Digital Device Addiction


In a recent article in The Conversation, Prof Wendy Wood and her grad student Ian A. Anderson from USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, discuss about our digital device use habits. Any articles that discusses habits attract my attention I am practicing some lifestyle change habits like (i) life long learning, (ii) daily activity routines, (iii) healthy vegan diets and others.

No, you are not addicted to your digital device, but you may have a habit you want to break.

Prof Wendy Wood and Ian A. Anderson in The Conversation

Addictions vs Habits

In their article, Wood and Anderson differentiate between the addictions and habits and emphasize that while using social media frequently we get both the benefit and sufferings like in habits. In contrast, in addictions there are not obvious benefits and considered harmful. “Excessive social media use can be a very strong habit. But that doesn’t make it an addiction.”

Habits form naturally through repeated use. Use any site or app enough, and you’ll form associations in memory between cues, such as site alerts and your smartphone, and responses, such as logging on. Once habits have formed, perception of cues automatically makes you think of logging on. Creating user habits is central to the business of social media platforms like Facebook, TikTok and Twitter. Their revenue rises from high-frequency users.

In the article, the authors write:

  • Social media platforms are design around habits by creating rewards like followers, claps, sharing, likes and algorithms curated social media sites to appeal to our personal interests.
  • Habits keep people automatically using social media even when intending to do otherwise. When users find it hard to quit, they may feel addicted.

Once habits have formed, recurring cues – like notifications and the usual places and times that we use the app – trigger social media use. If you repeatedly scroll your Twitter feed while riding the bus, for example, then you may find that your Twitter habit is activated merely by sitting down on the seat.

Understanding habits allows us to reverse engineer our way out of social media’s behavioral traps. In other words, we can change the cues that activate our habits. Without those cues, habits are simply not activated.

Understanding how we use digital media, which is to build a habitual user base, helps us to re-engineer our apps and websites to meet our own needs as opposed to the sites’ needs, Wood and Anderson write.

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