Tech turmoil drives consumers to improve their 'digital lives'

Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg is reportedly meeting with a top British official after the British government released a report accusing the social media giant, and similar companies, of behaving like a “digital gangster.”

The UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee said in the new study that Facebook had "intentionally and knowingly" broken data privacy laws. The U.K. report and other recent studies on the influence of technology in modern life are contributing to greater awareness among consumers, and a desire to better manage the use of digital devices.

In the latest episode of the podcast, Hemmer Time, Bill Hemmer spoke about all this and more with NYU Stern Business School associate professor, and social psychologist, Adam Alter. Adam is also the author of “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” (March, 2017).

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Bill first spoke to Adam two years ago and he asked what the single biggest change in the world of technology has been since the last time they spoke. “The consumers of screens are much more careful now about how they consume,” Alter said, adding, “We are paying a lot more attention now to how we spend our time.” Alter believes that consumer awareness is driven by a recognition of, “how much these companies had ensnared us and hooked us in to spend every available minute on their platforms.”

Alter described how some online behavior that makes people feel less happy is the most addictive. “A lot of the things that make us feel unhappy have a very strong social component, where you feel obligated either to ‘like’ other people’s posts, or you post things, and you want people to like what you’re doing," he said. "All of them have that ‘bottomless aspect’ … that leads us to spending way more time and makes us unhappy.”

Alter spends time with families, who have asked for his help, and he offers practical solutions, including:

  • Understand “Stopping Cues”: “A ‘stopping cue’ is sort of a gentle suggestion from the screen that you might want to do something else … most of these programs do everything they can do avoid these ‘stopping cues.’”
  • Establish “Sacred Spaces”: “Families that really struggle have absolutely no boundaries … the first thing you do is say ‘Let’s build in a sacred space in your day that is screen and tech free.’”
  • Turn the smartphone into a dumbphone: “I spend most of the day with my phone in airplane mode … I don’t want the phone to be able to communicate with me, but I want to be able to go to the phone when I want something.”

Alter also describes what some businesses are doing to help their employees, including one car company that deletes emails sent to employees, who are on vacation.

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Listen to Bill’s conversation with Adam Alter for much more on improving your "digital life."