Imagine a full day completely unplugged from your smartphone. Could you do it?

In this hyperconnected world, it’s important to develop rituals for fully unplugging if you want to maintain your recharge on the weekend.

Too much time spent on your smartphone has been shown to increase your risk for both physical and mental illnesses.

Studies have shown that overuse can have a negative impact on your posture, eyesight, hearing, and sitting too much can take years off your lifespan. Those who overused their smartphones and social networking apps like Facebook are more likely to score higher on the depression and anxiety scales.

But what exactly is considered excessive use? It’s hard to say but most smartphone users probably use their device more than they would like to.

The average person is now staring at their smartphone for 3 hours a day and many people under the age of 30 now spend 4-5 hours a day on their smartphones and over 10 hours a day sitting and staring at screens.

Smartphones Are This Generation’s Cigarettes

It’s hard to find anyone today that thinks smoking cigarettes is a good idea. The cigarette break has been replaced by the smartphone break but are smartphones actually healthier?

Maybe not. Most of us tend to use less than 10 apps on a daily basis and those apps tend to be social networking apps like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. But how social are these apps? At least smoking a cigarette tends to be a social activity, now people’s breaks are spent alone staring at a screen.

Since the rise of social media, participants among young people in civic organizations have plummeted. Time people used to spend talking to each other face-to-face is now spent staring at a screen.

Social media apps need to hook our attention to maintain profitability and to do this they create a habit-forming loop to make us impulsively crave their use, which means they can harvest more of our attention to monetize our views and clicks for their advertisers.

With the recent emergence of artificially intelligent algorithms, social media networks like Facebook, Snapchat, and YouTube are actively learning about what makes you click, like, and comment so they can show you more similar content that will keep you hooked.

Once the daily checking of social media becomes habitual, social media algorithms can compile the necessary data to sell your attention to advertisers.

Ideally, they need you to compulsively check their social media app on your smartphone in little breaks throughout your day because every extra minute you spend in their apps ultimately means higher profits for them.

Smartphone Addiction Infographic by New Theory.

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Hooked: The Psychology of Variable Rewards

Since the average smartphone regularly uses less than 10 apps on their phone, any successful app needs to create a daily habit so they have a consistently returning customer base.

The way apps engineers and user experience designers do this is using what’s called The Hook Model. It is based on the research done by B.J. Fogg into Behavior Design at Stanford University and his habit formation model that was adapted for the technology industry by Nir Ayal in his Silicon Valley classic Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Products.

When I worked with Fitplan to create and launch their app summer of 2016, we carefully followed the Hook Model to design a user experience where users of the app would form the habit of using the app every time they would go to the gym.

It’s standard practice in Silicon Valley to follow this model because if you don’t follow it or something similar, your app will more than likely end up in trash heap among the 1 million+ of forgotten apps that have never turned a profit for their creators.

The Hooked Canvas

Based on the Hooked Canvas shown above, the most effective method that social media apps employ to keep us hooked is variable rewards.

A variable reward is a temporarily fulfilling reward that ultimately leaves you wanting more. Features like autoplay, the infinite scroll, chronological timelines, likes and comments, and automatic push notifications provide us with a constant stream of variable rewards.

For a mega-popular app like Facebook, the variable reward of new and interesting content hook us in two important way through:

1. Instant Gratification: when we’re bored or anxious, Facebook provides you with a personalized and unending stream of new information and content to distract yourself with.

2. Social Validation: when you share your own opinions and content in the form of status updates and photos with your friends in your social network it provides you with social validation in the form of likes, comments, and shares.

This regular process of both instant gratification and social validation releases bursts of dopamine, which is our seeking-and-reward neurochemical (the one that is most closely linked to focus and motivation).

What happens from this consistent release of dopamine is the neural networks in our brains are rewired to do what makes feel good and to check our favorite social media apps regularly.

You’re never sure what you’re going to get when you check social media and that’s what makes it so compulsive and habit forming.

What’s also interesting about dopamine is it’s released more by the anticipation of a reward than from the feeling we get from the reward itself. This is why we compulsively check our social streams for fear of missing out on something interesting and also why we continually craft our social media identities by posting new content to get more social approval in the form of likes and comments.

The result of all this is we invest our time and energy in building these social identities on their platforms in such a way that allows social media giants to better understand our habits and interests. In turn, this allows them to show us ads targeted to our interests that we are more likely to click on.

Why You’re Addicted To Your Smartphone:

If you’re interested in learning more about the rise of addiction to smartphones and social media apps, I highly recommend watching this 20-minute documentary:

Take My 5-Day Flow Productivity Challenge

Want to break free from your smartphone addiction and harness the power of focused attention?

Take my free 5-day Flow Productivity Challenge and build habits that reclaim your mind from the social engineers that want to make you addicted to their product and services.

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