[Current Topics in Psychology]

American Psychological Association
126th Annual Convention - San Francisco, California
August 9-12, 2018



The following reports rely on verbatim notes and audio/video recordings (for fact-checking and accuracy).

This is my 20th year of presenting these reports, originally in near real-time in daily 'list' posts which were widely subscribed, but increasingly web-based as list-servs gave way to instant texts, interest/Pinterest groups, and whatever flashes across the screen - in this age where attention span, focus, and reasoning may rival that of a goldfish. That said, if you are still reading this: Enjoy!

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Adam Alter: Our "Irresistible" Screens

Alter-on Irresistable Screens
Adam Alter, Ph.D.

Dr. Alter is a professor of marketing at New York University's Stern School of Business, and the author of an important new book on a topic near and dear to many of us. I have called it
'Device Devotion', based on the observation of so many riveted to - even (literally) 'connected 24/7' to - our ever-present screens, filled with endless goodies on demand. Here, Professor Alter explains some of the marketing and design factors which go into making it all 'Irresistible'.

Reflecting the lure and lifestyles today, replete with the joys of all-things-screen, Dr. Alter's book is named "Irresistible". As reflected in today's presentation, the book is rich in statistics, research, and back-stories about technology's history, marketing, and pioneers. Alter provides us with a framework, for identifying some of the essential components contributing to addictiveness across screens.

One key element is easy online access and the ubiquity of 'devices' with screens. Behind the sales and marketing hype dwell product design and interlinking product ecosystems, with our own interests and time online duly noted, captured and re-marketed by the online giants. A major component driving the industry is the model of clouds and devices and subscriptions, while its other cash cow is the ever-monetized end-user, who is entertained, rewarded and enticed through the 'gamification' of screen-based experience, and reinforced in multiple ways. [ See tech guru
Jaron Lanier, of Microsoft - and the originator of the term 'virtual reality' - for his critical take on user monetization by design. ]

So, why can't we escape our screens? Dr. Alter breaks it down into component pieces of the phenomenon, from reinforcement schedules to 'gamification', with research and historical snapshots to illustrate. As to how we escape, the answer is not easy, and there may be "no real solution" at this point. "We're all living in this kind of soup that is infused with technology in a way that we can't really escape from."

Dr. Alter mentioned his early experience of growing up in an environment of Nintendo, Gameboy, etc., and described his interest in the topic of technology and marketing as having peaked in 2010, with the introduction by Apple's Steve Jobs, of the iPad. Jobs "got up on stage and spent 90 minutes talking about the virtues of the iPad... He had a lot of hard work [to do here] ... People were making fun of the name. They thought it was basically a glorified iPhone you couldn't make calls with.... Jobs was convinced it was going to change the world. He was right."

Alter described some of the design and marketing processes at play in developing popular products, in particular the phenomenon of '
dog fooding', basically a manner of getting out products with a criterion similar to testing and marketing dog food: Use it yourself, ostensibly, and only your own brand. (The name also suggests the story of a dog food developer who would eat the product to demonstrate its greatness.) So here was Steve Jobs, describing the wonders, glorifying the appeal to children, and lauding its potential for educational use. Alter and many others, no doubt, pictured Jobs' home having 17 iPads, and his kids all happily engaged with them. However...

Jobs was asked if his own children were loving it, as one might suspect, given all the praise heaped upon it, as 'better than laptops or smart-phones'. But Jobs responded that in terms of his own children "They haven't used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home."

Steve Jobs had violated "a very deeply held principle [of dog-fooding], this idea that if you work in an industry and you sell products, you should also use those products as proof that you think as highly of them privately as you say you think of them publicly. That seems like an obvious thing to do. If you work at Coca-Cola, you don't drink Pepsi." But in this industry, Jobs was not alone, based on interviews with several 'tech titans'. "I found this fascinating," said Alter. "I wanted to understand more. What is it they were so afraid of? What were they guarding themselves and their kids from?"

Alter said his book gets into this in more depth, with several examples of dog-fooding exceptions. Here's one example:

At the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, a well-known (and 'wonderful', 'very progressive') school in the nearby Bay Area, students do not get access to iPads until 8th or 9th Grade. Why would this be? Clearly the school has the money to spend, but chooses not to - even as many other schools brag about their abundant access to classroom technology as a selling point. Even more interesting: "Seventy-five percent of Waldorf School students are the children of Silicon Valley tech execs. So what Jobs said himself has been replicated hundreds of times.... It's not a fringe issue. So the question is, 'what are they afraid of?'"

