With fields like quantitative psychology, resources such as data marts, risk-reward seeking habits combined with social influence/acceptance, and the Cambridge Analytica scandal it is apparent that many programs have algorithms in them to take discover and advantage our psychological constitution. And since many of these programs are profit based or at least thrive (directly or indirectly) through user engagement, it is reasonable to assume or logically derive the conclusion that these apps are designed to be addictive.
Algorithms that you are most likely to encounter are used in the form of apps or programs on your devices. And the device that has the most access to you is your phone. So for this article the mention of phones and apps is to reference their usage of algorithms to get users addicted.
Even though increased phone usage has be correlated with symptoms of psychological disorders, addiction is an extreme version of a habit that requires dependency and harmful effects (which often time the harmfulness depends on how extreme the habit and dependency is). So, for this post we’ll largely focus on habits that could then transform into an addiction (if it isn’t already) in order to encourage pro-activity for the largest audience. In this post I’ll talk about symptoms, suggested ways to break free of the habit, and potential impacts on our society.
So you maybe wondering “How do I know if I’m addicted”. Well a few things that should at least raise your eyebrow is if you oftentimes find you self just opening your phone, taping on the screen for no particular reason. That shows you’ve already habituated it to the point that you turn to your phone regularly and unconsciously.
Another eyebrow raising condition is phantom phone syndrome. That is when you feel (usually at the area where you normally keep your phone) as though your phone rang/vibrated even when the phone isn't there. This is your body acting in a similar manner as your mind does in the previous example of checking your phone. I believe this is due to your body auto-reacting to a stimulus it assumes will be there.
Then there is addictive like behavior such as disengaging significantly in real-life social interactions for tech or online engagement. This shows a harm element, replacing in-person relationships (that often can provide real benefits like touch, compassion, financial support, etc) for digital ones that often times are superficial and fleeting.
How to stop
The first step is to reduce notifications. It’s much more difficult to quit a habit, for instance shopping addiction, if your constantly being told about the newest sale going on at the local mall. It's kind of similar to the idea of 'out of sight, out of mind'. And if your phone vibrates or makes noises when these notifications go off then you will be interrupted less.
Replace the reward. If your always checking your phone because of social media or emails, turn off your phone and go to a networking/social event. If your always checking instagram try to replace it with movies, or DIY shows. Studies suggest such short term attention getting tasks harms your attention span.
As usual you can try the cold turkey approach as well. Send out posts, emails, etc to everyone that you will be going off grid for however long you’ve already decided on. But a compromise to that is to reduce the memory on your phone. Less memory means less apps.
The CNBC article on "These simple steps will help you stop checking your phone so much" suggests using greyscale to make the images less appealing and using accountability apps to keep you aware of how much time your spending on your phone. The greyscale would seem ideal if you spend a lot of time on visual-centered programs like instagram, youtube, etc. But it may not be as useful for apps like twitter, or emails.
Potential Impacts on our Society
With any new widespread effect or device one has to wonder how it will change our society even if only a little bit. Social media and apps are no exception. And these concerns go farther than you spending money on the latest in-app purchases.
Increased addiction to phones and social media will also increases the impacts of algorithmic influence. Increased addiction to phones has been correlated with antisocial personality disorder. With the data markets as they are (sharing your info for profit, directly or indirectly), each second of interaction with said programs is more information about you to sell and more influence on you to sell.
With decreased attention span and increased anxiety that makes it easier to distract and act on impulses. Those are the ideal characteristics of a target for manipulative actors or con-artists. We’ve already seen foreign governments using it to suppress voter turnout (depression makes it less likely people will leave their home), and facebook influencing people’s moods. These are just a couple reasons why these addictions and algorithmic influences are important to national security.
Crime syndicates (including terrorists) may start bricking phones of people they know are addicted to their phones for money or even because they may have richer data on other people in their network. And even more fundamental as a culture, we have to worry how we can maintain independence when a country like China can get data on users and use it to send emotionally compromising media to who everyone they deem to be key community members.
What will that sermon be like if right before service starts the pastor saw a youtube ad about pools when she was traumatized by nearly drowning as a child. How well will your attorney argue for you in the FISA court if they got a notification of a string of memes that all have to do with nihilism and free will as an illusion. What will the young aspiring domestic terrorist do when he hears the fake news story on facebook that the loud crash he heard wasn’t a plane crashing because of an inexperienced pilot’s error but is a ‘race-war’ that has started in his town.
I admit, some of these problems can only be fixed once those in power respect us and our data enough to enact regulations and brake data-monopolies or at least if they experience mass consumer backlash. However the steps suggested in this article are ways to reduce and mitigate these harms. Enjoy your tech, just enjoy it responsibly.
Time. (2015) You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish
Retrieved from http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/ 12/31
Medium. (2017) The Addiction Algorithm
Retrieved from https://medium.com/@jeffeinstein1/the-addiction-algorithm-864aff96795
New York Times. (2013) Addicted to Apps
Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/25/sunday-review/addicted-to-apps.html
UCLA, Psychology Department
Retrieved from https://www.psych.ucla.edu/graduate/areas-of-study/quantitative-psychology
Psychology Today. (2013) Phantom Pocket Vibration Syndrome
Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/rewired-the-psychology-technology/201305/phantom-pocket-vibration-syndrome 12/31
Science Daily. (2018) Why we fail to understand our smartphone use
Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180523104246.htm 12/31
CNBC. (2018) These simple steps will help you stop checking your phone so much
The Economist 1843 Magazine. (2016) The scientists who make apps addictive
Retrieved from https://www.1843magazine.com/features/the-scientists-who-make-apps-addictive
The Guardian. (2018) Mobile phone addiction? It’s time to take back control
Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2018/jan/27/mobile-phone-addiction-apps-break-the-habit-take-back-control
Webmd. (2012) Addicted to Your Smartphone? Here's What to Do
Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/guide/addicted-your-smartphone-what-to-do#1
Business Insider. (2018) These are the sneaky ways apps like Instagram, Facebook, Tinder lure you in and get you 'addicted'
Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/how-app-developers-keep-us-addicted-to-our-smartphones-2018-1