Has the Internet Become an Epidemic?

Jeff Stibel | LinkedIn | July 10, 2017

It seems obvious that internet companies would calibrate their apps to keep you using them as often and as long as possible. But did you realize that these companies have become so good that your relationship with the internet has crossed from an affection to an addiction? Scientists across the globe have demonstrated that shifting the internet from our computers to our phones has created an epidemic worse than the one created by smoking, albeit attacking our minds instead of our lungs.

Jeff Stibel60 Minutes recently ran a piece showing how Silicon Valley engineers are using what they know about the brain to manipulate us into staying perpetually addicted to our smartphones. Their investigation caught numerous firms red-handed as they used knowledge of brain science to increase the addictive natures of their apps. Snapchat, the social network for kids, overtly designed its “streak” feature to make users feel compelled to check in with other Snappers every single day. One 18-year old told Business Insider that “if you lose the streak, you lose the friendship.” Facebook’s endless scrolling format has been proven to keep you on the app longer. Instagram experiments with how clusters of “like” notifications, of varying amounts and at various times, will make you spend the most time on the app. That’s right, they actually withhold your “likes” to keep you checking more often.

It’s a simple fact that the purpose of a company is to generate revenue, and that companies do what they can—often through clever marketing—to make you purchase more of their products. Many of these techniques manipulate our minds; for example, advertisements featuring beautiful, smiling people create links in our mind between a product and being attractive and happy, even if the product is something as seemingly innocuous and unemotional as a bar of soap. Marketers have long known that linking a product to the brain’s pleasure center is a highly effective way to sell it...