Education - Page 1 - Ask Margit

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Ask Margit
By Margit B. Weisgal, Contributing Writer

FOMO addicts beware

In a 60 Minutes segment on April 9, 2017, Anderson Cooper interviewed Tristan Harris (, a former Google employee, as he blew the whistle on how technology companies connive and scheme to get you to stare at your smartphone screens. You probably thought this was voluntary, but it’s not. The more time you spend on your smartphone, the more information they gather about you to sell, the more money these corporations earn; therefore, they do all they can to keep you online. One reason you’re hooked is because of FOMO, Fear of Missing Out, and heaven forbid you miss something important. But is it really important? Is it making your life better?

Harris likened our use of smartphone apps to slot machines, always anxiously awaiting the next reward, the next win. Slot machines work by providing intermittent variable rewards. You play, your fingers crossed, that the machine will pay off and provide the adrenaline high when three symbols sync up and there’s a payout. Of course, your smartphone is not called a slot machine, but it acts that way when it provides those variable intermittent rewards. Then it adds in social approval, and who doesn’t want that?

“What rewards?” you ask. The emotional ones we get when someone clicks “like” for our Instagram or Facebook post, a text, a new Twitter follower, or the 191-day streak you maintain on Snapchat. Deeply connected to these rewards is the implied social approval, catnip for teens and young adults who haven’t developed a healthy sense of self and look to these messages, texts, streaks, likes, to say, “I’m good. Look how many people I’m connected to.”

“Every time you check your phone, you’re playing a slot machine to see what you got,” says Harris. This technique is embedded in every app – every online product – we use. You compulsively look at the screen, waiting for the reward. Sometimes you win. More often you don’t. But you’re compulsive, constantly looking. And the apps learn more and more about you every time – saleable information on which they capitalize.

“Apps and websites sprinkle intermittent variable rewards all over their products because it’s good for business. Never before in human history has a handful of people at a handful of companies shaped how a billion people think,” says Harris. Now you know what’s in it for them. So, ask yourself, “Where’s the benefit? What’s in it for me?”

Even the late Steve Jobs, when he has asked if his kids love the iPad, said, “They...

Ask Margit, continued on page 8