DIGITAL ADDICTION? WHAT HAVE WE DONE?




By Neil Seligman, Founder of The Conscious Professional, Corporate Mindfulness Expert and Author of how-to guide 100 Mindfulness Meditations.



I was at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference this February in San Francisco where I have been a yearly attendee since 2014. The conference invites conversations and talks on the intersect of mindfulness, technology and business. This year in particular I was struck by the underlying shame I felt in some of the wealthy tech founders, who are waking up to the stark human costs of their bonanza of successful devices, apps and attention-stealing technologies. 


The Age of Information has seemingly now turned from the beautiful promise-land of universal knowledge and shared advantage, to yet another wasteland of increasingly concentrated wealth, exploited workers, and damage to an unsuspecting public who, almost universally, are falling into addictive behaviours around digital media and their devices.


So let’s be clear. This did not happen by accident. It was intentional.


The technologies that we hold in our hands, and stare at every day, are not neutral. They have been designed from start to finish with one aim in mind: to keep your eyes on the screen for as long as possible.


The reason for this is that the accepted price point on the internet is free. That means that the internet is paid for largely by advertising dollars. Advertisers require you to see their advert before they pay up, hence the need to keep you online. 


The whole tech industry runs on persuasive technologies. App designers and coders sit around asking: how do I get users to come back to this app tomorrow, and how can I make them spend longer on it than they did today? The title of the key textbook they turn to says it all: Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal. 


Let’s look at an example: Snapchat is the preferred communication medium for teenagers in the USA. If you send a message to your friend every 24 hours this becomes a Snapstreak and is marked by a fire emoji next to your names. If you don’t message in the next 24 hours, first you see an hourglass emoji to tell you the Snapstreak is almost over, and then you lose the fire emoji and have to start again. Snapstreaks are like a badge of honour or friendship and teenagers are often devastated if they lose one. You can see why this would be great for Snapchat, which explains why their support page says: At this time Friend Emojis cannot be disabled. Snapchat has given teenagers something to lose. This keeps them coming back every day, without offering them anything of real value. Can we really say this is time well spent, or ethical design for that matter?


Maybe you are also wondering how the world recently got so outrageous and how fake news has become a thing? Well, social media algorithms worked out that the most sensational posts get the most engagement and therefore guess what is delivered to the top of all of our feeds? Outrage keeps you clicking. 


Of course we cannot talk about digital addiction without mentioning dopamine. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter implicated in all addictive human behaviours (including gambling, heroin, and alcohol abuse) as it brings about seeking behaviour linked to reward. It is an extremely powerful driver of human behaviour and is activated when you are alerted to something new in your world. Guess what the pings, whooshes, red lights, vibrations and clickbait headlines are designed to set off? Not to mention the perpetual scroll on FB? That’s right the internet is basically a slot machine. Dopamine, dopamine, dopamine.


Now, we eventually figured out that cars pollute our external environment and this is a bad thing for all of us. How long will it take us to realise that poorly designed technologies are damaging the populous by polluting our minds and that this too is highly undesirable and unhealthy. We are talking about human consciousness after all. We are talking about mental health. 


Just take a look at this list of digital ailments that have recently gained professional classification to see where things are headed:


Attention Deficit Trait (ADT)

Information and brain overload causing brain to lose capacity to attend fully.

Email Apnoea

80% of office-workers hold their breath whilst checking email.

Digital Dementia

Over-use and over-reliance on technology damaging short-term memory.

Continuous Partial Attention (CPA)

Process of paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources but at a superficial level and splintering focus.

Nomophobia

Fear of being out of mobile phone contact.

Phantom Vibration Syndrome / Hypo-Vibochondria / Ringxiety

Perception that one’s phone is ringing or vibrating when it is not.


The outcomes of digital insanity are all around, but what can we do to correct course? Watch Neil's presentation at our June 2017 event:





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