Freshest thoughts from Jacob Weisberg’s article:
(link to full at bottom)
“Twenty years ago, the hottest jobs for college graduates were at Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. Today, students at Stanford and CalTech and Harvard aspire to work in product management or design at social media companies.
The disciplines that prepare you for such a career are software architecture, applied psychology, and behavioral economics—using what we know about human vulnerabilities in order to engineer compulsion.
Some of Silicon Valley’s most successful app designers are alumni of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, a branch of the university’s Human Sciences and Technologies Advanced Research Institute. The lab was founded in 1998 by B.J. Fogg, whose graduate work “used methods from experimental psychology to demonstrate that computers can change people’s thoughts and behaviors in predictable ways,” according to the center’s website. Fogg teaches undergraduates and runs “persuasion boot camps” for tech companies. He calls the field he founded “captology,” a term derived from an acronym for “computers as persuasive technology.”
It’s an apt name for the discipline of capturing people’s attention and making it hard for them to escape. Fogg’s behavior model involves building habits through the use of what he calls “hot triggers,” like the links and photos in Facebook’s newsfeed, made up largely of posts by one’s Facebook friends.
One of Fogg’s students, Nir Eyal, offers a practical guide in his book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products. A former game designer and professor of “applied consumer psychology” at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Eyal explains why applications like Facebook are so effective.
A successful app, he writes, creates a “persistent routine” or behavioral loop. The app both triggers a need and provides the momentary solution to it. “Feelings of boredom, loneliness, frustration, confusion, and indecisiveness often instigate a slight pain or irritation and prompt an almost instantaneous and often mindless action to quell the negative sensation,” he writes. “Gradually, these bonds cement into a habit as users turn to your product when experiencing certain internal triggers.”
The financial value of an app is largely determined by how much time consumers spend using it, on the assumption that usage translates into advertising revenue. For US users of Facebook, the average “time spent” figure is an extraordinary forty minutes a day. What compels this level of immersion? As Eyal writes, Facebook’s trigger is FOMO, fear of missing out. The social network relieves this apprehension with feelings of connectedness and validation, allowing users to summon recognition. On Facebook, one asserts one’s social status and quantifies its increase through numbers of likes, comments, and friends. According to Eyal, checking in delivers a hit of dopamine to the brain, along with the craving for another hit. The designers are applying basic slot machine psychology. The variability of the “reward”—what you get when you check in—is crucial to the enthrallment.”