Monday, January 05, 2015

Getting Hooked: How Digital Firms Create Products That Get in Your Head

The makers of habit-forming products have clearly read the works of B.F. Skinner, the father of “radical behaviourism”, who found that training subjects by rewarding them in a variable, unpredictable way works best. That is why the number of monsters one has to vanquish in order to reach the next level in a game often varies. Faithful Twitter users are rewarded with more replies to their tweets, and more ego-boosting followers, but not according to any predictable formula. These variable rewards come in three forms. The reward of the tribe: people who use Twitter or Pinterest are rewarded with social validation when their tweets are retweeted or their pictures are pinned. The reward of the hunt: users quickly scroll through their feeds in search of the latest gossip or funny cat pictures. And the reward of self-fulfilment: people are driven to achieve the next level on a video game, or an empty e-mail inbox. Should the makers of habit-forming products be praised as innovative entrepreneurs? Or shunned as the immoral equivalents of drug pushers? Ian Bogost, a designer of video games, describes them as nothing less than the “cigarette of this century." more

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