Time Distribution: Sleep, School, Work, and 'Discretionary Time'

One of the big concerns of educators (and parents) is that of time management: "how we use our time, and how that's changed in the last decade or so". Alter compared some statistics (on a chart), 2007, 2015, and 2017.

The year 2007 is when the iPhone was first released. By 2015, the second data point, both iPhone and iPad use were well-established. The third point is just 2 years after that, and illustrates a 'jump' in some numbers, a big change in just a very short period.

Some things have not changed much, at least based on the official statistics [Bureau of Labor Statistics]. Sleep is said to be relatively unchanged at about 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours per day - which, Alter commented, "as the parent of a 1 year old and a 2 year old I find absolutely unbelievable! [Laughter] I'm living on 1/2 of that, so someone else here is sleeping for 10 hours a day!"

Working, Commuting, and 'Free Time'

In terms of work and commuting time, it has been 'pretty stable' across time, about 8 1/2 to 9 hours a day, along with 'survival' time: 2-3 hours per day - eating, caregiving, bathing, etc. So what is left, and how do we use it?

The 'White Space' (Free Time)

Referring to the tiny sliver of what is left over after the necessities, the 'white space' on his graph represents our slice of 'discretionary time', free time.

The average adult has a few hours every day of personal time. So, the question is "How much of that time is taken up by screens?"

Even the definition of 'screen time' is more complicated these days, as so many of us are 'surrounded by' screens, and use multiple screens sequentially and/or simultaneously. Alter gave an example: Say you're watching a TV show and you really want to know an actor's name. So you take out the iPhone (gesturing with one hand on the phone, and an eye towards a TV screen). Then you want to know something about the second season, but the other two screens are occupied so the iPad comes out... "Suddenly you're like some sort of tech guru with multiple screens surrounding you. This captures that."

[ On-screen slide highlighting 3 years ]

2007 - A lot of people are watching a lot of TV. (Somewhat overlapping with other activities)

2015 - " We were watching less TV, but we were spending a huge amount of time on phones, and to some extent on tablets."

2017 - Now there's a little (yellow) 'sliver of time' on the on-screen graph, detailing how "roughly 1/2 an hour for most of us, is all the time we have, and all the time we are giving to the things that I think are really important in being a human being: interacting with real people face-to-face, having conversations, spending time in natural environments away from screens...

All those things, hobbies - even the word 'hobby' sounds archaic, sounds like a word that people used 60 years ago - but it's a thing, and it's great for us to have one of those... (laughter) That's now living alongside of the other important things in that little yellow sliver.

So this is why I think this is an issue and this is what Jobs and other people recognized in creating these devices; those devices were designed to rob us of that white and yellow space and to fill it instead with red [device time]."

[Discussion Point: See Larry Rosen's APA presentation a few years back, called
PokeMe, for an interesting and relevant look at mini-generational differences in terms of preferences for various communications tools, from TV and phone to text-only-please.]

So how important is your 'device'? Alter ran a few small studies of his own recently, over the course of a 6-week summer school session for high school students - all of whom carried phones, mostly iPhones and Androids. He asked students to download an app to track phone activities over the 6 weeks of classes. It turns out they used their phones, on average, 6-7 hours a day, although when asked about their use one student had bragged that 12 hours was his norm. ("How is that even possible?" The class alone was 3 1/2 hours!)

Alter had been wondering, how and why are these devices so incredibly important to so many people? What makes them so hard to resist? And for the past 6 or 7 years he has been asking a single question, and now he asked his question to a group of "high school students from all over the world - quite diverse in a number of respects" - the same question he's now asked thousands of people of all different ages, from early teen years to late adulthood.

The question is: you have to make a horrible choice. What do you choose? It's a binary.
So the one option is your phone tumbles to the ground and shatters into a million pieces....

The other option is, you break a small bone in your hand.

"There's a certain age at which you ask that question and people are insulted that you've even asked it at all.. And they say at university, obviously a broken bone in the hand is not preferable. I will watch my phone break, near a repair or replace store. (And their age is around 30.) It's kind of a grey area between 20 and 30. But where it gets interesting: the kids in my class were 16 to 18. They find this an incredibly difficult question. All you need to do is look at latency of response, how long does it take them to give an answer. Because they take a really long time. And they are thoughtful about it. They definitely think harder about this question than they do about what I'm talking about in class.

