Why some apps are more addicting than others and what you can do to break free from your dependence on social media
This series is called “Thrive in the Future of Work” and you can expect the blog posts to explore a variety of modern day dilemmas that professionals in digital workplaces face. We’ll approach all topics in this series from a place of curiosity and end with actionable tips for you to incorporate in your personal and professional lives.
Silicon Valley Sneak Peek
Addiction is a heavy word. And so is the term, “user.” But deep in the labs and inside the headquarters of tech companies everywhere, this is exactly what they call us.
There’s even a framework called, “The Hook Model,” which many app developers have turned to for guidance in order to build “habit-forming products.” For users to keep coming back to their apps for more!
This framework was put together by Nir Eyal, who is known as the “desire guru,” after piling his experience and observations on top of the research and studies of psychology greats such as B. F. Skinner and B. J. Fogg.
Here’s the illustration of how it works:
Triggers could either be internal (something related to personal goals or even insecurities we deal with) or external (like notifications, alerts, etc.). Companies can collect data on which external triggers would be most effective in getting a person to take action.
Actions are “the behaviors done in anticipation of a reward.” These need to be simple—clicking on a photo, hitting the like button, retweeting a tweet, swiping right, or scrolling up. Once again, Big Tech can amass massive amounts of data (hence, Big Data) on all these actions.
Rewards are self-explanatory, but they’re complicated to get right, because they need to be unpredictable in order to be desirable. Will they like my new status on Facebook or not? Is anyone going to give a heart react to my Instagram post? Will my Tiktok go viral? How many retweets can I get? This slot-machine style is something carefully crafted by Big Tech, and the more data we give them, the more accurately they can design desirable rewards for us.
Investment is the last phase in this model and it's a powerful one because it can either make or break the habit Big Tech is trying to form in you. The more data you offer leads to more of yourself that you’re investing into the social media app. For example, it’s a lot harder to abandon an app you’ve uploaded so many of your photos and videos to versus one you’ve barely even posted on.
Understanding Big Data
Trigger → action → reward → investment. This loop is very obvious for social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Youtube, and even LinkedIn.
What’s the official definition of a social media app? “Every web-based-application that supports information publishing and sharing (text, video, audio, photo), the building of personal profiles, connecting to a community and searching within the community is considered as a social media application.” (Source)
These social media apps we use generate a lot of data each day! In 2022, 720,000 hours of video content is uploaded onto Youtube daily. At least 500 million tweets are sent out every day. Monthly, TikTok has 1 billion active users since the start of 2022. We could go on and on, and share more statistics, but the message remains the same: There is so much data! Hence the term, Big Data.
So that we could help you understand Big Data better, we want to share the following concepts:
Volume - This refers to the amount of data and if it’s substantial enough, it can be considered Big Data. Take note that what’s considered as a large amount may also be relative to available computing power.
Velocity - This refers to how fast data is generated and how fast it flows or moves. Where does the movement occur? It can flow from networks, social media apps, our very own smart devices, and other machines.
Variety - This refers to the types of data: Structured, semi-structured, and unstructured.
Veracity - This refers to the data’s quality and accuracy.
Value - This refers to what kind of value and how much value the data can provide.
These are known as the “5 V’s” and they are the key characteristics of Big Data. And with the examples we shared earlier of just how much data social media apps generate, it’s safe to say that social media data generated by users all over the world would be considered Big Data.
What data do social media apps or social media networks collect?
Behavioral Data What the user’s most used feature is, how long a user stays on the app, where the user is drawn to and what the user taps, what the user purchases, what the user’s completed actions are, what they’ve clicked “Add to Cart” on, and what “Cart Items” have they abandoned
Engagement Data What the most popular posts are, what the complaints of the users are about the app, what the most viewed sections of the app are, which ads are most effective
Personal Data Name, contact details, birthday, weight, height, occupation
Attitudinal Data App reviews, survey results, Net Promoter Score (NPS)
Preference Data Cultural, political, religious preferences; favorite food, movies, books, and activities; sports teams
Are social media apps using data for good?
