According to my phone, last week I spent an average of 1 hour and 39 minutes on it daily.
Of all the apps and miscellaneous tools I use to browse on my phone, one stood out in particular: Apple News. It seems that this feature is a major time-suck.
For me, this is probably unsurprising. I tend to be a passive user of social media. I am the incessant browser. Scroll down. Read. Scroll down. Read. Scroll down. Read. The page keeps going and going enough to tire the Energizer Bunny. Really, I suspect the Energizer Bunny is doing the same thing as the rest of us, sitting in the corner scrolling.
There are, of course, some of us who don’t simply read posts. Some may even *gasp* engage in the act of posting. They always seem to be the same people. It’s a disappointment when the Facebook Feed doesn’t feature our follower versions of Old Faithful. The Feed knows this. Should Old Faithful stop erupting, it’s the Feed that comes to our rescue.
“Don’t mind the distraction, look here at all these posts from the past. Ignore that small gray text that says ‘3 Days Ago.’ This content is FRESH!”
For all us passive social media-ers, the news feed provided by Apple represents the perfect scroll. Old Faithful never stops. The Energizer Bunny just keeps going. And my thumb develops its own form of carpal tunnel syndrome. I don’t read the news so much as view it. The light of the screen is interacting with my eyes, which are sending a signal to my brain, which says, “Please sir, I want some more.”
If any of this is beginning to sound like an experience with drugs…it is.
App designers use methods of behavioral science to trick our brains into craving the apps themselves. Scrolling is the fix that the news feed can scratch. “You might like this” can be rephrased into, “You need this.” There is no pause for thought and no time to consider the content behind the headlines. The goal is to open the app, to scroll, and to search for more. Get that quick hit of sweet, sweet news.
Not to mention, I often don’t remember what it was that I read. Ostensibly, reading the news helps us to be informed. Information gives us agency. Agency provides choices. Choices have consequences. So it goes being a citizen.
These choices aren’t even limited to the ballot box. The information I receive from the news can literally help me navigate throughout my day. Is my typical bus route closed down for the day? Did the wind knock out the power at my office? Who has the best deals on shoes and sandwiches? These questions might not be life and death, but I’d surely enjoy remembering the traffic facts when I’m running out the door to get to work. “You need this” is right in many cases, but how on earth will I remember that when innumerable other headlines are swimming around in the pixellated memory of a 2"x4" screen.
Oh and there’s also these problems: Echo chambers, selective bias, Dunning-Kruger Effect, 24-hour media, and more! The wormhole is deep. Hopefully our friend the Energizer Bunny can help us keep going and going and going and…