Net Loss: The inner life in the digital age (Quarterly Essay 72)
Black Inc., $22.99 pb, 112 pp, 9781760640712
You probably own a smartphone. Chances are it’s in your pocket right now, or at least within arm’s reach – don’t pick it up. Fight the habit. Besides, you’ve probably checked it in the last fifteen minutes. If you are an average user, intentionally or not, you will spend three to four hours looking at its screen today. If you did check your phone after the second sentence, then well done for making it back to this piece, although (according to some research) it probably took you about twenty-five minutes to refocus.
Acknowledgment is the first step to recovery: we are not in control of how we use our phones. It’s not a case of no longer being in control – we never were. Buried among all the other revelations about the dark sides of technology has been a growing awareness that software is designed to be addictive. ‘Persuasive technology’ is the sanitised name Silicon Valley gives to technology that acts to change the behaviour of the user. Think of brightly coloured app icons that lure unthinking taps, or notifications delivered at random time intervals to reinforce the habit of checking your phone or social media. They are the same kind of psychological hacking techniques used by the makers of the pokies. Like corporate Dr Frankensteins, the tech giants are in the business of collecting eyeballs – and screw the ethics.