A look at the science behind the 'technological arms race' to keep people fixated on their phones
The average Canadian teenager is on track to spend nearly a decade of their life staring at a smartphone, and that's no accident, according to an industry insider who shared some time-sucking secrets of the app design trade.
CBC Marketplace travelled to Dopamine Labs, a startup in Venice, Calif., that uses artificial intelligence and neuroscience to help companies hook people with their apps.
Named after the brain molecule that gives us pleasure, Dopamine Labs uses computer coding to influence behaviour — most importantly, to compel people to spend more time with an app and to keep coming back for more.
Co-founder Ramsay Brown, who studied neuroscience at the University of Southern California, says it's all built into the design.
"We're really living in this new era that we're not just designing software anymore, we're designing minds."
Brown is one of the few industry insiders who would talk. Marketplace contacted social media giants Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. None would go on the record to discuss their design techniques.
Brown says he hopes by speaking to CBC, Canadians will be more informed about how they're being manipulated to spend so much time using apps.
To make a profit, companies "need your eyeballs locked in that app as long as humanly possible," he says. "And they're all in a technological arms race to keep you there the longest."
One of the most popular techniques, he says, is called variable reinforcement or variable rewards.
It involves three steps: a trigger, an action and a reward.Possibly also of interest:
A push notification, such as a message that someone has commented on your Facebook photo, is a trigger; opening the app is the action; and the reward could be a "like" or a "share" of a message you posted.
These rewards trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, making the user feel happy, possibly even euphoric, Brown says.
"Just by controlling when and how you give people that little burst of dopamine, you can get them to go from using [the app] a couple times a week to using it dozens of times a week."
The rewards aren't predictable. We don't always get a like, a retweet or a share every time we check our phones. And that's what makes it compulsive, Brown says.
Plus, he says, app developers use artificial intelligence, which is essentially decision-making code, to predict the best time to make the payouts based on the user data they collect....MUCH MORE
"Google, Twitter and Facebook workers who helped make technology so addictive are disconnecting themselves from the internet"
Dopamine Labs: "Meet the tech company that wants to make you even more addicted to your phone"
If You Want To Be Happy, Listen Up. Now! alternative title: The FT's Izabella Kaminska Is...
See also, if interested, the very accessible:
Reward Deficiency SyndromeSome Thoughts on Google Offering An Online Depression Test
(14 page PDF)
To encourage more sufferers to seek treatment, Google is now offering a quiz for users to check their own depression symptoms when searching for information about the disease. What do you think?
“This should help remedy the current problem of Google not having nearly enough info about me.”Hannah Leibold Lithium Wholesaler
“Thanks, but if I were actually interested in addressing my mental health problems I wouldn’t be spending so much time online.”Pete Winspear Sidewalk Excavator
Additionally, we have dozens and dozens of posts on the effects of neurotransmitters on, well everything:
"Your genes affect your betting behavior"
A subject near and dear, some links below.
From the University of California at Berkeley...
Want to Make Big Money? Engineer A Little Addiction Into Your Product
"New research suggests link between genetics, Wall Street success"
Berlusconi Blames Stock Market Volatility On Cocaine (and a look at neurotransmitters)
The Leadership Gene: DAT1
The Internet, Deflation and Depression
...Further, the newspapers likened the changes to those seen in cocaine abusers but went on to describe something quite different from my understanding of what blow does to the reward pathways, overexciting the dopamine cascade until the various D receptors no longer react to dopamine and eventually leading to anhedonia. The big A is often concurrent with and like anxiety, may even kindle for, depression.
Don't worry, be happy.