What Makes Technology Addictive

From Mike Elgan’s blog


Instant gratification. When any product gives us what we’re looking for instantly, we tend to crave it more than things we have to wait for. Fast food is more addictive than slow food, for example. Instant gratification puts the “crack” in “Crackberry.” You see the addicts in on airplanes. The second wheels touch tarmacs, the gadget crackheads whip out their phones and are typing away immediately. It’s not just communication, but real-time communication with an instant-on device that makes it so compelling.

Social interaction. Media that connect us to friends, family and colleagues can become addictive compulsions. Facebook is the best example. But Twitter, FriendFeed, Buzz and other social sites can also be addictive. Humans are hard-wired for social interaction. Social networking services jack directly into that wiring.

Response to input. Video games are one of the most addictive micro-processor based activities. What is it about games that draw us to them? I think it’s the feeling of power that comes from commanding a sensory-blasting response from the game. First, the game creates a world that we “buy into” to a certain extent; we accept it as a kind of alternative reality. Then we gain some skills required to survive or succeed or interact with that reality. It’s like real life, but with massive control and new abilities and freedoms. It’s not the game we’re addicted to, but the rush of adrenalin and endorphins that comes from experiencing power, control and directing the sensory stimulation.

Serendipity. Did you ever wonder why people channel surf compulsively? We don’t want to know what’s on, but what else is on. We’re driven by the possibility of undiscovered gratification. When we have 500 channels, settling on any one of them can produce a gentle anxiety. There might be something crazy, scintillating, scandalous, fascinating, historic or engaging on some other channel. People fight over the remote because they feel a need to control the hunt. We’re addicted to TV and channel surfing because, in part, we crave the rush that accompanies accidental discovery.

Window to the world. Related to serendipity is the uncomfortable feeling that something is going on somewhere. What am I missing? Is there breaking news? Has another earthquake hit? Did another celebrity die? The Internet is the ultimate “window to the world” drug. We use Twitter, news sites, Digg, Facebook and other sites to check in compulsively to make sure we don’t miss what’s happening.

Identity. People (especially teenagers and other young people) find identity in the products they buy. Cell phones are a major source of identity, as are clothes, cars, jewelry and other products. Once an identify-conferring object is acquired, it feels necessary — like something we need. If you don’t believe this, try telling teenager what clothes to wear. Try convincing a Mustang owner to buy a Prius. In addition to superficial image identity, people come to see electronics (as discovered in the Stanford study) as an extension of their bodies and minds. Stored data becomes prosthetic memory. The ability to conjure up answers anytime, anywhere evolves from a novelty to a need. Take it away, and people feel its absence as a phantom limb. Some gadgets become part of who we are.

Escapism. Now that we’re surrounded by Internet-connected computers and cell phones, we know that distraction is always a click away. The more we indulge the impulse to amuse ourselves with some distraction, the more addictive distractions become. The second some task becomes even slightly boring, people compulsively switch to break.com to watch the latest face-plant video. Escapism is an addiction.

Can Anyone Add to this list?
Can you recognize anyone that perhaps could be identified as addicted?

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