The cogs are turning. And they say things like, 'So let me get that straight: I break a bone in my hand. Does that render me incapable of swiping?' That's the first question, so it seems like an important one. And they go through this round of, like 'negotiations', like 'will the injury heal on its own?', 'Will there be cosmetic damage?' They're asking all of the important questions."

We are asked to keep in mind that while you get this with the teens, almost all over-30's would choose the option of breaking the phone rather than a finger. The majority overall, chose to break the phone rather than a finger, but not by much.

A Brief Look at the Next Screen (R)evolution

So from the present to a look at the very near future... On the horizon is a screen device destined to take us even further from the here and now. Virtual Reality is now a huge, growing, industry.

Onscreen is an image depicting an airline passenger wearing Virtual Reality goggles on an air flight. This, says Alter, is where we're headed. It's brilliant, and not only from an entertainment or productivity point of view. From the airline perspective, says Alter, "this is great!" In fact some airlines are now giving all their 1st class passengers Virtual Reality goggles - "because 'the very easiest passengers to deal with are the ones who aren't actually on the plane'. So this is very very wise. And it works really well."

Now take this a step further and imagine easy-to-fold up portable virtual or augmented reality goggles you can carry around with you everywhere, along with our phones. "So at any moment you could do exactly what you want. So you could go to a meeting in Greece while you're on the plane, or you could go talk to a loved one, or you could do whatever it is that's important to you and it would feel like you were there. Why wouldn't you do that? It seems like the rational response. Just as it's hard for kids who find these phones to be portals into a social world... It makes sense that we would find this appealing! And if you talk to people in this industry, they will tell you that between [1 and 3 years] from now, many of us will own these devices.... We will have them like we have our phones...."

By 2029, it is predicted to be a 70 to 100 billion dollar industry, depending on the forecast. Alter thinks this is "a massive under-estimate, actually". In any case, this is a big and growing industry - "and I think it's going to be an even bigger issue. It will be even harder for us to stay in the here and now when these devices exist. So, that's why I think this is a big concern. Because I think the devices that draw us away are only going to become more compelling over time.

So let's look at some of the factors that I think make them so hard to resist. This is also a mix of sociology and psychology."


"There are more than four drivers, but I'll focus on just four of them.

The first one is a feature of experiences that I'll call Stopping Points."

Stopping Points

Onscreen is the image of Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix. "I use this as a case study when I teach MBA's, because I think it's an interesting line, his response to this question is interesting."

Hastings was asked, 'who is your biggest competitor, who are you most worried about in the next 5 years, as an organization?' It's an interesting question." You might have expected Hastings to be worried about mainstream cable TV, or Hulu or YouTube, or Vimeo - many potential competitors who could take traffic away from Netflix.

"But Hastings' response was completely different! He said, 'When you watch a show from Netflix and you get addicted to it and you stay up late at night - really, we're competing with sleep!' If humans work out a way to go to bed earlier,"... That is when Netflix will suffer.

Elements of Irresistibility

Gamification and Reinforcement

Alter had onscreen an image collage of a casino with slot machines, and an animated Floppy Bird, who he described as his main focus during a recent long-distance flight, despite his best intentions. He'd become entranced by the addictivess of the game. And what can hold attention so well over time, as a windowless casino or gamified 'video game'?


In the 70's and 80's we had the Arcade Era - put in another quarter, play again. Show your prowess, attain your goal, be a top scorer. Then came video games like Floppy Bird. It was developed by a Vietnamese 'Indy Game Developer', similar to the indy musician or film-maker in how, like many other instances, it was developed out of 'love for the game'.

The game's main task was simple: avoid obstacles. Then, importantly, "you end a round and the next one begins". The goal changes, but there are no 'stopping' cues. You can just keep on going, chasing your new personal best.

Floppy bird ended up making some money but also drawing a host of problems, which were briefly touched upon. In the end, the game was pulled offline, and the reaction was as if a horde of addicts suddenly had their drugs taken away. The developer was getting asked things like, 'Surely you have a couple of copies on the side. Could you spare a couple of download codes?' And he had to say no, he wouldn't do that. "It sounded a lot like a drug. And then of course,

"The real jump in the eradication of stopping cues comes from pretty much every social media platform, the bottomlessness of all these platforms. There is no cue that says to you, 'it's time to move on'. There are now exceptions, which I'll talk about, but in general, this is what it's like to be online...."

