Smartphones are becoming a habit with many people, and it’s all by design, says a former Google product manager, Tristan Harris. He tells Anderson Cooper that the apps and content – especially social media – carried on phones are purposely designed to be habit-forming. Cooper’s story also explores the brain science that explains how people are so susceptible to what some programmers call “brain hacking.” It will be broadcast on “60 Minutes” Sunday, April 9 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Harris compares smartphones to “slot machines” because, he says, “Every time I check my phone, I’m playing the slot machine to see, ‘What did I get?’” He is referring to “likes” on Facebook and Instagram, cute emoji in text messages and more followers on Twitter – powerful reinforcement for staying on your phone. It’s a flood of gratifying information that keeps coming via the so-easy-to-use scrolling method on digital devices – another way to keep us engaged.
“There’s a whole playbook of techniques that get used to get you using the product for as long as possible,” Harris tells Cooper. Kids are often the biggest users.
In one example, Harris says that Snapchat, the messaging service popular with teens, has a streak feature that lets users know how many days in a row they have swapped messages with a friend. “Well, now I don’t want to lose my streak,” Harris says the kids often think. “But it turns out that kids actually, when they go on vacation, are so stressed about their streak that they actually give their password to, like, five other kids to keep their streaks going on their behalf.”
Harris says this is an example of the smartphone and its content designers programming people. “Inadvertently, whether they want to or not, they are shaping the thoughts and feelings and actions of people…There’s always this narrative that technology’s neutral. And it’s up to us to choose how we use it. This is just not true,” says Harris.
The strategy of engaging the user for as long a period of time as possible is just good business, even if it can have a bad effect on people. “They want you to use it in particular ways and for long periods of time. Because that’s how they make their money,” Harris tells Cooper.
“60 Minutes,” the most successful television broadcast in history, began its 47th season in September 2016. Offering hard-hitting investigative reports, interviews, feature segments and profiles of people in the news, the broadcast begun in 1968 is still a hit in 2015, making Nielsen’s Top 10 list nine consecutive weeks in the fall of 2014.
Over the 2013-2014 season, “60 Minutes” continued its dominance as the number-one news program, drawing an average of 12.2 million viewers per week – almost twice the audience of its nearest network news magazine competitor and three million viewers ahead of the most-watched daily network evening news broadcast. The average audience for a “60 Minutes” broadcast still dwarfs the biggest audiences drawn by cable news programs.
Anderson Cooper, Steve Kroft, Sanjay Gupta; Lara Logan, Scott Pelley, Morley Safer, Lesley Stahl and Bill Whitaker all serve as correspondents and contributing correspondents.
The above press release was issued by CBS.