Shashwat Pradhan Shashwat Pradhan

The Future of Addictive Technology

We all have been looking at who to blame for the smartphone addiction problem. Is it really Apple’s fault for making the iPhone an essential lifestyle product or is it Facebook’s fault for building a really engaging app? Keeping users hooked (engaged) is one of the biggest goals or Key Performance Indicator’s for most of the tech companies. Every product designer is looking how they can employ simple feedback loops that can trigger hits of dopamine, making users addicted to their app.

Tech addiction has definitely become an issue big enough for Facebook to talk about helping their user’s spend their time better at the recent F8 conference. Nir Eyal, the behavioral designer talks about the feedback loop that involves trigger, action, variable reward and investment. The trigger can be internal, like on Snapchat stories automatically delete in 24 hours making the user want to open the app at least once a day. On the other hand the trigger can be external, like a notification that you have 3 unopened snaps. The barrier to action can be made really minimal by allowing the user to directly clicking on the push notification. Then comes the variable reward which can be reactions of friends to users Snap story. Uncertainty like how the user’s friends react about the photo can be a really strong variable reward which simulates the pleasure center of the human brain making users want to open the app even more often. (Like FOMO) Finally investment in the app, the time spent making friends and the photos saved in the Memories section of the app which bring them back into this hook. There are various ways of breaking down a feedback loop, this one works best for most social apps. Techniques like infinite scroll of the feed, auto-play, push notifications, disappearing stories, bright colors and gamification keep users addicted to apps. These feedback loops are seen in more apps by the day, for example Facebook has adopted the Story format in all their apps, since it acts as a major feedback loop for the user. It’s usage growth is massive and will someday surpass the news feed.

Smartphones are a smaller part of the problem, what happens in a more immersive world like Virtual Reality? As we saw, in movies like Ready Player One or a Black Mirror episode, the VR world is pretty addictive which can lead to serious health consequences. With more control over your senses than a smartphone, thinking about the future of addiction to VR consoles can be pretty scary. Tech companies will look how to get users more involved and engaged in their VR apps with new tactics & various feedback loops. Quantified Self & lifelogging apps are great to help people be more conscious of their tech addiction, but is still a small step to break the addictive feedback loops social apps have their users tied up in.