So that's stopping cues.


Going back to Netflix, you're finishing one episode of 'Breaking Bad' and the next one automatically begins 11 seconds later. This is called 'post flight'. And it was a feature which brought a new term into the lexicon, 'binge watching'.... And it's very good from a business perspective.

If people watch an entire new episode for 2 or 3 times, the evidence suggests that 70% are likely to watch the whole 13 or 22-show series. So "70% is the golden number to hit for 1st time viewing", especially as series ponder entering into a new season. Eradicating stopping cues has proven very effective.


We have a long-standing understanding, from 'old school psychology', about how people's behavior is influenced by rewards and feedback. We know that fixed schedule, fixed ratio schedules are effective to a point, but that a variable reinforcement schedule excels at sustaining effort and hope - "what casinos and lotteries are all about. The uncertainty factor in both - the scope of the reward and when it's going to be delivered - is key. That's true all the way down to rats and other very low order animals all the way up to human beings.

And this is how a huge number of our experiences are designed. There is a lot of random feedback and random reward in our experiences. Checking email is one of those. [Text/SMS and 'like'/follower checking too.]

Now, unless you have only anxiety about checking email, most people assume that occasionally you'll get an email that's pleasant, or positive. And so checking email is like this. It's why we keep going mindlessly back. In fact I'm sure a lot of you have a routine on your phone: There'll be 6 or 7 things you do and you do them over and over and over again. A lot of that is just going for a little dose of this - it's called 'boost'. It's a little bit of reward, and it comes from this question of whether there might be some golden nugget of information, some email that will make it all worthwhile.

Obviously social media is that way too. Until socal media came around, kids got a lot of positive feedback. You would draw a picture, some sort of stick-figure, and you'd tell your parents 'this is an elephant'. And they'd be like, 'it's the greatest elephant I've ever seen!' Positive... But that stops at a certain point.

It's much harder to get postive feedback when you're an adult, and when you're a teen, as you get older. You've got to do something genuinely fantastic. You bring a stick figure in of an elephant that doesn't look like an elephant, it's going to be tough to get genuine positive feedback. But that changed with Instagram. Now you can take a picture of your lunch and people will just fall over themselves... (laughter) And that's addictive. And it's also variable. Because sometimes they won't tell you that your lunch looks incredible. But other times 100 people will tell you 'that looks like the greatest food the world has ever known'. And so this is one place we go for that 'boost'. Like, 'Will I get a lot of responses?' 'Will I get none?' 'Will people ignore this post?' That's the worst thing, is to be ignored."

Aside from social sharing platforms, there are a variety of carefully designed sites which have uncertainty built into their secret sauce. For example, take Gilt, a shopping app, which sometimes offers great deals which may excite you, and sometimes great discounts you look forward to, but much of the time there's no 'gold nugget'. Sites like this benefit from 'the thrill of the chase', and by variably paying off with a very attractive bargain, sometimes, thus reinforcing continued use of the app. Alter mentioned the even purer form of uncertainty-based activity, actual 'gambling' sites, some of which we now see. But to make a long story short, online casinos in the U.S. are a challenge, because while hosting a casino site may be legal, there are banking restrictions requiring transactions to be in cash and made physically, presenting a barrier in terms of what could be done (legally) with the cash.


Adding 'juice' to an app or site is a concept taken from Gameworld, but with broader applicability. Basically, it's not enough to just provide feedback, not just the structure, but "How is it dressed up?" How compelling is it to continue, staying absorbed in the task? "What are the clothes that the feedback is wearing?" More 'juice' was continuously added to the early basic video games. To be concrete, look at a classic 'brick breaking game'from the 80's, with a paddle moving horizontally, and a goal of breaking bricks with a bouncing ball. By the 90's there was 'a bit more juice', same structure but the feedback was a bit 'amplified', beyond bricks (or 'Pong') level: special bricks, more paddle controls, and so on. "But now today, there's a professor who's telling you, 'you're impressive! Epic! Insane!'. There are exploding bombs. I don't know what's going on there, but there's a lot of juice"
[Is this not a bit like toddlers being told 'good job!' ? 'Nice elephant' ?]

