How to resist technology addiction

Story highlights

  • Features such as notifications, autoplay and likes compel us to respond right now
  • Putting some pause between thoughts and actions will help you resist urges

Son won't turn off his video game? Daughter obsessed with "likes" on Instagram? It may not be entirely their fault.

Like the high-octane sugar in a pint of Ben & Jerry's and that irresistible chemical spice in Flamin' Hot Cheetos, the ingredients in social media, video games, apps, and other digital products are carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more.
    While researchers are still trying to discover whether kids (and parents) can be addicted to technology, some computer scientists are revealing their secrets for keeping us hooked.
      Resisting the urge to check your phone or shut down Netflix after another cliffhanger Stranger Things episode should be a simple matter of self-control. But according to so-called whistleblowers such as Tristan Harris, a computer scientist who founded the Time Well Spent movement, and Adam Alter, author of Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked, we humans are totally overpowered.
      Features such as app notifications, autoplay -- even "likes" and messages that self-destruct -- are scientifically proven to compel us to watch/check in/respond right now or feel that we're missing something really important.
      Behind the apps, games, and social media is a whole crew of folks whose job is to make their products feel essential. Many of the techniques they use are ones outlined by experts in human behavior, including Nir Eyal author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products and BJ Fogg of Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab. Harris argues that these methods "hijack" our own good judgment.
      Most teens care deeply about peer validation, for example. So it makes sense that friends' feedback on social media -- both the positive and the negative -- would tug at you until you satisfy your curiosity. You have a phone in your pocket, so why not check now? And now. And now?
      What do the big tech companies say to the criticism that they're designing addictive products? They typically give the business argument, that they're creating products people love to use and are constantly trying to improve people's experience (Facebook says it polls users daily to gauge success).
      But soon it may be hard for the tech giants to say that they're blameless. More and more industry insiders -- including some who designed these attention-claiming features -- are coming forward to cry foul on digital manipulation and even to suggest ways companies can limit it.