How often does technology interrupt us from what we really mean to be doing? At work and at home, we spend a startling amount of time distracted by notifications and pop-ups. Instead of helping us spend our time well, it often feels like tech is stealing hours away from us.
Why does it take place? Because in the world overloaded with data, our attention is the major good that advertising companies want to sell and brands want to buy. Social networking apps are the prime location to steal this attention away. So, what are the advertising companies doing to attract this attention and what are we getting as a result?
Social Apps—>Addiction and Stress
In 2009, Facebook released the “Like” button—to “send little bits of positivity” across the platform.
Like many user interface changes, the introduction of the “Like” button was meant to solve a problem. Facebook has collected and continues to harvest valuable data for advertisers from this sentiment data. Facebook is able to learn what things grab users’ attention while the network’s users enjoy the short-term shot of dopamine they get from giving or receiving social affirmation.
In 2017, less than a decade after the introduction of the button, “Like” inventor Mr. Rosenstein shared his concern about social media addiction, which he compared with heroin and described “Likes” as “bright dings of pseudo-pleasure”. Personally, he has blocked himself from Reddit and Snapchat, while imposing strict time-limits on his use of Facebook.
The addictive feedback loop that social websites thrive on has become a constant dispensation of positive affirmation that decays into self-doubt.
Add to that fear of missing out, bullying, and the harmful effect on sleep, and you have a wicked cocktail brewing. These are side effects of using Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter, according to a survey by the Royal Society for Public Health and the charity Young Health Movement.
Creepily, the understanding of human personality from social media behavior doesn’t stop there. Advertisers are getting in on the psychology of social media. Creepily, data harvesting specialists from Britain and the US can successfully determine with just one Facebook “Like” potential consumer’s personality type—introvert, extravert—and target ads accordingly.
Aggressive Advertising and Pop-ups—>Distraction
It seems too that advertisers understand how vulnerable humans are to interruption—pop-ups are the advertiser’s favorite tool. Pop-ups can increase website conversions by 2100 percent.
The Swedish researcher Nils Holmberg measured how well children in two age groups were at fixing and controlling their gaze. Altogether, 45 children were instructed to ignore a spot that popped up and as quickly as possible look to the other side of the screen. Nine-year-olds managed this just two times out of ten. Twelve-year-olds were better at concentrating. Previous research has shown that adults manage to control their attention up to eight times out of ten.
Interruptions come in many forms, however, as any advertiser worth their salt will confess. Using basic lessons from advertising psychology, marketers leverage images, text, color and context to make sure their ads cut through your concentration.
According to StopAd research 12.7 percent of banner ads on more than 1000 popular websites use aggressive colors and 41.6 percent use aggressive language to distract users and grab their attention.
One of the biggest complaints about pop-up and aggressive advertising is that they lower the ability to concentrate and interrupt you as you’re trying to accomplish something. Perhaps because of the the advertising’s effectiveness, pop-ups and aggressive ads are consistently the most despised kind of advertisement. The loathing often drives people to use ad blockers to get rid of them.
Clickbait Content—>Biased Opinion and Fake News
To demand our attention, advertisers and media started to use special headlines designed to make readers want to click on a link or a banner ad. They employ a number of effective cognitive tricks for this.
And it works.
In a recent paper called “Breaking the News: First Impressions Matter On Online News,” two researchers looked at 69,907 headlines produced by four international media outlets in 2014. After analyzing the sentiment polarity of these headlines (whether the primary emotion conveyed was positive, negative, or neutral), they found that “a headline has more chance to [receive clicks] if the sentiment expressed in its text is extreme, towards the positive or the negative side.”
Striving to make headlines more emotional, content creators began to use misleading language and distorted facts.
All too often, especially when it comes to science news, we see headlines that are directly contradicted later on in the article. For example, have you ever seen an article with a headline like “Air Pollution Is A Leading Cause of Lung Cancer” which has only one quote in the middle of the article that points out that “other things have a much bigger effect on our risk [of lung cancer], particularly smoking.”
During the last year, the fake news trend clearly demonstrated how a clickbait headline can impact the lessons you take away from what you read.
Mobile Devices—>Lower IQ
According to a study published last year, we touch our phones about 2,617 times a day.
“For the heaviest users—the top 10 percent—average interactions doubled to 5,427 touches a day. Per year, that’s nearly 1 million touches on average—and 2 million for the less restrained among us,” the study said.
There is growing concern that as well as addicting users, technology is contributing to a condition called “continuous partial attention,” which severely limits people’s ability to focus and possibly lowers IQ.
People are now trying to refrain from using technology such as smartphones or computers in order to focus more on physical, face-to-face, social interactions. According to a survey on Digital Detox, 43 percent of survey respondents went on vacation in the last year with the intent to unplug. The most common motivations were being in the moment (69 percent) and stress relief (65 percent). The report, however, said more than half of respondents (52 percent) indicated that they spent at least an hour a day while on vacation using their connected devices.
Intuitively we may understand that the overwhelming exposure we have to social media, hyper-specific and -optimized advertisements, and mobile technology are affecting the ways we interact with one another. What may come less intuitively, however, is the growing body of knowledge that all the technology may be weakening our will power and making us lazy thinkers.