That little electronic rectangle. Lying on your bed. Hugging your thigh inside your pocket. Kept safe from harm in your handbag. Or cradled in your hand.
You love spending time with it. You go everywhere together. You stroke it. You play with it. You hold it gently. You tell it everything about yourself. You miss it frantically when it's gone. And you cry when it dies.
You stare into it. And it stares back.
It's there when you're happy. When you're angry. When you're frustrated. When you cry. It spends more time with you than anyone else. More than your friends. More than your family. More than your wife. More than your children. More than yourself.
It's your most loyal friend. The one who wakes you up into the morning. The one who tells you where to go. The one who teaches you about the world. The one who captures your memories.The one you can count on in an emergency. The only friend you can truly trust.
For all the trust you've built over the years you've been together, perhaps there's one thought that you never allowed to cross your mind.
that Maybe your smartphone has an agenda of it's own.
What if all those secrets you've been telling it over the years weren't kept secret?
What if it's been talking about you behind your back?
What if it's manipulating your behaviour against your will?
What if, while pretending to be your most loyal friend, it's actually your greatest enemy?
What your smartphone really wants - The Attention Economy
In the 90's and the early 00's, there a sense in the tech community that technology should be free for everyone. A noble goal. A noble goal with unforeseen consequences.
Because if tech companies aren't going to make you pay for their services, then how will they make money?
The answer is advertising.
And the more people see this advertising, the more money the tech companies will make.
So the name of the game becomes attention.
Attention, attention, attention.
On the other side of your phone screen there are 1000's of tech engineers trying to steal as much of your attention as they possibly can.
Let's make this clear. The apps on your phone are not free.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, and there's no such thing as a free app.
You might think you're getting a free service, but the amount of advertising you're exposed to while using the app means that you will probably spend more money elsewhere.
(And yes, the advertising probably DOES work on you, even if you think otherwise)
"It is the consumer who is consumed. You are delivered to the advertiser who is the customer. He consumes you" - Richard Serra
Every single app on your phone is competing with each other to get you to spend time on it. Any app that decides not to do everything in it's power to grab your attention will lose you to other apps.
This is the attention economy.
Tech companies are fully aware that we are living in an attention economy, but the average person has no idea.
And they're not only in competition with each other. They're also in competition with your life.
Attention is a scarce resource. Every human being only has so much attention they can give during any given day. Most people have a life that they need to pay attention to.
Most people want a fulfilling work life. A comfortable family life. A passionate love life. Hobbies they enjoy. Interests they pursue. Projects they complete. Goals they achieve. And a good night's sleep.
This is your agenda. This is what you want. But..
Your smartphone has an agenda that doesn't match up with your own.
Your smartphone has only one agenda. It wants you to use it. As much as possible.
And you have to ask yourself, who's agenda is winning?
It steals your attention from your family around the dinner table. It interrupts you while you try to focus on a project. It distracts you from your goals. And it certainly keeps you up at night while you should be sleeping.
Just ask the CEO of Netflix.
“You get a show or a movie you’re really dying to watch, and you end up staying up late at night, so we actually compete with sleep, and we're winning!" - Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix
If you want the benefits of using a smartphone, you need to wrestle with it each and every day to make sure you're following your own agenda and not the agenda of your phone.
It's no accident that you check a notification and wake up later wondering why you spent the last 20 minutes on Facebook.
And what's the best way to keep somebodies attention? Addiction.
That's why tech companies hire attention engineers to try to addict you to their apps. It's a fight between some of the most advanced neuroscience experts in the world and you. Every time you pick up your phone.
It’s no wonder you get sucked in all the time.
You blame yourself for getting distracted by your phone so easily, when in fact you never really stood a chance in the first place.
Your Smartphone is a slot machine
Why do you check your phone when it hasn't even buzzed? Why do you check your emails even when you're not expecting anything important.
Because your phone is a slot machine.
When your pocket buzzes there are many things you might find. Maybe it's a useless notification. Maybe it's spam email. Maybe it's suggesting that you add some stranger on Instagram. Or maybe its absolutely nothing and you just imagined your phone buzzing.
But maybe it's an email for a job offer. Maybe someone messaged you on Facebook. Maybe someone liked your Instagram photo. Or maybe you got a new match on Tinder.
You don't know what you'll get until you check it.
If it's something good, your brain will get a hit of dopamine. If it's not, you're subtly disappointed.
This is exactly what happens when you pull the lever of a slot machine. And just like people will sit obsessively and pull the lever again and again, the same behaviour can be found in how people interact with their phones.
It's a slot machine you're pulling throughout the entire day.
That's why you keep refreshing your email. With each refresh you're pulling the lever again and hoping to get the nice dopamine hit that comes with an important email.
Tech companies are well aware of this effect and will purposefully integrate it into their apps to encourage you to become addicted.
this is How they hook you
Next time you're on a train, you'll inevitably find that most people staring at their phone. Look around, how many of them are scrolling the Facebook newsfeed?
