Hooked: How do media companies keep us glued?

TTT #63: Hooked: How do media companies keep us glued?

I just returned from Australia where I was rolling out Screenagers. The film has screened in more than 30 countries so far and we have a new partnership in Australia that is really exciting. Doing screenings and press throughout put me in contact with parents, teachers, and reporters. All over the country, I heard exactly the same questions and concerns I’ve heard in the U.S. and in other countries:  Why are we so glued to our devices and what is excessive screen time? A new book called Irresistible by Adam Alter looks at why everyone seems to be is so entranced by screens.  He makes points such as how Netflix shows are designed specifically for binge watching.

Delaney Ruston and her daughter Tessa in Australia

Delaney Ruston and her daughter Tessa in Australia

In an interview with Alter by Ben Machell in The Weekend Australian Magazine, Alter says “The interesting thing with technology 20, 15, even 10 years ago was that there were built-in barriers to enjoyment.” He goes on to say that to see a cartoon you had to wait for the “boring” news to be over.  In the past there were forced breaks that usually existed for enjoyable things, called “stopping rules,” but now the Internet has eliminated those. 

In the same article, I learned about what happened when the electronics company Philips launched a toothbrush that was a video game and kids got points as they brushed their teeth. The kids, it turned out, would not stop brushing their teeth. Frustrated parents contacted the company and soon Philips changed the product so the game would automatically time out. The game’s main character, Sparkly, would drop from exhaustion. I love this story for two reasons: the reminder that even tech with the best intentions needs to be put in check and that parents' voices can be heard by companies. 

For TTT let's talk about how various media forms are designed to keep us glued—from streaks on Snapchat to binge watching TV shows:

  • Given the incentives that companies have to get our attention, do you blame them for ending “stopping rules”?
  • Do you think companies should take a greater role in helping all of us to find balance, stepping away from endless scrolls?
  • Do you have any creative “stopping rule” ideas?