If you're a developer this is one of the things you pay attention to. How do we 'amp up' the whole thing?

Next: The 'juice' induced by goals.


Dr. Alter told a story about his experience in running the NYC marathon - how he revved himself up, telling himself beating 3:29 was his goal - until 4 became his next goal, etc. after being humbled one run. There were pace runners who ran with markers saying they'd finish at 3:29 or 3:59, etc., and Alter was curious why they set their targets a minute before the goal.

[Chart: 'The Marathon']

Alter drilled down on the performance stats portrayed in a series of graphs showing numbers of runners and their marathon times. He shared stories of his own experiences, like trying to decide on which other runners to pace himself against. In brief he came to appreciate the value of the tagged pace runners who would or could moderate runners' behavior. He emphasized peaks and dips right around the target goal times: a final push for the goal - "the gap illustrates the power of the goal".

[Note: In psychological/behavioral research there is also a well-known phenomenon called the 'scallop effect', seen in lab experiments, which is similar to the marathon graph, with an increase in key-pecks or whatever right before the food reward or onset of n aversive stimulus, as the case may be. That 'gap' is understood in learning theory and happens with a fixed time interval, which is arguably similar to a focus on stopwatch and goals in a marathon.]

"So goals are very very powerful, we know that. And they are embedded in all of our experiences, from Smartwatches which tell us we need to spend - or Fitbits to tell us we need to complete - 10,000 steps a day, to games that have a certain number of levels that we'd like to complete to my personal poison: inbox zero. The need, every day, to check every single email you get - which is Sisyphean, because by the time you wake up in the morning it turns out the Zombies are back. You have to start all over again.

There are ways of creating these goals for people. Unfortunately they're embedded in a lot of our platforms. You can see this..." ~ all across the Internet.

[Brief tour of Imgur, which 'gathers its images from Reddit's sub-channel', and some examples of some popular feeds like 'Mildly Infuriating Images']

After some other funny examples where it seems like people are having fun, some perhaps eagerly re-tweeting images the way they really 'should' look, and so on.... Alter reviewed a few other principles of behavior regarding typical goal-directed behavior. There are the continuous floor lightings in elevators, which so engage children, while progress bars absorb teens and adults. There are the 'goal gradients' seen in periods of increased activity, as shown in the marathon time data - and evidence that artificial goals can be as impactful as 'real ones'. Also, people have a strong preference for closure, for not having any 'open loops', or 'cliffhangers'. [And yet many do 'stay tuned'. See every TV series ever.]

And the last driver of behavior, but not the least, something which happens on a global level that we see every day:


"Gamification is basically turning something that is not a game into a game by introducing game-like mechanics, the features of the game.

Case Study: 2 Companies

Here is an example of two companies, Companies A and B, founded in 2009 and 2010, respectively. Both were based on a platform which employs filters to 'punch up mundane photos'. "They were both Apple's 'App of the Year', one year apart.... Here's where they diverge: One is now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and the Company A was Hipstamatic, a company with a very nice product which offered a great filtering system. So now you know which one is Instagram. The peak user base, 5 million for the one, and over a billion for the other."

Company A is Hipstamatic, who made cameras and filters. What happened is that early on, Company A, made a decision, a choice. They made a camera used by a NY Times journalist who went to Iraq. One of his images was chosen as AP's photo of the year. A huge amount of press, and a great opportunity for Hipstamatic. Hipstamatic was inspired to continue its focus more on taking and making great photos, rather than in investing in a social network. So they introduced more and more filters, new ways to tweak photos...

The Instagram people said, 'people will get bored of taking photos. What they don't get bored of, ever, is knowing what other people think of them.' They want to know, do you like this photo? What about this one, do you like this one? Do you like me now, by how much? They will never tire of that.

So if you want to be relevant in 10 years the way to do that is to build in a social engine that is native to the platform. You can't just expect people to go and upload the stuff on Facebook and still have the same traction. It has to be withinin the device, within in the program. And so that's why Instagram was so successful; It was really the only major difference between these two companies.

And you see the same gamifaction, or comparisons, elsewhere. The classic example in business is frequent flyer flights. You have these three features:

Points: you know how many miles you've flown;
Badges, as you get to a new level, and
Leaderboards. This is an important one. If you're lining up in Group 1 you're supposed to look at the people in groups 2 to 5 and say 'never again'. And if you're in group 5 you're supposed to look at the people in 1 through 4 and say 'one day that'll be me'. It's suppposed to drive you on.

