Addicted to Screens? That’s Really a You Problem - The New York Times
Nir Eyal does not for a second regret writing Silicon Valley’s tech engagement how-to, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” even as he now has a new book out on how to free ourselves of that same addiction.
In his original manual for building enthralling smartphone apps, Mr. Eyal laid out the tricks “to subtly encourage customer behavior” and “bring users back again and again.” He toured tech companies speaking about the Hook Model, his four-step plan to grab and keep people with enticements like variable rewards, or pleasures that come at unpredictable intervals.
“Slot machines provide a classic example of variable rewards,” Mr. Eyal wrote.
Silicon Valley’s technorati hailed “Hooked.” Dave McClure, the founder of 500 Startups, a prolific incubator, called it “an essential crib sheet for any start-up looking to understand user psychology.”
But that was 2014. That was when making a slot-machinelike app was a good and exciting thing. When “seductive interaction design” and “design for behavior change” were aspirational phrases.
“Nir Eyal’s trying to flip,” said Richard Freed, a child psychologist who supports less screen time. “These people who’ve done this are all trying to come back selling the cure. But they’re the ones who’ve been selling the drugs in the first place.”
“I’m sure the cigarette industry said there’s just a certain number of people with a propensity for lung disease,” he added.
Mr. Eyal said he was not reversing himself. His Hook Model was useful, certainly, and he believed in the tactics. But it was not addicting people. It’s our fault, he said, not Instagram’s or Facebook’s or Apple’s.
“It’s disrespectful for people who have the pathology of addiction to say, ‘Oh, we all have this disease,’” he said. “No, we don’t.”