Have you ever found yourself aimlessly scrolling through your feed for hours, even when you planned to use that application for just a few minutes? If the answer is yes, then you’re not alone. Research shows that scrolling through your feeds for an indefinite period is addictive. It results from the ease of doing so (just using one finger and moving it vertically across the screen) along with our intrinsic motivation to reduce the uncertainty about what the next post is.
Many people have tried to come up with explanations for technology addiction and what causes it in the first place. One of the most influential models in the area to explain this is the Hook Model, defined by Nir Eyal in his book “Hooked.” The model is a four-step process that results in addiction. In the context of this article, we will be discussing the model concerning technology addiction.
The model begins with triggers. These are actuators of behavior. There are internal triggers (intrinsic motivation to use the app without any external prompting) and external triggers (external prompting that directs you to use that app in the first place). Triggers are very powerful and are the main reason you log into an application. Although applications initially make heavy use of external triggers such as notifications etcetera, once you have started using an app, internal triggers (such as reducing boredom) become much more powerful in keeping you hooked to the applications.
Next, there is action. This is the behavior you indulge in anticipation of a reward. Such as actually logging into an application. The next phase is that of variable rewards. Research has shown that variable rewards are very powerful reinforcers. Continuously rewarding something does not lead to addiction as much as variable rewards do because variable rewards have an element of uncertainty attached to them, and the human brain loves uncertainty. The human brain releases a neurotransmitter called dopamine (a “feel good” chemical) whenever it is expecting something uncertain (such as the number of likes on a post, or a message from your loved ones). Thus, by adding an element of uncertainty (whether I will receive likes on my new job or not) makes these applications very addicting (just like gambling).
The last phase in the cycle is that of investment. This is the phase of the period, which ensures that the user will make another visit to the application soon. Any time, energy, effort, or money invested in the app makes the user feel compelled to revisit it. This can be applied to the use of Snapchat. By displaying the number of streaks you have with every individual, what Snapchat is showing to you is your commitment to the use of the application. The higher the number of streaks, the more likely you’re to keep using the app because of the time, energy, and effort you have invested in maintaining those streaks. This also relates to the concept of sunk cost fallacy to which humans are usually very vulnerable. As per this fallacy, humans tend to make their decisions based on the costs incurred in the past instead of the benefits that they are likely to reap from that decision in the future. Thus, an individual user is going to give more weight to the number of streaks that he/she has rather than the emotional, physical, and mental state of well-being that they can achieve if they quit using Snapchat today.
By going through this hook cycle consecutively, the outcome is addiction. This is not to say that technology is there to exploit humans but rather, that excessive use of it can do more harm than good. Yes, technology has helped in globalization, connecting people living hundreds and thousands of miles apart, and has solved many problems than one can list in an article. However, the use of technology needs to be monitored, nevertheless. If we are using these applications for our good, that is good enough. However, once these applications start directing our lives as per the desires of their creators, it is time to heighten our sense of alertness.