The app addiction

Phones are not made to be addictive. The gambling machines we happily install on them are. They employ simple psychological tricks to get you in, maximize your time spent and ensure that you return. It’s time that we become aware of these tricks, their repercussions, and fight back.

“The dopamine system is especially sensitive to “cues” that a reward is coming. If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So when there is a sound when a text message or email arrives, or a visual cue, that enhances the addictive effect.”

“Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability. When something happens that is not exactly predictable, that stimulates the dopamine system. Our emails and twitters and texts show up, but you don’t know exactly when they will, or who they will be from. It’s unpredictable. This is exactly what stimulates the dopamine system.”

“A lot of these companies are employing behavioural psychologists to really nail that: finding ways to draw you back in. I’ve worked on apps like that myself, and it’s not something I’m proud of.”

Twitter’s pull to refresh (from

“For young adults accustomed to continually checking their cellphones, even a single day without access to them can be anxiety-producing.”

Keeping you in

“Constantly forced to outperform their competitors, they must use increasingly persuasive techniques to keep us glued. They point AI-driven news feeds, content, and notifications at our minds, continually learning how to hook us more deeply — from our own behavior.”

Center of Humane Technology

“FoMO is characterised by the need to be constantly connected with what other people are doing, so as not to miss out.”

“Best Friends are the friends you stay in touch with the most […] You can have up to eight Best Friends […] Best Friends are updated regularly,” reads the official documentation.

“It becomes more akin to gambling, as social gamers know that they are spending money as they play with little or no financial return.”

“The one question I am constantly asked is why people pay real money for virtual items in games like FarmVille. As someone who has studied slot machine players for over 25 years, the similarities are striking.”

The new harry potter mobile game tries to lure you into your first in-app purchase by perfectly timing the first purchase screen. It coincides perfectly with the first precarious situation you get into. Buy your way out or leave your character hanging for hours. (from

Side effects

“If technology is a drug — and it does feel like a drug — then what, precisely, are the side-effects?”

Charlie Brooker, creator of Black Mirror

“Part of the problem with “using” is that we think social media will give us a boost, but it doesn’t — it makes us feel worse. This is a “forecast error” that keeps us coming back, even though it often has a negative effect on our mental health. And this cycle sounds eerily like a classic addiction.”

“Smartphones are useful tools,” he says. “But they’re addictive. Pull-to-refresh is addictive. Twitter is addictive. These are not good things. When I was working on them, it was not something I was mature enough to think about. I’m not saying I’m mature now, but I’m a little bit more mature, and I regret the downsides.”

“In terms of whether it’s [the success of the smartphone] net positive or net negative, I don’t think we know yet.”

“People both individually and collectively as a society have to learn how to adjust to the new media reality that they find themselves in. Technology changes faster than people.”

“As members of the tech industry, we need to ask serious questions about the behaviors that we are promoting. Are we really helping people live better lives? Or, are we promoting suboptimal habits and aptitudes? At best, many of the products we’re building are time wasters. At worst, they’re the addictive equivalents of cigarettes — irresistible cheap thrills that feel good in the moment, but are destructive in the long run,” he writes.

Proposing a new form of diet

“You know, think about it, when you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it, you stay up late at night. We’re competing with sleep, on the margin. And so, it’s a very large pool of time.”

Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix

Ethics in design

“In the future, we will look back at today as a turning point towards humane design: when we moved away from technology that extracts attention and erodes society, towards technology that protects our minds and replenishes society.”

Tristan Harris’ Center for Humane Technology



Life and technology.

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