How Apps Keep Us Hooked

When you look around these days, no matter where you are people of all ages are on their phones. It has become the social norm to check your phone in a restaurant, answer a call at a coffee shop, and scroll through social media in the middle of a party.
Scientists are still debating whether or not we can actually become “addicted” to our phones, but there is no doubt that app developers have devised foolproof ways to keep us- both teens and adults- coming back for more. Resisting the urge to check your phone or shut it down in certain situations seems like it should be a simple matter of self-control. But the reality is there are entire teams of people whose sole job it is to keep you glued to your phone. Here is a rundown of a few apps and the techniques they use to keep us hooked.

If you have enabled the Push Notifications on your Instagram account, you will be sent dozens of notifications each week. It lets you know who’s posted, who joined, who liked your post, and who has commented on your post.
In 2016, Insta introduced “Stories.” Like Snapchat, it has fun photo filters, stickers, and animations that can all be customized. These “Stories” are the first thing a user sees when opening the app. Once you’ve watched one person’s “story,” you are immediately led to the next and the next until you manually swipe out or “X” out of the the “Stories.” Basically, once you are in the app, they can easily to get you to stay.

Twitter uses an entirely different technique, more commonly used in casinos. It is known as the “variable ratio schedule.” The concept refers to when an action is rewarded, but at various times. The user doesn’t know when they’ll be rewarded, just that they will be, but in no particular pattern, like a slot machine.

When you press the Twitter icon, the screen turns blue, then the white bird appears, then you wait a moment for your news feed to pop up. That slight delay is enticing to Twitter users. They may be “rewarded” with new Tweets, or the same tweets from yesterday. Either way, it keeps you coming back for more.

Snapchat uses snapstreaks to keep teens hooked on app. A “streak” keeps track of how many days you’ve snapped with someone in a row and it encourages its users to keep the “streak” alive. If you don’t Snap the person within 24 hours, the streak dies. There is no particular reward for keeping a streak alive, just bragging rights and a sense of social status.

When Facebook first started, the draw was just to check in on your friends and family and to share your own life experiences. Now that Facebook has been around for almost 14 years, it has found other ways to keep its users logging on. Many users are drawn in by the “Memories” you can view and share. There is a page called, “On This Day” and it automatically shows you what photos and posts you shared on the same date from years past. Users are now using Facebook almost as a yearbook or photo album where they can share memories with their friends and families. Another way Facebook draws in users is reminding users to wish their friends a happy birthday. Once a user has logged in to post a Happy Birthday message, they’re most likely to start scrolling their feed.

Project B3 Tips and Suggestions:
  • Turn off all Notifications on your phone, for all of your apps
  • Set boundaries for phone use in your home. How many hours/day are the children in your house allowed to use electronics? Are they allowed at the dinner table? In the living room? After 7pm? Choose rules that make sense for your household.
  • Try to be a good role model. It’s not just teens who should try to limit phone use.