The red notification spots on our smartphone home screens and the corners of the most popular Apps which hundreds of millions flock to daily are designed to maximise time-on-app by delivering little loops of incentive and reward which drive behaviour deep in our psyches.
Its not as though Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, three examples of the digital world’s most visited and arguably most addictive services, necessarily set out to nefariously use the same behavioural science that casinos have to get us hooked, but they’ve managed to get there in the end anyway.
Employing the science of ‘behavioural design’, which grew from research in laboratory rats pulling levers for food over 85 years go, has lead to the internet and increasingly our smartphones becoming the ultimate reward levers for our subconscious behaviours.
Nir Eyal, who wrote a book aimed at tech entrepreneurs named: “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” describes state we’re currently in: “When you’re feeling uncertain, before you ask why you’re uncertain, you Google. When you’re lonely, before you’re even conscious of feeling it, you go to Facebook. Before you know you’re bored, you’re on YouTube. Nothing tells you to do these things. The users trigger themselves.”
The stakes in moulding our collective behaviour couldn’t be higher, there are billions invested in and depending on continuously refining the addictive digital services inducing dopamine responses in our brains. The question is, who’s ultimately in control? Clearly the impulsive mind can be drawn into digital services which can hook and loop us into almost continuous repetitive behaviour… question is, how can we employ the same patterns for our personal benefits?
Consider learning platforms like Duolingo, teaching its users new languages. The reward and response loops are the same, but the purpose is a higher one than the pointless ego and affirmation-stroking likes that Dave Eggers’ protagonists prophetically obsess over in ‘The Circle’. Reality again mimics fiction and vice versa.