As an online data upskilling school, we feel concerned with the way social media apps have gotten more addicting today.
What’s more concerning is when you combine the power of data with behavioral science! Up to this point in our blog post, we’ve tackled Nir Eyal’s Hook Model, Big Data, and the types of data collected by social media apps from its users.
That leaves us with a big question: Are social media apps using data for good? This is not an everyday casual question, but it’s an important one to ask. Hand in hand with the Hook Model, the data that has been collected can definitely be used to:
Send more frequent triggers or strategically timed ones
Increase the number of frictionless and addicting actions
Create more tempting rewards
Compel you to invest more of your time, energy, attention, and personal data
In the wrong hands, the Hook Model and Big Data make a terrifying combination.
Mindful media to help you become a mindful social media user
We have prepared a list of media recommendations that can get you in a more reflective mood regarding all that we have just discussed.
We’ve paired each one with a reflection question you can keep in mind while watching.
Nerve (Film) How much of yourself are you willing to give to social media apps?
Nosedive (Black Mirror episode) What does a happy life look like for you if social media was never invented?
Summer Wars (Animated film) In the past few years, based on how you have been spending your time and energy, are you more of a real-world citizen or virtual citizen?
Belle (Animated film) What is the relationship between you achieving your dreams and being an avid social media user? Are there other ways to do the things you love?
Social Dilemma (Documentary) When was the last time you felt fully in control while using a social media app? Have you ever felt like someone has been watching you?
The Great Hack (Documentary) How safe do you think your personal data is on the social media apps you upload them to?
How to do a social media detox
Now that you’re filled with the knowledge of the Hook Model, Big Data, and the types of data social media apps collect in massive amounts from all users all over the world, you may be inclined to feel a bit discouraged and even afraid.
But this last section is dedicated specifically to empower you to break free from any kind of social media addiction. We will use the idea of doing a detox.
Step 1: Make it realistic
Check your own usage of the social media apps on your smartphone. A lot of the smartphones now provide data—in pie chart format or sometimes bar chart format—regarding your screen time.
If you know what your baseline is, you can set appropriate detox goals. You don’t have to shoot for the moon and aim for 30 days of detox when you might only need 10. Again, it will depend on you.
Step 2: Make the chances of success more likely
Turn your phone’s screen into grayscale mode. You can go to your smartphone’s settings and set this up. App developers use the psychology of color to make it irresistible to check on unanswered or unseen notifications. Notice how these dots are always red. If they were in cooler tones like blue or green, would you be as compelled to open them as fast?
Delete the apps on your smartphone. There is more friction when you have to access Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube via desktop compared to opening them on your smartphone. Set your digital environment up for success by removing the temptation altogether.
Inform your constant contacts that it’s best to reach you elsewhere and that you’re going through a social media detox. Having the nagging feeling that you could be missing an important message from someone close to you is enough to make you run back to social media. If you let your contacts know about your plan to detox in advance, then the peace of mind you’ll have during your detox period is both a reward and a tactic for not jumping back onto the apps.
Write down a list of activities that can replace your social media time. While it’s ideal to use the empty space in your day to rest, it’s possible that as an avid social media user you may not find it as easy to be idle. So before you even go on the detox, it’s crucial to have a list of activities you can do so that you turn to those instead of the apps.
Step 3: Make it intentional
Clarify why you are doing this social media detox and journal your answer. You can revisit this after your detox and respond to your past self with the wisdom you’ve gained from your future self.
Step 4: Begin your social media detox
It is totally up to you when to start and how long it’ll be. Know that Eskwelabs is cheering you on every step of the way!
Using data for good
To keep in theme with our topic on social media apps, here are past Capstone Projects from our Data Science Fellowship Fellows. These projects are the culmination of our learners’ knowledge and skills acquired in our 12-week bootcamp.