I belong to the technology riddled Generation Y, or if you prefer, the millennials. We have come of age side by side with technology and have a certain comfort and dependence on it. I feel privileged to be part of a generation that grew up during a time which wasn’t severely affected by technology yet possess a comfortable fluency with it. While I enjoy just how much easier technology has made my life, being aware of a life where people weren’t dependent on their phones does make me nostalgic for it.
The obsession we have with our phones has led to this crazed habit of us fetching our phones every 10 minutes or so to check our notifications. Chances are, we’ve also felt the buzz of our phone only to see no notification. The phenomenon is called ‘phantom calling’ which is much more common than we think and is a symptom of a larger problem that very few are addressing.
In 2009, Facebook introduced the Like button which heralded a worldwide phenomenon that only a few saw coming. The Like button in the present time has manifested itself in almost every channel and has even evolved to formats such as ‘reactions’ and ‘shares’. Social media giants such as Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat all have their own versions of the button and the addition of this feature has triggered a response that is pandemic.
The tendency to check our phones several times a day is almost an involuntary reaction. Until 2009, the measure of cellphone usage was calculated to be nominal, but since engagement became more transparent and rewarding, vis-a-vis, the entry of the Like button and the features that followed it, the usage of cell phones has seen a dramatic increase. People now check their phones incessantly and the behaviour displayed can be presented as a case of addiction. This comes as no surprise though as it is the intention of these platforms to have you hooked and to spend more time on your phone.
How many times have you opened Instagram or Facebook for a quick scroll, only to end up having spent an hour and then some on the app? The algorithms on these platforms are designed to ensure the content on your feed is engaging and specific to you based on your interests and even your mood!
According to the ‘Hook Model’ that was codified by Nir Eyal, it revealed that all major companies followed a few steps to ensure their presence in the market. In the 4 stages outlined by Nir, the intention of each platform is to develop a natural trigger or response to the app within the audience, meaning that the consumers would head on to the app without even thinking about it, and once this connection is built, the duty of the app is to continue to produce content that not only keeps you engaged but also offer variable rewards, so as to ensure the continued usage. The need and the reason behind variable rewards and engaging content is as simple as keeping boredom at bay and hence ensuring the consistent return of the user to the platform.
“The technologies we use have turned into compulsions, if not full-fledged addictions,” Eyal writes.
“Today, most of us reach for Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter with one vague thought in mind: Maybe someone liked my stuff. And it’s this craving for validation, experienced by billions around the globe, that’s currently pushing platform engagement in ways that in 2009 were unimaginable. But more than that, it’s driving profits to levels that were previously impossible.
The business model is simple: The more attention a platform can pull, the more effective its advertising space becomes, allowing it to charge advertisers more.”
We’re closing into a decade since we first started seeing a spike in cell phone usage, and it would appear that the craze is not dying out anytime soon, and is instead expected to affect an even larger group from a much younger age. The push notifications, emails, and messages all serve as a way to consistently remind us of the virtual world that co-exists with real life, and it is these that keep us distracted and glued to the phone.
The consequences of excessive screen time are already showing, with several studies reporting of people facing withdrawal issues when not with their phones or internet service and moreover, affecting a person’s ability to focus and even his IQ. The adverse psychological impact that these apps can have on an individual is damaging and should not be casually overlooked. The consistent use of an app would concur an emotional need and dependency which could greatly affect behaviour and self-esteem.
On an average, the amount of time a person spends on his phone is detrimental, and while one can criticize the ethical and moral compass of these companies, some would argue that they are only providing for a want, much in the same manner that fast food chains continue to produce food that pose health risks and promote obesity. The role a smart phone has in a person’s life in today’s world is incomparable. We’ve exhibited little to no control when it comes to reaching for our phones incessantly. What we don’t realise in the process is the present life we are giving up or the time we are letting pass us by when we allow for these platforms to occupy so much of our time and attention. As Like button co-creator Justin Rosenstein highlights, “These are our lives. Our precious, finite, mortal lives. And if we’re not vigilant, computers and mobile devices will guide our attention poorly.”
Author: Camilla Lyndem
Camilla Ann Lyndem is a Staff Writer. Based in Bengaluru, she is a graduate of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, where she completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degree in English Literature.Although a hardcore liberal arts student, she enjoys coding and has worked on building smart models, including a smart irrigation system (take that, CS students).