Digital Well-Being

addiction on or off toggle techdetoxbox

Turn These Addictive Features OFF!

Last Updated on May 19, 2021

Digital media creators intentionally designed your user interface to get you addicted to their products. Here are the simple hacks and reasons to fight back.

Parents, this is for you. For your kids, use good parenting, password-protect their devices, use screen time solutions, parental controls, or simply take the tech away. 

Turn off notifications

What they do:

Hijack your attention. A notification makes you drop whatever you are doing and respond to the prompt. Turn off notifications except those from actual people you care about.

How they hook you:

  • By exploiting a cognitive bias in your brain that prioritizes unfinished business. A notification creates a “to do” item in the back of your head that would occupy your mental real estate until you address it.
  • By giving your brain addictive dopamine hits with what is called “random rewards” – those pings and buzzes are unpredictable and thus more exciting
  • Human negativity bias: the color of notification is red, which is no coincidence. The color of danger: pay attention!
  • Human vanity and curiosity: the little number in the middle of notification circle shows that someone is interested in us! 
  • FOMO: Something interesting might be happening, I don’t want to miss out!
  • Notifications are prompts in the behavioral science of habit formation: they aim to form an automatic response that benefits the company behind the app

What if it is important?!

If it’s an emergency, people will call you. It’s a phone.

Minimize the number of apps on your phone

delete app screenshot

What they do: 

Every service is vying for your attention and asks (or forces) you to download their app for the sake of “convenience”. In fact, they want to install a “mainline” to your attention and be able to follow you anywhere, anytime with their agenda. An advertising billboard in your pocket. Which you pay for. 

How they hook you:

  • By exploiting availability bias: you do what is there. If you have a minute, you pull out your phone and proceed to browse mindless distractions.
  • And when you do, apps are ready to grab your valuable attention (especially if notifications are on!). Which is another cognitive bias: human brain conserving energy by following the path of least resistance and responding to a prompt.  

What if it is important?!

You can use the service on the computer at the time of your choosing, instead of letting the app make decisions for you – decisions designed to take your time and money on the go. 

Remove social media

Delete social media apps

What they do:

  • The number one time suck.
  • Strongly correlates with depression and anxiety.
  • Collects your data for sale.

How they hook you:

  • We are social animals. We want to keep in touch with each other.
  • Comparison and envy: Who is better than me?
  • Vanity: How can I show that I am better than them?!
  • FOMO: can’t miss out!
  • Attention economy: Your social media feed does not show your everything your friends are doing: only the things that are MOST LIKELY to keep you on the screen. Which could be just the thing that upsets you the most. 

What if it is important?!

  • If somebody needs you urgently, they will reach out to you directly, not broadcast to the whole world on social media.
  • Do you really want to be distracted every minute with other people’s agenda?

Remove other addictive services

Delete social media apps

What they do:

Things like Video games and YouTube are just as detrimental to your productivity and attention as social media. Anything you want to use LESS, you should make LESS AVAILABLE.  

How they hook you:

Gaming: here is an explanation in 5,000 words or so.

Youtube:

  • Removing any effort on your part with Autoplay, and
  • Feeding you more controversial content that you just HAVE TO SEE!

What if it is important?!

It’s not. 

Turn off Autoplay

Turn off autoplay techdetoxbox

What it does:

  •  Autoplays the next episode on Netflix or Youtube to keep you on your couch, glued to the screen
  • Makes you feel great while you are binge-watching, and guilty later when you realize how much time you wasted instead of using it productively  
  • “We are competing with sleep” (CEO of Netflix)

How they hook you:

  • Exploiting the human tendency to look for the path of least resistance: anyone with a pair or eyeballs instantly becomes a captive audience. No need to press buttons.
  • Making the choice for you and removing the need to exercise self-control (a useful trait in many areas of life you might want to keep).
  • Not giving you time to reconsider with mere seconds between episodes.
  • Why do they bother? Because every minute you watch makes them money in your subscription payments, advertising fees, and data mining. 

What if it is important?!

More important than work, family, self-care, and sleep? 

Beware of the infinite scroll

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What it does:

  • Turns every page, every news feed, every social media session into the bottomless pit. It keeps loading more content as you scroll down. It never ends.
  • Makes you feel depleted and unproductive after 3 hours spent on Facebook.
  • The inventor of the feature regrets unleashing it on the world. He became a digital ethicist.

How they hook you:

  • By keeping you motivated with what is called “random rewards”: what if the next post is something really interesting? And the next one? And the next one?
  • Same cognitive bias is used in gambling and video games. It’s a slot machine.
  • Surprise: nothing holds your attention better than the unknown.
  • Why do they bother? Attention economy again. Just follow the money. 

What if it is important?!

If you are interested in something specific, wouldn’t it be better just to look for it and save your time? Mindless browsing of content that is fed to you benefits the digital media, not you. Life is short

Take advantage of built-in screen time limits

screen time downtime screenshot

What they do:

Keep the phone out of the bedroom. Do not use it as an alarm.

traditional alarm clock

What it does:

  • Dumps all the stress of the world on you at 6am, compromising your mental health.
  • Prevents good morning habits like meditation and exercise.
  • Same as notifications, creates a mental to-do list – before you are ready to do anything.
  • Destroys your sleep with blue light and middle-of-the-night checking of social media updates.

How they hook you:

  • Addiction to a smartphone.
  • Separation anxiety when you don’t have the phone within reach.
  • Convenience.
  • Fear of missing out.
  • Fear of not being able to call 911 in case of danger. 

What if it is important?!

  • Buy an alarm clock. A wonderful piece of technology that does one thing only – wakes you up. You deserve a peaceful morning.
  • Keep the phone in the next room if you worry about emergencies, just not on your bed stand. Put some distance between you and that phone.
Take Back Control
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