Attention engineering and the addictive power of social media

4/27/18 3:03 PM

Many social media platforms hire 'attention engineers', who use gambling principles to try and make these platforms as addictive as possible, with the goal of maximising the profit that can be extracted from your attention and data. Manipulative design tactics snatch your attention in small bites throughout the day, with dopamine driving that addiction by delivering a small "high" for each notification, message or like. Our society is effectively putting highly addictive "drugs" into the hands of increasingly younger children, and schools are picking up the pieces.

The impact on young people in particular, who are saturated with this technology, is significant for several reasons. This continual stimulation is all new for our brains from an evolutionary perspective, with potentially wide ranging cognitive consequences. Extensive device use can have a negative impact on our ability to think, remember, pay attention and regulate emotion. 

Interestingly, the key challenges for schools relate to this addictive nature of digital devices, according to the school leaders we talk with. Firstly, there's the issue of digital distraction at school, with compulsive phone checking behaviour and continual partial attention. Secondly, there's the complex issue of student wellbeing and the rising rates of anxiety and depression, which devices are increasingly impacting:

  1. CPA, or continual partial attention. Digital distraction is almost the norm, as we flit between devices, websites and apps in this hyperconnected time. We tend to think we're good at multitasking, but we're not. Some research shows that fragmenting your attention continuously can reduce your capacity for concentration. Being constantly attached to a device is rewiring us, and even impacting on our capacity to create longer term goals. This can lead to reduced learning outcomes in schools.  
  2. Depression and dissatisfaction. Constant exposure to other peoples carefully curated, perfect lives can lead to benchmarking comparisons, with feelings of inadequacy leading to low self esteem, low self-confidence, and depression. Fake measures of 'popularity', such as social media likes and comments, can contribute to these feelings and bedestructive if this commentary takes a negative turn. Social media platforms can also be an easy medium for cyber bullying. Research shows that excessive use of social media correlates with feeling socially isolated. Physical school boundaries no longer really exist, and there's an expectation schools will keep students safe wherever they are. 

This interesting video clip explores these issues in more detail. 

 To help schools combat the addictive nature of attention engineering, Linewize by Family Zone offers an ecosystem approach. If you'd like information on our School Partner Programme, and on how to make every device on school grounds a learning device, contact us for more information



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