Can we break the hook ?

Consumer Tech products : the candy of thought

⚠️Spoiler alert ⚠️

Whether you are a newbie or an expert to Data Science, you will find in this series of articles the keys to take a step back in your consumption of consumer Tech products.

How am I being hooked? Am I really?

How many times have you scrolled your Facebook News Feed in a stressful moment by pure compulsion? These products are created to generate addiction and provide us with a feeling of satisfaction or temporary comfort, through a series of unconscious actions anchored by habit.

In his book Hooked: How to Build Habit Forming Products, Nir Eyal very aptly highlights the mechanism by which the most gifted product designers create an addiction mechanism in consumers by instilling in the user an internalized emotional catalyst linked to the product: doubt makes me want to check out information on Google, the stress or anxiety to go scrolling Facebook or Instagram, the boredom to watch a movie on Netflix.

Emotions : internalized products triggers

This mechanism is reinforced by a cycle of variable rewards — new content, different product scheduling, discounts, likes, superlikes; which reinforces the incentive effect. It also promotes engagement through sign in, publishing, and basically rewards users’ proactivity: this is what Nir Eyal calls the “Investment” part of the addiction loop.

To me, this process is perfect. And by the same token, it does not give the user a chance. Think about it for a second. How many of your daily actions are conscious? How many mechanical?

On a small and large scale, don’t freak out but on average:

8 out of 10 programs I watch on Netflix will have been pushed to me by their recommander system.

AirBnB can predict with impressive accuracy the destination of my first trip on the platform.

Facebook has had almost since inception a “suggested friends” functionality. And it does not proceed with a hazardous model: its suggestions are based on an implicit representation of the intensity and status I devote to my current relationships and groups of friends.

The problem is the inability of the average individual to cope with this long-term deployment of technology.

This suggests that Nir Eyal’s “ideal” definition of behavior modification is being realized today:

“Altering behavior requires not only an understanding of how to persuade people to but also necessitates getting them to repeat behaviors for long periods, ideally for the rest of their lives”

Hence the need to put in place some conscious markers to rationalize our consumption and awaken our curiosity.

Recognize and minimize conditioned consumption behaviors

To stop consuming like machines, we must first learn to recognize the catalysts of this mechanics. But how do I know what drives me to act? Here is a few things that could help.

1) Identify the type of action performed, for which the loss of the algorithm has been optimized

a. Login to the service

b. Click on a notification,

c. Buy a product,

d. Consume an audio or video content

e. …

2) Understand the type of information that the Data Scientists who coded the learning algorithm used to optimize its performance

This information is contained in what is called a “dataset”, a table in which each of the rows corresponds to an individual (you and me), and each of the columns represents a characteristic of that individual.

The characteristics depend greatly on the task in question, but the most common “predictors” include your age, location, date and time, gender, history of content or products already consumed, type of device used, all interactions you had with the rest of the products available but on which you did not act.

Apart from these great classics, some platforms that have more information can go… much further: for example, the Facebook Ads algorithm allows advertisers to select your income level (only in the US), your probable political opinion, your interests, the places you visit every day.

3) Analyzing the path that leads you to concretize the action

For your convenience, I have prepared a simple method to minimize these actions for which we have been conditioned. It all fits into a small acronym: METRIC.

Measure. As my Business Performance Management professor used to say, you cannot improve what you do not measure!

In your IPhone, go to your Settings > Screen Time. Note the top 3 applications that take you the most time every day. Define a usage time for these 3 applications. The goal is not to respect this limit but to set up a signal that lets your conscious self say NO from a certain threshold.

Emotion. One of the foundations of consumer Tech products is to play on our emotions.

Know how to recognize which emotions lead you to use a product: a moment of boredom >> you run into the trio of death Netflix, Instagram, YouTube?

From now on, you will know that the conjunction of boredom and your desire for Netflix is certainly a reflex, and you will have the choice of whether or not to carry out this impulse.

Timing: There are habits linked to a temporality. These are the habits that are the easiest to break. No more check-in notifications on waking up!

https://twitter.com/9gag/status/1128149189068754944

Think about what you do when you have lunch, take the subway, go to the bathroom, stand in line at the supermarket. Eliminate compulsory actions; make your reflexive thinking work: look back on your own actions and thoughts to analyze them. After all, reflexive consciousness is what differentiates us from animals!

Every time you get caught doing something without thinking about it beforehand, a tiny wave of shame will overwhelm you. Don’t beat yourself up! It’s not a bad thing to spend your lunch on Instagram, if you really want to.

One thing I absolutely want to clear up here is that these products are not inherently bad. On the contrary, they can be extremely useful at the individual or even societal level and are often very pleasant to use. On the other hand, their use MUST be conscious and not conditioned.

Imitation. In the zombie Land genre, we avoid reproducing the toxic behaviors of our loved ones!

SO, if my girlfriend or boyfriend looks at his or her phone during lunch, we can 1) ask him or her with the forms if he or she intends to let it go for a second, OR 2) focus on the action of eating, savoring in full consciousness the great taste of the Scoop a cookie that melts in my mouth with a hot coffee. You cannot focus on THAT, reeeaaally ?

Scoop me a cookie

Color is a central element in capturing your attention: it is an effective external catalyst to get you to click on a notification, open a link or discover a product…

Color is useful for two fundamental things: to focus your attention, and to create emotions that will in turn make you click.

If you really want to get rid of the pavlovian reflexes of clicking on your notifications, switch your phone to black and white for a week. The result is visible in the blink of an eye: you go from a “time bomb notification” version to a complete and serene detachment:

https://osxdaily.com/2015/02/13/grayscale-mode-ios/

You may not last long in this mode because you won’t be able to enjoy photos or videos as before, but it’s a great feature for a limited time. It’s also a good reflex to adopt when you need to stay focused but don’t want to turn off your phone.

What’s Next?

Now that you are free of your automatisms, you may be wondering… how to use all this time, all this attention that has suddenly been freed?

In a future article, I will look at the concept of curiosity and offer you some tips on how to discover the other facets of your personality, held in silence by the “personalized” contents and products that lock you into a narrow set of consumer characteristics that do not summarize you, far from it! I will use Luke Rhinehart’s book The Dice Man as my main reference for this reflection. I invite you to read it now, not for its rather average literary quality, but more for the concept of the book itself: we must try to deconstruct what we easily call “personality” from adulthood by letting minor facets of our personalities express themselves at the random of a roll of a dice.

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Alexis Lancien

Alexis Lancien

Data Scientist, passionate about the processes of learning and memory.