It has become commonplace to see a majority of the people around us
with their eyes focused not on the world around them, but on the world
contained in their smartphone. This experience, which undoubtedly
challenges our grandparents, should also challenge us: While the first
iPhone was launched in 2007 by Apple, how do you explain that in just ten
years, we have become so quickly addicted to this new technological
object? Whose fault is that? To a youth that is constantly losing interest
in books, nature and "real" things? Well, not exactly...
Once upon a time in Stanford : The birth of Captology
It's just that these little screens hide a lot more secrets than we
think. In 1998, a certain B.J. Fogg founded the Stanford Persuasive
Technology Lab at Stanford University, and says that the question that
most motivated him was: "How could you use the power of computers to
change people's beliefs and behaviours? ». From this question was born a
discipline: Captology, whose objective is to design computer tools that,
in order to better influence our beliefs and behaviors, begin by capturing
our attention and focusing it on our screens and the messages they
Have you seen how hard it is to hold back from opening our favorite
application when it displays a new notification? That's because the
computer tool forms an explosive cognitive cocktail, enough to put our
brains on constant alert.
Researchers at the University of Chicago published a survey
revealing that the mere presence of students' smartphones was enough to
lower their scores on cognitive tests and occupy their cognitive abilities
(known as "brain drain"). A possible vibration of our phones can indeed
indicate a received message, or a new "Like" mention for one of our
photos, but all these elements are potential social rewards that directly
stimulate our brain areas that generate our feeling of pleasure. Since
eating is where the appetite comes from, the more we engage our brain in
these small pleasures, the more eager it becomes for the information,
stimuli and other social interactions that are so finely
Chamath Palihapitiya, a former Facebook executive, didn't mince his
words: "The short-term, dopaminergic reaction loops we've created are
destroying the way society works.
First of all, let's remain optimistic because consulting social
networks morning noon and evening is not enough to clinically speak of
true "screen addiction". Joël Billieux, professor of psychology at the
University of Luxembourg, explains that: "Addictive behaviour has negative
consequences for the individual and those around him. The use of social
networks should only be considered as a problem if it is associated with a
loss of control and a concrete impact in daily life (...) Our
communication methods have evolved. These tools have become indispensable.
We must be careful not to "pathologize" these behaviors too quickly".
There is therefore a difference between "habit" and "addiction", a
difference notably linked to tolerance of withdrawal, loss of control or
Secondly, let's be optimistic because a new movement has been
launched recently, that of a Web ethic, which seeks to impose on platform
designers to design interfaces that exploit the brain's cognitive biases
as little as possible. Tristan Harris, a former "product philosopher" at
Google, has created a label: Time Well Spent to encourage users to regain
control over the websites they visit, and in general to generate a global
awareness of the need for human beings to always retain power over the
technologies they use. Just recently, it was Mark Zuckerberg, the founder
of Facebook, who announced the development of a new feature, "Your Time on
Facebook", aimed at raising awareness of the time spent on the
application, in order to limit risky behaviour. So before long, we could
discover an organic label for websites!
In short, our favorite apps are designed to grab our attention. This
capture is based on cognitive mechanisms that are mostly unconscious.
Let's not talk too quickly about addiction, but let's always try to keep
control of our habits.
You should work away from your telephones: their mere presence in
close proximity can disrupt your attention in a lasting way. Reduce the
number of disturbances: If possible, change your app settings to receive
notifications only when messages come from real people.