I recently was watching 60 minutes and the following story really hit home, “Brain Hacking” by Anderson Cooper on our addiction to our smartphones. In the TV report a former Google product manager reveals how our smartphones are ADDICTIVE! Silicon Valley is engineering your phone, apps and social media to get you hooked. One of the former google programmers, Tristan Harris: “Well every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, “What did I get?” This is one way to hijack people’s minds and create a habit, to form a habit. What you do is you make it so when someone pulls a lever, sometimes they get a reward, an exciting reward. And it turns out that this design technique can be embedded inside of all these products”.
In hindsight, I’ve only had two addictions before the iPhone thing. The first was an addiction for candy bars of all shapes and sizes from Sky Bars to Three Musketeers. Most of my paper route money went to my habit and I even was hit by a truck when blindly, candy crazed, running across the street to resupply my stash of chocolate and satisfy my sweet tooth. Thankfully I pulled back on my chocolate consumption before I became a speed bump, but still love chocolate in moderation.
The second and very common addiction was to cigarettes. Like most teenagers from my generation I started smoking with my buddies to be “cool”. The cigarette companies marketing was brilliant portraying smokers as world class athletes, actors, and just plain beyond cool guys. I and millions of others in my peer group were easy hooks. The cool pull along with the nicotine and habit addiction were enough to counter disgusting yellow fingers, foul smell, inability to run more than a hundred yards, and the death sentence. It was a tough habit to kick but it became a no-brainer to toss the smokes when I realized that unless I quit my daughter was destined to be hooked too.
Until I saw the 60 Minutes program I thought I was a recovered addict ignoring all the signs that I had entered the addiction world again. The show was, like in OZ, pulling back the curtain and revealing the reality of the smartphone addiction. It truly is like a slot machine with every click of the phone revealing a jewel of a fact or message like the record breaking 85 Happy Birthday greetings from family, friends, and stalkers. You become totally oblivious about the world around you and your focus on that phone counters concern for walking off a cliff or having any interaction with real people. It’s like reliving my past cigarette problem, grabbing the IPhone when I awake in the morning and continuing to check for mostly non-time-sensitive posts, texts, or tweets on a regular basis—pathetic chain-smoking/Smart-phoning.
No one except for maybe the President (present one excluded) needs to be in a constant communication loop. I think it’s time to conquer my addiction and many others should do the same especially those texters swerving and crashing in record numbers. Whenever I feel the urge to check my phone every minute I remind myself that it wasn’t that long ago that it was enough for me to come home from work and once a day check my answering machine for all my messages.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a techy and value everything smartphones can do from streaming a Yankee game to covering your ass with last minute Birthday greetings. It’s the “checking the phone constantly for no reason” use that I am determined to stop. The world seemed to work fine pre-smartphone without the stressful 24-7 news and the constant stream of mostly unimportant alerts. If I’m going to play a slot machine it should be for cash and not the shallow reward of reading a post about someone’s cat or dog getting a new outfit.