How Social Media Captivates Your Mind

“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.” — Jaron Lanier

Eva Keiffenheim
Publishous
Published in
6 min readOct 25, 2020

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Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

Have you ever wondered how much lifetime you spend on social media?

According to this meta-analysis, it's around two hours every day. And while you might think two hours a day is reasonable, the time adds up. By the age of 50, you’ll have spent more than 4 entire years on LinkedIn, TikTok, Snapchat, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any social invention of the future.

“If you are not paying for the product, you are the product," Jaron Lanier, a computer philosophy writer, said in a social media docudrama. In 2017, I co-founded a company against screen addiction and spent weeks researching addictive technology, persuasive design, and hooking mechanisms. And yet, Lanier’s words made me pause.

In our so-called attention economy, businesses make money by developing technology that attracts and retains attention for as long as possible. The more attention a social media platform can get from you, the more attractive its advertising space becomes, and the more it can charge its advertisers. We feel the platform is free to use, while we pay with our life’s limited attention.

This article is not going to teach you how to spend less time on your phone. Instead, it shows you the most common hooking mechanisms. Knowing them will help you identify platforms that use you as a product.

1) Red Notification Badges Alert Your Senses

20 years ago, Apple introduced with its Mac OS X the first version of the red notification badge — tiny, red, rounded, with numbers inside. Today, the red icon is almost everywhere. There are red dots next to the apps on your home screen and the horizontal toolbar of almost any social media platform.

When you see the red notification badge, you know there’s something you need to check: new activities, messages you need to reply to, people liking or commenting on your pictures, people who mentioned you, people that started following you, contact requests, or important announcements.

And the surprise factor behind the notification number makes these tiny red notification badges so…

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Eva Keiffenheim
Publishous

Learning enthusiast, TEDx speaker, and writer with +3M views | Elevate your love for learning with my free, weekly Learn Letter: http://bit.ly/learnletter