‘Children these days have no self-control’. Adults who have this opinion may be right, but not necessarily for the right reasons. It is true that more and more tweens and teens are struggling to put down their digital devices, and though it may be due in part to their own inability to control themselves, there are deeper, darker reasons lurking below the surface of this common, modern challenge faced by parents everywhere.
We have explored the psychological vulnerabilities which make social media and gaming so attractive to our children. (Check out the blog post here)
Now, let’s unwrap the tricks which big technology companies are using to leverage these vulnerabilities against our children (and ourselves!) to ensure that screen time is maximized in the interests of profit.
Trick #1 Random-Interval-Rewards
This is a classic behaviour conditioning technique where every interaction may or may not result in a reward. This ‘mystery’ keeps users online, clicking or scrolling as they search for the next reward.
Do you ever scroll through your news-feed looking for a great bit of news, and not finding it, head back to the top to ‘refresh’ the timeline? This is a perfect example of the success of Persuasive Technology.
In gaming it’s the potential high value item that may be dropped by a vanquished enemy, or a reward for completing a task. In both cases, the user is drawn to continue using the product as they believe that if they keep going, they will receive a worthwhile reward, and it might be just around the next corner.
Sounds familiar? It should. It’s the same approach used by casinos everywhere to hook and keep gamblers hooked!
Trick #2 – Compliments
When someone gives you a compliment, you get a feeling of wanting to give something back to them. This is called Social-Reciprocity. Social media and gaming algorithms intentionally use this psychological tendency to keep us online. Social media is also specifically designed to manipulate the rate at which users are notified about the ‘likes’ or notifications of others’ interactions with them online. Thus, users are bombarded with likes in the most statistically likely moment that they would stop using the product, ensuring they stay online for longer.
Our children, especially adolescents, are hardwired to push back against authority. It’s a natural and necessary developmental process to ensure they build lasting peer relationships as they become independent. If we as parents simply demand that they limit their digital device use, there will be push back and defiance for the sake of their autonomy. If we empower them with the techniques with which big business manipulates them, turning them into consumer slaves, loyal to brands, we put them in a position to make empowering choices.
Sit down with your child and Google ‘persuasive technology’ or ‘behaviour economics’ and marvel together at how well we are all being played. Hands up, who is ready for a Digital Family Alliance?
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