That's the game plan associated with gamification...

[Onscreen is a familiar billing statement graph showing 'your electric use' compared with a theoretical neighbor, implying you can get a better deal.]

You see that also with utility companies trying to get you to use their gas or electricity."

Time was running out as Alter wanted to touch briefly on some tentative solutions. Onscreen now is the famous New Yorker cartoon of a man in a bar, with a protective bonnet over his head, like the sort you'd see on a dog who's just had surgery, being kept from licking or scratching. The man is explaining, 'It keeps me from looking at my phone every two seconds.' This is not far from the truth, for many today.

Aside from mechanical devices there are also apps and programs to assist with behavioral management, or give a hand by limiting screen time. Both face some challenges. Meanwhile, as we increasingly recognize the extent of the situation, on many levels, we know that there is in fact a problem, but the causes and treatments are not simple to address.

Alter concluded by re-framing the issue in terms of definition and possible solutions. Is this a problem that needs to be fixed on solely an individual level, or is it more of a 'sociologcal' phenomenon?

3 Critical Questions: Regarding the extent of 'addiction', devotion, or enslavement to the 'irresistible':
  1. Is this a medical issue?
  2. Is this addiction?
  3. How big a problem is this, whatever its label?
"I don't think that there's something wrong with all of us. We don't need to be 'fixed'. What's around us needs to be fixed, and we can go some way towards doing that as individuals but a lot of it has to come from elsewhere.

So... it is a medical issue but not for everyone.

The question of whether this is an 'addiction': I use the term 'addiction' all through the book, and to a large extent stand by it. I'm happy to use the term, I'm happy to defend the definition that I use.
Having said that, I think you could strip the entire book of the term 'addiction' and in fact strip all of the literature of the word 'addiction', describe just the phenomenon, or the phenomena that I've been talking about... and still I find it just as egregious and concerning...."

Alter does think there are a lot of people who perceive a problem, where for example, "...we do this thing over and over and over again. Something we want to do deeply... driven towards it in the short run despite knowing in the long term it's undermining our wellbeing in at least one respect. So very broadly speaking, for a lot of us this is an addiction."

And 'how big a problem is this, whatever its label?' If you speak to people in a room like this, if asked how much they want to change some aspect of their daily tech routine, rating from 1-10, for over half the response indicated a significant awareness and concern. "People genuinely seem to think this is a thing for them." So what can be done?

'Two Routes to Solution'

In general there are two main routes towards effecting change: "As I see them, top down and bottom up. The top-down routes came from legislation. There is no way the current government is going to introduce that legislation - but it's a thing we can think about for the future". Elsewhere some top-down approaches have been implemented. For example, "This is a big thing in France now, where kids, for example, are
not allowed to use phones in school. That kind of top-down legislation will change behavior, I think, for the good."

There are also two parts to addressing the technology itself, the producers of tech and the consumers. Alter emphasized the need for a two pronged approach in effecting change, on one hand educating consumers, who in turn exert an influence, and prompt change happening among the tech producers. Meanwhile there are changes which come as the result of "people in companies who decide how much time their employees can stay on screens or check emails...." and other rules and policies.

And then the other element is " bottom-up pressure from consumers of tech, pressure from all of us..."

[With time running out, a quick skimming through slides listing some of the places, such as doctors offices and schools, where parents can get practical guidelines and recommendations for exposure to technology, etc. And then 'jumping forward briefly'...]

"This is starting to happen. The companies are responding to pressure from individuals, grass roots pressure. This is
a letter, from an investment organization called Jana Partners, to Apple. They basically said to Apple 'you need to do things differently. We hold 2 Billion dollars in stock, and we feel that what you're doing is not good for the well-being of people.' And so, Apple has started to respond. They've started to release all sorts of diffferent features on their phones that allow you to check your usage, how much time you're spending, what you're doing with that time...

