Why are smartphones so addictive?

Why are smartphones so addictive?

What exactly about smartphones make them so addictive and hard for us to put down?

It seems that smartphones have always been hard for anyone to put down. Maybe it’s the constant mental and physical engagement they provide to us (the user/s); the infinite amount of applications that we can instantly download that provide a distraction; the buzz, ping or pop-up from the notification in your pocket and the endlessly refreshing news feed ensures we don’t miss a second.

With a global estimate of over 2 billion people owning smartphones now, they are designed to keep us engaged. With multiple different tricks and techniques up their sleeve, the larger companies such as Apple, Samsung and Huawei, make more money the longer you are engaged with your smartphone.

In my opinion it becomes your own co-ordinated entertainment system, a little black box in which we get fed the information of the day, our ‘fix’ or ‘hit’ of technology.

The notification system in smartphones is where the lines get blurred. It’s the non-human notifications that get us hooked. Many argue that you should turn them all off, with the exception of ones that are from a human – a message, a call, a text, a way to communicate directly to you.

When push notifications first popped-up in 2003, it was for Blackberry’s email system. Specifically, it was seen as an efficient way to pick and choose which emails you answer, so as not to waste any time. Today, you can get notification from many sources, which can be interpreted in a multitude of different ways. If these notifications were only good or bad then we wouldn’t be addicted to them, it’s their unpredictability.

Encouragement of addictive behaviour is also embedded within these applications. The pull down feature to refresh your feed is similar to the slot machines in casinos. It’s the same gesture – pull the lever and get rewarded. You get rewarded with brand new content on your feed. This motion makes you feel in control of the app, even though most apps automatically refresh.  

Attraction of the eye to new things is not a new concept in technology, we react to bright flashy things, reds, bright reds to be specific. Red has an instant impact, an emotive response. It grabs your attention and drags your eyes to the app to open it. The modern smartphone has a grey scale feature to it, removing the colours from your screen so you aren’t tricked into clicking or tapping on something with a little red dot.

As a result the sensory overload that is our smartphone is removed and it no longer looks like a Las Vegas casino slot machine, but do people want to live without colour?

People are forever checking their phones, I know I’m guilty of it. What exactly is that attention span worth? Is it the morning news, the latest Tweet, a new Instagram post, the latest Facebook update, or all of them?  What is your attention drawn to? How do you get your smartphone ‘fix’? What is the time you spend on your smartphone worth?