The Facebook newsfeed is a constant, fast paced, infinite slot machine. With every single scroll down the page, you're pulling the lever. With every scroll, you're hoping you'll find something that will give you a spike in dopamine.
Boring video. Mcdonalds Ad. Friend posted a dog video. Yawn.. Friend shared an article. Political Ad. Oh! This video is hilarious!
Do you recognise this screen?
This pops up for around 2 seconds every single time you open your Twitter app.
It's just a loading screen right?
This screen has a hidden purpose.
The Twitter app could just open immediately. Why show us the Twitter logo for 2 seconds before opening the app? We know we're opening Twitter.
Well, it's because it builds anticipation. It allows you a short amount of time to get excited about what might appear on your Twitter feed. This makes the app more addictive.
Oh look. Tinder does the exact same thing. It lets you sit anticipate what you might find once the app opens up. I wonder who my new match is..
The dating website Plenty of Fish (POF) will send this notification on a daily basis. It doesn't matter if you're in a major or city or in the middle of the Sahara desert. POF will still tell you "It's busy in your area!"
The wording of the message has been tested across thousands of users until they found the message that brought as many people back into the app as possible.
Every single time you scroll down on the Twitter feed, you will see this loading circle. It will appear even if there's nothing new to load.
But Twitter purposefully shows you a loading wheel for a couple of seconds, before revealing that there is nothing new on your feed. Again, this is to build anticipation of what you may be about to see.
And no, it's not just a loading wheel. It's not an accident. It's intentional.
This is Duolingo, a language learning app. A positive aim, to be sure. But even apps with a positive intention need to play the attention game.
Duolingo uses a technique called gamifcation. Turning the app into a game. See the "Achievements" section in the app as well as the "You're all alone, add some friends to compete with".
Adding competition to an app is a sure way to increase the amount of time users ill spend on the app.
Finally, we have Snap streaks. An invention of Snapchat that counts how many messages two people have sent back and forth to each other along with a congratulatory fireball to celebrate your friendship.
No, the purpose of snap steaks isn't to creat strong friendships between people. It's to get users more addicted to the app.
Users begin to feel obligated to keep their snap streak going with their friend and therefore spend more time on the app.
Every single aspect, of the apps you use, down to the tiniest detail, are geared towards keeping your attention for as long as possible.
Living in a smartphone crazy world
Right now, 2.1 Billion people around the world own a Smartphone.
Your workplace expects you to have one. Your social life expects you to have one.
It's a technology that's integrated itself into the fabric of our society. From teenagers to grandparents.
Of course, you don't HAVE to own one if you don't want. But essentially you have 2 choices.
1. FOMO - Get rid of your Smartphone and enjoy a life without distractions. But you can also expect a looming fear that you're missing out on something. People will leave you out of parties. You will miss work opportunities.
2. Distraction - Keep the Smartphone in your life and enjoy the convenience and social connection it brings. But expect to be constantly distracted. Expect to find yourself constantly hunching over and staring down into the screen. And expect to have your mind manipulated in different directions every time you use your phone.
If you choose to keep the smartphone (which you probably will) you have no choice but to enter into an all or nothing relationship. If you have a smartphone, it will be an endless distraction.
You can adjust the settings on your phone, switch off notifications from certain apps, but the smartphone effect will always be with you. Because your phone will always be a slot machine.
Right now, the expected method of communication is through some kind of messenger app. Facebook messenger. Whatsapp (owned by Facebook), Snapchat or Wechat.
Every single one of these apps will collect data on you in order to hit you with targeted ads. Yes, your private messages are not private. They will use keywords in your conversations to target you with ads.
Right now, the only way of talking to each other is through a 3rd party who will use you to make profit for themselves.
But you don't really have a choice. Not if you want to get hold of your friend at short notice.
It doesn't matter how smart you might think you are, the techniques tech companies use to manipulate your behaviour WILL WORK.
These techniques reach into your older, more reptilian brain and will change your behaviour whether you like it or not.
Even tech experts, the ones who created the apps, find themselves being manipulated into spending far longer on their apps than they would like.
Because of the way the attention economy works, most of the news you read on your phone will be exaggerated, misleading or just completely fake. The articles you read will provoke outrage, because outrage gets the most attention.
And more importantly, your Smartphone is changing the structure of your brain. Which is why it can be hard to focus on the internet.
Living with a smartphone is living in a world of either partial or constant distraction. As you spend the months and years having your thoughts constantly interrupted, your brain begins to adapt to the new environment.
The neural pathways in your brain will adapt and you will begin to expect distraction. You may find you lose your ability to concentrate on one thing for an extended period of time.
In other words, your Smartphone will change who you are.
So be weary of that electronic rectangle.
Your Smartphone is not on your team.