Google is doing something very similar with their digital Wellbeing Suite. So they've introduced a whole lot of digital well-being tools. Under the same banner, Alphabet: YouTube, which is part of the same parent company, they now have a 'take a break' reminder. So if you watch a certain number of videos, it can tell you hey, maybe you should go and do something else with your life. [laughter]

And then Instagram now has a thing that says - I'm skeptical - but what they have is a thing that says 'you're all caught up. You've seen all the new posts from the past 48 hours.' In other words, 'get up and do something else. Don't go back looking for a second time.' The problem with that is, if you have hundreds of people you follow, that will take a long time to get to. I don't really use Instagram, so every time I'm on Instagram it's like 'you're all caught up'. But if you aren't one of those poeple, if you're a person with lots of followers, it takes a long time to get there. And this serves as a goal. It's a signpost. It actually encourages more usage so you reach it. So now, every time you're using Instagram and you try to reach this, it's like having an incomplete goal, in terms we were discussing earlier, you feel you want to complete it. So I think that's not a great approach. You shouldn't produce a goal as part of your remedy to encourage people to get off the platform.

The last thing I would say is, I think one way of knowing that we're doing this right, that we're living the right way, as far as I'm concerned is, How much of the day do you spend where you don't know, basically, what your eyes are telling you, what year it is. If you can tell for the the entire day that it's the year 2018, because you have an iPhone, you have a screen, and an iPad and whatever and technology surrounds you... I don't think that's the best, most fulfilling version of the life we could be leading. Ways to do that: [gesturing towards an onscreen sunny forest]

If you're lucky enough to live near a natural place that doesn't have these things around, then that's great. But even having a conversation face-to-face... If you're looking into someone's eyes and you're having a conversation with them; It doesn't have to be intense. But that process is millennia-old. It's thousands of years old. And I think there's something to be said for using as a general metric of well-being how much of your day do you spend in ways where you are not tethered to the here and now, to time, to what we're doing in this moment. And you live beyond that, And live in a way where... it's not completely clear whether it's 2018, or 1500, or 1000.

Thank you very much.

Additional References

Why your smartphone is irresistible (and why it's worth trying to resist) - PBS NewsHour, 2017, Video (2:55)

'Irresistible' - DLD Conference (NY), May 2018, Video (22:25).

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See also:

Zimbardo on Transforming Evil into Heroism (2014)

Zimbardo: Analysis of a TED Event (2012)

Virtual Reality Goes to War: Innovations in Military Behavioral Health Care (2012)

Enduring Lessons from 40 Years Ago: Stanford Prison Experiment (2011)

The Internet: A Pathway For Networking, Connecting, and Addictions - Kimberly Young (2009)

Evil, Hate, & Horror - Conversation with Aaron T. Beck and Philip Zimbardo (2007)

Magnificant Journeys: A Conversation on Mind and Psychology - Aaron T. Beck and Albert Ellis (2002)

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APA 2018 Convention Highlights:
Conversation with Aaron T. Beck | Noam Chomsky: On Linguistics & Society | Discussion with APA Presidents: The Goldwater Rule in the Trump Era | Adam Alter, on 'Irresistible' Screens

2010 Convention Highlights:
Online Support Groups & Applications | Evidence & Ethical Practice | Opening Ceremony | Sir Michael Rutter: Resilience
Group Memory | Psychology in the Digital Age | Steven Hayes: What Psychotherapists Have that the World Needs Now

2011 Convention Highlights:
2011: eHealth Odyssey | Googling, Twittering, Poking | Zimbardo: Reflections + Enduring Lessons from 40 Years Ago: Stanford Prison Experiment
Opening | Avatar-based Therapy | Canine Cognition: Chaser | Aaron T. Beck @90 | Cavanagh: Computerized CBT | Seligman: Flourish
PsychTech: Virtual & Augmented Reality | Relationships 3.0 | POKE ME: Social Networks & Kids | Telehealth & Telepsychology Licensure - Barriers and Possible Solutions

2012 Convention Highlights:
Transmedia Storytelling | Opening | 2012: Virtual Reality Goes to War | DSM5: Q&A | Drew Westen: Dysfunctional Democracy
Howard Gardner: Multiple Intelligences | Zimbardo: Anatomy of a TED Event

2014 Convention Highlights:
Opening Ceremony | Phil Zimbardo on Heroism vs. Evil | Aaron T. Beck at 93 | David Mohr: Technology for Better or Worse | Temple Grandin: All Kinds of Minds

2015 Convention Highlights:
Aaron T. Beck - On Humanism, Therapies, and Schizophrenia | Albert Bandura: Efficacy, Agency, & Moral Disengagement | Danny Wedding: Psychopathology & Psychotherapy in the Movies | Phil Zimbardo on 'The Stanford Prison Experiment'


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