I’m addicted to my smartphone. I think most of us are. Whether we’re looking to see how many likes we’ve got on our latest ’gram, checking if our friend has ‘seen’ the latest message or if we’ve ‘got a match’, we’re always on there. In fact, the average person checks their phone every 15 minutes or less, and half the time it’s unprompted by any notification.
We’re probably all wishing we could spend our time more wisely instead of constantly checking our phones. So why can’t we stop? The answer: cortisol.
“Smartphones put us in an ever-increasing state of hyper-vigilance, where we’re always feeling compelled to check our calls, texts, social media alerts, email and more,” says Dr David Greenfield, founder of the Centre for Internet and Technology Addiction. “This keeps the adrenals constantly activated and cortisol levels elevated.”
Cortisol is a stress hormone that causes a rise in blood pressure and heart rate, and a decrease in mental performance. The result? We check our notifications to reduce the anxiety – to stop the feelings of not knowing what we’ve missed.
The psychology behind the addiction is something Silicon Valley’s big players like Facebook and Google have tapped into. In fact, it’s what they’re building their platforms on.
These tech giants have engineered ways to keep us hooked by using a book of techniques – something programmers call ‘brain hacking’. Think of your phone as a slot machine. Every time you refresh your emails or scroll through your never-ending newsfeed, you’re playing the slot machine to see what you’re going to get – while they take their money from advertisers. This is because their metric for success is ‘time on site’.
Technology is an all-or-nothing relationship. You’re either ‘on’ (connected and distracted all the time) or ‘off’ (which creates fear of missing out). I’ve seen relationships weaken and children’s ability to focus destroyed because of it. So, how can we solve this issue?
I’ve worked in social media for more than four years and I absolutely love what I do. But as marketers in this space, it’s our responsibility to address how we’re using social and how we can make a positive change.
It’s about how we can innovate from ‘time-sucking’ to ‘time giving’, and how we can change the success metric from ‘time on site’ to ‘time well spent’ – a concept former Google product manager Tristan Harris is behind.
Adding value is something I’ve always been keen on, and it’s something our clients buy into. At Great Minds, we’re always thinking about how we can add value for the end-user. So rather than producing product-focused ads on LinkedIn, we create and promote content that offers valuable industry information, like research reports and ebooks. It’s also something that can be fixed through design.
Harris provides the following example of two people in a work context:
John remembers he needs Nancy to send a document. With today’s design, he could just send a quick message via chat on Gmail. Research, however, has proven that distractions like these can take us around 23 minutes to then refocus. But if we changed design for good, Nancy could set her status to ‘focused’ for the next 30 minutes.
With this solution, John gets the thought off his mind, and Nancy’s not distracted. The message instead is held there for the next 30 minutes while she focuses on her task at hand.
If like me, you’re sick of these distractions, I recommend giving these four simple tips a try. Take back the control of your phone.