Natalie Kent

ideas & concepts

Gambling with Social Media

Illustration by Natalie Kent

Illustration by Natalie Kent

The average person checks their phone 150 times a day. Why do we do this? Are we making 150 conscious choices?
— Tristan Harris



This is the question Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris asks in his article "How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind." He argues that your phone is a slot machine, and like a slot machine you get addicted to intermittent variable rewards.

You check Instagram and may have a reward (ooh, a "Like!") or you may not. Anytime you refresh your email, you're pulling the slot machine looking for the intermittent reward. Same goes for Facebook, email, messaging, and any time you click the red notification button to see what's underneath.

There's also the "bottomless bowl" effect, where Netflix's autoplay or Facebook's endless feed makes you participate longer than you normally would. In his article, Harris references a study by Cornell professor Brian Wansink. In the study, Wansink demonstrated that you can "trick people into keep eating soup by giving them a bottomless bowl that automatically refills as they eat. With bottomless bowls, people eat 73% more calories than those with normal bowls."

The article continues on, but now I ask myself questions every time I have the urge to pick up my phone, and I've reevaluated my habits:

> Am I making a conscious choice, or am I just bored?

> If I check my email for the 5th time this morning, am I really being productive?

> Is it really worth spending another 10 minutes on Instagram?

> Is there something else I can be doing right now?