How social media steals our attention

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Are you addicted to social media? Do you experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)? On the whole, is technology helping or hurting you? And just where did that last hour go?

Our addiction to social media is not something that’s happened by chance, it is by design. And big tech companies are working really hard to create more & more features, which will keep us hooked on to it even more.

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

The reason why we are able to use Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, or Instagram for free is because each and every single user on the platforms is a product that they sell to advertisers. It is our ATTENTION that is being sold.

So, if our attention is being sold, then that means they have a lot to gain by making us spend more and more time on their apps. And they are winning all of our attention for ages.

Social platforms intentionally consume our attention through addictive design patterns. Free to use, hard to put down.

A funny line I had read long before, “Digital Gangsters’ are stealing our attention“.

At times, these social media apps influence our purchase decisions as well. The more we use the platforms, the more attention of ours they gather and the more they serve the advertisers.

Tech firms that make money by selling ads and their user’s attention, design products and features for users in the way that they spend more time on the apps.

What are these features?

Oh! Their are loads. Lets dive in.

Infinite Scroll

The most addictive feature on these social media apps is the infinite scrolling feature. You will keep scrolling through the feeds and there will be never an end.

Our minds are used to stop in an activity if we see a visual end to it. It reminds us that “Oh right this is an ending point. You cannot move on to the next thing.” And we stop.

The biggest example of this is Google.

There is a popular joke which says that the best place to hide dead bodies is the second page of Google’s search result because no one looks at it. Why is that? Because Google has created a break after the first page. It prompts you to click on next if you want to see more results. Our mind sees that as an ending point and doesn’t browse anymore. It tells us that we can move on to our next activity.

But on social media feeds, you don’t get to click on a button to decide if you want to see more posts. You can keep scrolling and you can see an infinite number of posts.

TikTok used this psychology to a much higher extent. Equipped with one of the best Recommending Engine in the industry, You don’t need to search or know whom to watch. Personalized feed was provided at a click away. This type of endless quick stimulate of easy-to-get happiness made it hard to stop browsing on TikTok.

Instagram realized that people are not going to want to see posts they have already seen before. So now they have put the suggested post, in the main feed. This way you have been always shown new posts in an infinite scroll.

And its not just Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn and the likes.

This happens on YouTube as well. You know how after you watch a video, they already have the next video ready on auto-play. YouTube actually claims their autoplay setting “makes it easier to decide what to watch next,” but really it means the “relevant” videos never stop. It’s the same concept as in infinite scroll.

The idea is to not create a break or not showing a stopping point.

That’s exactly what happens on Netflix as well. The next episode plays as soon as the first one is over, even before the credit starts rolling.

Reed Hastings – CEO of Netflix, once said that their biggest competitor is SLEEP.

Yes! Sleep!!

Because if you are sleeping then you are not watching Netflix.

Have you ever wondered why these apps have dark mode? That is because you can continue scrolling through the night without hurting your eyes. Hence beating their biggest competitor – SLEEP.

Someone is typing… Message

On Instagram DM or Whatsapp, the fact that you can see that someone is typing is not just a cool feature. It is designed to ensure that we don’t leave the app after we send a message and forget to come back. The fact that your friend is typing, keeps you hooked on to the app.

Stories

Snapchat and Instagram stories that expire compel you to check all the time. Snapchat’s Snapstreaks Is evil. Twitter, Linkedin, Whatsapp, Facebook are also partners in this crime.

Like, Comment, Share

People are by design self-conscious and seek social validation. This isn’t “vanity,” it’s way deeper at our survival core. And social platforms feed right into our need to be liked.

What goes in your mind when you post a dazzling photo of yours on Instagram or a short video on TikTok or an achievement post of yours on Linkedin?

How many times you check the in-app notifications regarding the post? A Zillion times.

Likes are the root of the issue because they are so simple to give, but so are shares of your content, comments on it — every interaction people take leads to feedback that we crave.

Notifications

Do you know that one thing that literally begs for your attention, literally all day?

Yes. Notifications!!

Notifications were originally designed, to keep you away from your phones. It was a positive feature. Tech folks decided that “Hey, we don’t want you to keep coming back to your phone and refresh your mailbox to see if you have received any new mail. So we will notify you, if you get a new mail. And you don’t have to keep coming back & checking your phone.”

But the same feature which was originally designed to help you stay away, has now become a feature which keeps bringing you back to it again and again.

FOMO as a word might be new but the concept is age world. The reason that we immediately reach out for our phone as long as it rings is that we don’t want to miss out on anything. We don’t want to join a group chat late. We don’t want to be late in replying to a comment. It is all governed by our Fear Of Missing Out(FOMO).

Notifications were initially made to notify us that a human is trying to connect with us. That is fine. But where it becomes an issue is when we all are being notified about non-human interactions. And more than 50% of our notifications today are about non-human interactions. E-commerce apps are using notifications in stealing our attention while we are having dinner with our family. Just to tell us that a T-shirt is available at 50% off. So-called news apps are sending a notification about a breaking story that is not even supposed to be part of the news in the first place, let alone take your attention away.

There is a good way of figuring out how much attention you give to your phone. Just switch on a 90-minute movie on a Laptop or TV. Promise to yourself that you won’t touch your phone and notice how many times your phone rings with notifications. And how difficult it is for you to not sneak a glance at your phone screen. You will be surprised.


You’re an individual trying to make what you think is a well-informed choice… but you are unaware that behind each app there is a team of developers, psychologists, and gaming experts whose sole object is to steal your attention. These companies say they want to improve our lives but what they’re taking from us when they take attention is far more precious than anything else in the world.

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