Intentionality and the Internet

Intentionality and the Internet

Published November 7th, 2014 By Rane Bowen

Learning to be more intentional in our use of computers and the internet.

I’m a computer nerd. I’ve been in love with computers since I was a kid and went halves with my sister when we bought a 48k ZX Spectrum. Unfortunately for her, she never got to use it (because I was a selfish computer nerd big brother), but I was hooked. These days I feel fortunate that I make my living programming computers, but sometimes I struggle with the compulsion I have had since childhood, and I wish I could understand more about it.

39% of the world’s population uses the internet, and here in Australia 13 million users spend a mind boggling 18 hours a day online. We (or at least I) feel compelled to constantly check apps like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram or Youtube for the latest updates, videos or pictures. It’s gotten so bad that 61% of Facebook users surveyed have taken a “facebook vacation”. Yes, this is a thing!

Most of these companies are well aware of our app using habits, and build their products to be as habit forming as possible. In the words of Nir Eyal:

“Companies who form strong user habits enjoy several benefits to their bottom line. These companies attach their product to “internal triggers.” As a result, users show up without any external prompting.” *

Well, what are these internal triggers? It could be a pang of loneliness that drives you to check your facebook feed, or curiosity that calls you to google some fact or turn to Wikipedia. This in itself is fine, but it is when these triggers become habits we can become mindlessly addicted.

As it turns out, the very act of disclosing information about our self is intrinsically rewarding, and triggers a dopamine response. Each “like” our posts attract is a tiny hormonal hit. On top of this, companies like Facebook or Pinterest make use of psychological tactics such as the “variable schedule of rewards”. The unpredictability of what we might see while using an app puts us into a slightly stressed state - that of desire. This keeps us hooked and coming back for more.

Don’t get me wrong, I love technology! I love the instant connectedness we have, and the power this enables us with. I’m not proposing we give up on these products, but perhaps using them with a bit more intention and a little more awareness of what drives our online behaviors. To this end, the following is a brief meditation you can practice the next time you visit Facebook, Instagram or any other site you visit regularly.

Open the web page or app. Take a deep breath. Contemplate the reason you arrived in this virtual space. Was it out of loneliness? Was it out of fear of missing out? Was it out of excitement? Were you bored? Whatever the reason, examine that emotion (or maybe a few). Get a sense of it. Pause and take a few breaths.

Look at the page or app. Take note of what draws your attention. What about it do you find appealing (or not)? How does it make you feel? Does anything on the screen annoy you? Does anything please you? Why do you think this is? Does it bring up any thoughts? What do you think triggered these thoughts?

If you feel drawn to comment on anything or post something, ask yourself “Why do I want to post this?”. Is it a post in support or agreement with a friend? Is it a link I find interesting? Am I being driven by anger or pride? Do I just need to be heard? Take a few more breaths, and examine these emotions, getting a subtle sense of how they make you feel. You may or may not change your mind about making that post.

Feel free to continue this process as you use the app, or just return to your normal everyday mindset.

I hope you enjoyed this brief meditation. For me, meditation is simply looking at how your mind works, and the internet is like an extension of our minds that binds them together. If we access it with good intention and awareness, we will have a more harmonious relationship with ourselves, and maybe even the countless other minds online.

* Hooked: How to build Habit forming products by Nir Eyal - Introduction vi

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