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Wired guide to Internet addiction

Everything You Need To Know About Your Smartphone Addiction (WIRED)
Everything you ever wanted to know about screen time, likes, and pull-to-refresh.

You don’t need to see the stats to know it’s hard to put down your device—the muscle memory of pull-to-refresh, the devil of the red notification on your shoulder, the rush that follows a flood of likes, the Instagram envy, the FOMO, scrolling endlessly by screenlight instead of falling asleep.

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Except that actual experts are still debating whether “addiction” is the right term for the relationship between humans and smartphones. Some say technology is not a drug like tobacco but rather a behavioral addiction, like gambling. Others say the addiction metaphor is unnecessarily alarmist and that the studies linking depression and smartphone usage only show correlation, not causation. But even major tech companies have acknowledged that their products can make us feel bad and promised to be more mindful of their users—perhaps the best data point yet that our smartphone attachment is cause for concern.

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The tug of war over the phrase “time well spent” is another good indication of the tech industry’s rhetoric-and-see attitude. Tristan Harris, the former design ethicist for Google, popularized “time well spent” as a contrast to apps like Facebook that “hijack our minds” and distract us from our priorities. And for his annual personal challenge in 2018, Mark Zuckerberg vowed to fix Facebook, including insuring that time spent on Facebook was “time well spent.” But, as Harris has pointed out, making it easier to ignore the NewsFeed clashes with Facebook’s business model, in which advertisers (who are the company’s actual, paying, customers) want your attention.

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The best hope for better practices may be the whistle-blowers themselves. Harris is now the executive director and cofounder of Center for Humane Technology, which is agitating for change, supported by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to helping kids. While users are waiting on Facebook, Apple, and YouTube to act, entrepreneurs are developing tools and services to help with tech addiction—available, where else, but at an app store near you.

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Learn More

  • The Subtle Nudges That Could Unhook Us From Our Phones
    Instead of using stockpiles of personal information to exploit our tendencies to procrastinate, companies could use the same information to detect and notify users who spend more time than they would like to on their phones. For instance, what if typing “Facebook” into your address bar prompted you to select whether the purpose of your visit is a “Quick Break,” “Easy Reading,” or “Organize an Event,” and also showed you how well those purposes had worked out for people in the past.
  • Extra Sticky
    WIRED’s Gadget Lab podcast interviews senior science writer Robbie Gonzalez to discuss the science of technology addiction and how to cope with the information overload from our news feeds.
  • Ethical Tech Will Require a Grassroots Revolution
    Defectors from Google and Facebook have banded together to create the Center for Humane Technology in order to spark a mass movement around “time well spent.” If Silicon Valley and Washington won’t address tech’s unhealthy impact, then maybe the public will.
  • It’s Time for a Serious Talk About the Science of Tech Addiction
    Everything you ever wanted to know about whether or not it’s fair to call your smartphone habit an addiction. And some suggestions for a way forward from the field of nutritional research, which had to reinvent itself after decades of demonizing fat as the root cause of obesity and chronic illness.
  • The Formula for Phone Addiction Might Double as a Cure
    B. J. Fogg, whose Stanford class on persuasive technology became known as “The Facebook Class,” thinks consumers have the power to unhook themselves from their phones. All that’s missing is the motivation. One easy way to start is by turning off notifications or turning your phone to grayscale.
  • Demonized Smartphones Are Just Our Latest Technological Scapegoat
    Technophobia is deeply rooted in our history, at least as far back as Ancient Greece, and the case against smartphones isn’t as airtight as it seems. Perhaps we fear the uncertainty as much as we fear the effects of the smartphone.
  • Can Our Phones Save Us From Our Phones?
    Explore the apps, extensions, and devices that could help you reclaim a few minutes of your day, if not your life, by putting a cap on the number of tabs you can open or interrupting you in the middle of a habit you’re trying to break.

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