

Being attentive and present is a long way, but technology companies do not make it easier for us. Giving your child a smartphone / tablet / computer is one of the easiest and fastest ways to make him or her “happier” in the short term. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There is ample evidence that long-term focus on the screen harms small children . And although the removal from the device entirely is practically impossible, we must remember that leaving children alone with their devices is detrimental to their development. The starting point is the recognition of addiction and the recognition that children are more vulnerable than anyone.

Silicon Valley, meanwhile, must use its capabilities to limit dependency through conscious, ethical product development. Digital media should not be viewed as a vending machine where attention turns into money without consequence. There are many negative effects and they will become brighter when the race for our attention intensifies.

At the same time, track your habits when using your smartphone. Use apps that make you feel better. Disable unnecessary notifications. Take responsibility. Set boundaries with your children. As adults, we must accept and understand our own addiction before we can encourage or expect more conscious behavior from our children. Easier said than done, but now more important than ever before.
Note translator.

In the meantime, the guys from Cupertino seem to have taken up the problem of dependence and added parental control in iOS 12 (which you can also apply to yourself). Also, Google in Android 9 added the ability to set a time limit for a particular application. What do you think about this? Will such measures be effective or is it just a step towards meeting the excuse “well, we added what you asked for”?

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