3 Digital tricks being used to get your attention (and money)

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Education at home is key to preventing addiction to new technologies.

We cannot deny the addictive effects that technology now has on the population at large. These days, a text message easily replaces a visit in person, a “like” replaces a hug, and having someone “follow” you has become more important that words of affirmation. If adults are tied to their phones, adolescents are even more prone to become dependent on their mobile devices, because these have become their primary means of their socialization.

Movements such as Time Well Spent, launched by Tristan Harris, are springing up to address this problem, and are dedicated to helping us see how completely dominated by technology we have become, and how certain features and functions are intentionally designed to lead us precisely to invest more and more time -– an excessive amount of it –- on our phones.

So, what tricks do technology companies use to increasingly capture especially the attention of young people and hold their attention hostage?

Most features and functions are designed with predictable human behavior in mind. The need for acceptance of peers, which is especially strong among young people, and the resulting social pressure to acquire an ever-growing number of “likes” becomes a real preoccupation – one that is simply too hard for most to ignore or manage.

Here is a list of three key functions (among others in use) designed to grab and hold users’ attention …

1. Automatic playback

Used by video platforms such as Netflix and YouTube, this function is responsible for the continuing streaming of one video after another, playing new content as soon as the initial video has finished playing. This function is a subtle way to keep you hooked, inviting you to consume content that sometimes isn’t even appropriate or even desired. As parents, we might choose to deactivate this function or, minimally, we would do well to explain to our children that it is important to set limits and to decide beforehand which videos or movies we are going to watch, and to stop when we finish seeing them, rather than simply becoming a passive consumer of all that is continuously set before us.

2. In-app purchases

Oftentimes, the download of a new app is free, but in order to be able to advance in a game later on, for example, or to access interesting features, you will need to pay. Many parents have discovered that their children have spent large amounts of money purchasing online coins or tokens, or extra lives in a video game or app. Sometimes it is better to opt for the full version of the games and pay a little more, rather than subjecting our children to the constant sales pitches within applications. It is also important to explain to our children that the money spent on and within apps is equal to the money we spend in real life. Sometimes, they might be a bit confused in this regard, and misunderstand the real monetary value of these things, given the ease and immediacy of the purchase.

3. Notifications

Studies have shown that notifications can be habit-forming, and arouse curiosity at any time of the day or night. Many companies have discovered how to draw consumers’ attention and awaken their curiosity using a few catchy phrases in their pop-up notifications and push media. The call for an immediate response imbedded in notifications has been linked to an increase of stress in our lives.

It’s very easy to disable notifications or to set them on a schedule. This will allow us to set an example for our children by teaching them that we are not slaves to notifications, and that we can all wait a while before reading a message or opening an email, unless we are expecting something truly urgent.

Technology has greatly enriched modern life, but is not without its risks. As parents, we are responsible for knowing how it works and what tricks and techniques companies use to capture and hold our attention and that of our children. Identifying these tricks and, when necessary, taking steps to curb them, will enable us to use technology to our advantage without falling into this modern-day technology addiction.