Why I’m addicted to Facebook

A question that frustrates me on a daily basis. Why am I addicted to Facebook? What should I be doing on the train instead? What did people previously do on dates when their partner went to the bathroom?

It appears the answer can somewhat be related to the amazing feeling you get when you scratch an itch. Facebook has, according to Nir Eyal (Lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business), worked hard to condition your brain to see Facebook as the cure for boredom, a “salve for that itch”. The cure for boredom is available at the click of a mouse, the tap of a finger, and you can have this magic tonic for the one low price of… your attention on a few carefully selected advertisements!

Nir continues (in his blog; Nir and Far) by describing one of the key contributors to Facebook’s success as the ‘variable reward’ you achieve when you access your account. He utilises the analogy of opening the fridge:

“The predictable response of your fridge light turning on when you open the door doesn’t drive you to keep opening it again and again. However, add some variability to the mix—say a different treat magically appears in your fridge every time you open it—and voila, intrigue is created. You’ll be opening that door like a lab animal in aSkinner box.”

Though previously many brands used to encourage repeat purchase through brand loyalty and association, Facebook and other techs are focusing on training habit-forming behaviours into their users. Scratching that itch feels so good, you just keep doing it, and the more you do it, the more rewarded you feel. Comment on a post? Facebook will tell you when someone responds. Post an article? Get updates every time someone shares, comments, or likes your article. The more you interact, the more you get back.

This habit forming behaviour is not new, nor is it limited to techs. VB has instilled the habit into Australians that after a hard day’s work you deserve a VB “for a hard earned thirst”. A century ago, you wouldn’t find people brushing their teeth on a regular basis, however advertising campaigns from oral hygiene brands and government has gradually instilled this habit into consumers, thus skyrocketing demand for oral hygiene products. Carol Berning, a recent employee of Procter & Gamble, states that “Creating positive habits… [is] essential to making new products commercially viable.”

Facebook now dominates the market for ‘what to do when you’ve got nothing to do’. Even if you haven’t consciously identified that you’re bored, Facebook is there with its notifications to remind you that you could be doing that little bit more… Now I can’t see myself getting over this addiction anytime soon, however it’s nice (and mildly frightening) to know just why I keep going back…

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