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How Technology Is Designed to be Addictive

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How Technology Is Designed to be Addictive

Watch any clichéd romantic comedy and you’ll likely hear the line, “It’s not you, it’s me.” It’s used to make a breakup hurt a little less. The party doing the breaking-up takes the fall for everything that caused the schism.

It turns out you might just be able to say the same thing to your smartphone and other internet-enabled devices. Some experts believe that our devices—as well as the applications that fill their memory cards—have been designed to make us addicted to them.

This is a long time coming, too—addiction to gambling and slot machines were the first “fun” activities that showed addictive qualities, and that addiction segued into video game consoles. Alongside Xboxes and Playstations, most of us now have cell phones, too, and that means this cycle won’t stop anytime soon.

How Can We Be Addicted to a Device?

So many people believe that an addiction is reserved for something notably bad for you, illegal or both. Obviously, gambling can fall into the former category, since developing an addiction to it can land you in major debt. As for the illegal side of things, it’s clear to see what might constitute an illegal addiction: drugs.

Still, your smartphone can have just as strong a pull on you. If you scale the definition back, an addiction is something that plays a big part in your life, and you can’t control how big of a role it has. You likely feel like you can’t live without your addiction, whether it’s poker, alcohol or your iPhone.

Fortunately, behavioral addictions are the ones you can fix on your own.

But How Are Smartphones Making Us Addicts?

It’s true that not all addictive devices and applications have come on the market with the intention of becoming addictive. Take email as an example. It was created to make the transmission of messages faster, easier and more efficient. There’s no indication that the creators of email wanted it to be something we check as soon as we peel our eyes open in the morning and just before we close them at night.

On the other hand, there are apps simply created with addictive qualities so you can’t stop logging on and engaging. Much of the time these are games you can download onto your smartphone or tablet—often times, they’ll become wildly popular across the country, too.

You might have one of the games on your phone right now. Downloads like Bejeweled, Candy Crush and Angry Birds might make you feel like you can’t stop playing. That’s because they place random rewards into the game that you’ll feel compelled to uncover. Many smartphone apps are designed to make you feel like you’re a pro right away so you keep playing and playing. But if that doesn’t work, they’ll give the game an unforgettable soundtrack so you’re regularly reminded of the tune and want to log on.

Why Would They Do This?

It seems pretty crazy that companies can devote all of their time and resources to making us addicted to a piece of technology. At one point, inventors just wanted to make life easier and more comfortable for us. They replaced iceboxes with temperature-regulated refrigerators and button-up dresses with zippered ones.

There are definitely still some bright minds out there who are still following this path. But somewhere in the recent past, businesses began throwing their hats in the race for a seemingly more sinister reason: they want more customers to use and rely on their products. Even (especially?) websites like Facebook are guilty of trying to keep people online for longer, and they have some seriously smart people working toward this goal—and improving their financial bottom line in the process.

That’s really the message here: technology has given our society a short attention span, so it’s up to businesses to make their particular offering something people can’t live without. That’s how they make money and how they stick around. On the other end, we’re left with a nagging addiction to an app or a game or a website we can’t seem to kick.

What Can We Do?

We did mention earlier that a behavioral addiction is one you can fix on your own. There are plenty of methods out there designed to help you drop a bad habit, but all of them come back to one simple concept: mind over matter.

You have to focus on what you want to achieve, show signs of determination by deleting apps or turning off your phone, and continue doing so until you feel as though your addiction is as long gone as the flip phone that started this whole thing.

Photo: Alper Cugun, CC-BY


Anum Yoon is Paste’s Unplugged columnist and a Philly-based blogger who founded Current On Currency.

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