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Brain Hack – you have been hacked by your phone

UK adults check their phones about 33 times per day. Young people aged between 16 & 19 average 90 checks per day. 

More than a third of UK adults look at their phones within 5 minutes of waking and over half do so within 15 minutes.   We know that our phones have invaded every part of our waking days, and for many people, part of their nights too.  There is wide agreement that taking a break from the phone would be good for mental health, but few people do it.

But did you know that your phone has been designed to draw you back repeatedly. Smart phones demand your attention. Apps are designed to make you want to use them more and more; they must be or investors will not invest.

This week’s Panorama programme (Wednesday 4th July) demonstrated how social media apps are “deliberately addictive”. Likes and swipes stimulate the brain in the same way that a slot machine does, and slot machines are considered to be the most addictive form of gambling. 

Slot machines in the USA make more money that baseball, movies and theme parks combined.  They are highly addictive because they are designed around the concept of a Variable Schedule Reward.  Every time you pull the lever or press the button, you might win or you might not.  You win at random times.  The more random, and the more unpredictable (Variable) the wins, the more addictive it becomes.  Each pull of the lever is a “might win this time”.  In the optimism of the moment, the brain releases chemicals that make you want to try it again. 

So our phones have become a slot machines.  You pick up your phone, the notification light is flashing and you swipe to see what notification you have.  It might be a piece of important news, or it might be another piece of junk mail.  Either way, every swipe is a pull on the lever of a slot machine - sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  Every time you pick up your phone you get a little shot of dopamine - the reward hormone of your brain which guarantees that you will come back and do it again. 

Or suppose you are on a site that leads you to swipe from side to side to see the next image - a dating site, a news site, etc - every swipe is a pull on the lever of the slot machine.

How does it feel to know that your brain has been hacked?   How does it feel to know that your phone has been designed to draw you back and manage your behaviour?

The programme is on iplayer – I recommend it Panorama - Smartphones: The Dark Side 

If you would like to read some more then I recommend: Catherine Price - How to Break up with your Phone  

In modern society, most of us cannot do without our phones. They perform so many functions for us.  Our children’s belonging to any social group is affected by their owning and using a phone.  However, I have just been on a long retreat during which phones were simply not used and I have come back resolved to use my phone less.  But the little green light is blinking as I write - shall I swipe and see what kind of message there is for me ... ... ?