It was a Monday. A busy morning as usual for me. But as the clock’s hour hand approached 11, I realized I hadn’t completed any of my tasks yet. My 24-inch monitor screen was dominated by two Chrome windows. The first had a Twitter tab, specifically a thread discussing another one of Trump’s shenanigans. The other one was a Reddit thread. Both unrelated to what I was supposed to be doing. Same for my phone, which had two apps setup in the multi-window mode.
The situation was rather uncanny for me. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that I had misspent two hours on scrolling through social networks. More importantly, my mind was being clouted with a series of questions that demanded answers I didn’t have at the moment.
Does that mean these websites have enough content to hold me for multiple consecutive hours? Even if they did, how couldn’t I perceive this earlier? Had I unconsciously fallen prey to the spell of an endless abyss of information that companies like to call ‘personalized feeds’?
The answer was clearly ‘yes’. After all, it’s not very straightforward to grasp that a couple of swipes and taps took away two solid hours from your day. With algorithms which are tailor-made to show precisely what you want to read or watch, it’s almost impossible to escape these platforms. It is, however, not just because of these captivating timelines. There are, in my opinion, four core factors responsible for our smartphone addiction. Four fiends, if you may.
1. Endless Scroll
Every other online platform, not just social networks, has added an endless scrolling feature, so a new post is thrown at the user as soon as he/she completes viewing the existing one. Same applies for the feeds on sites such as Facebook and Instagram. Infinite scroll is undoubtedly the most prominent rationale behind your endless swipes on an app. If an app asks if you’d to view more, there’s a good chance you’ll quit it for the time being. Its impact, as I said, is not limited to content-oriented websites either.
E-commerce destinations like Amazon and Flipkart employ endless scrolling algorithms as well for a handful of categories including fashion. Even if you read a single additional article thanks to this, the developer’s job is done. When combined with the total number of visitors, the difference is dramatic.
Endless scrolling is also based on the design practice of reducing the number of swipes or taps the user has to execute for browsing. Disabling it will add at least one extra step after a certain number of entries. To ensure you don’t encounter any pauses in the experience, enabling infinite scrolling has become utterly necessary. Even if they’re out of posts that are suited to your preferences, some sites like Facebook will pull up random records just to make sure you’re still there swiping away with your eyes wide open in sheer darkness till the end of the world.
Next up, the reason you unlock your phone a bazillion times a day — push notifications. The ‘ding’ that makes you prance from whatever you were doing at the time. Push notifications have been enthroned as the key culprit behind the majority of smartphone addiction cases. In fact, if it weren’t for these notifications, you wouldn’t be on those applications so much in the first place. Social networks have even updated their apps for sending out extremely pointless ones like “Updates from Friends” on Facebook. The sad reality, however, is that most users are not unable to see through this and end up clicking them quite often.
While Android has added a slew of measures for offering a more granular control on these alerts, your chances are pretty much nada on iOS. Especially with a new feature called “channels”, Google has made it exceedingly effortless to receive exactly what kind of alerts you want with the Oreo release.
Timelines and home pages are no longer based on any chronological order. They are set up according to what you like, who you interact with the most and other similar user personalized factors. The agenda here is simple. You spend more time looking at pictures and products you normally like or prefer over others. Once you’re done with these, you’re so much into the session that you eventually end viewing all the posts.
To understand how drastic this change is, imagine a scenario where Facebook shows you a post that doesn’t particularly interests you. There’s a good chance. Therefore, you’ll leave the app and move on to something else. On the contrary, consider an instance where the opposite happens. You will, in most cases, continue scrolling to read or view similar content. These algorithms are specifically built to fuel this behavior because the company knows how crucial every second of your attention is. Social networks like Facebook have especially been abundantly aggressive and exercise strict control over what you see.
Autoplay and Auto-Download
Annoyed by those videos which autoplay or auto-downloading media? It turns out, they are not completely worthless, at least for the companies implementing them. People who are not aware of this usually prefer videos that are automatically played as they scroll through their feeds. Some WhatsApp users go through every video shared in a group and don’t want the hassle of clicking the download button every time. Instagram, for example, doesn’t even allow disabling this and its users are completely fine with it. If these social apps by default disable this feature, you certainly won’t consume as much content as you do now.
So, those were the four most critical aspects that are responsible for your smartphone addiction. We have also published an extensive guide on how you can minimize that, you can read it here.