Habits are activities that cause us a little bit of pain when we don’t do them. For example, how many of us check our social media feeds numerous times a day? The very thought of not having access to our phones incites a twinge of discomfort knowing we can’t check our Twitters, Instagrams, Facebook feeds, etc.
Businesses understand that great products inspire habits; in their ability to fulfill a specific need in simple ways, they produce the desire to return and re-engage in a recurring action. Author Nir Eyal builds upon the works of behavioral psychologists like B. F. Skinner and Daniel Kahneman in his book Hooked to suggest four steps in manufacturing habit-forming products:
- Trigger – hook the user
- Action – engage user with simple calls to action
- Variable Reward – encourage recurring use with different levels/types of rewards
- Investment – provide room for users to invest their time into your product
Lately, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the fine line between habit and addiction with respect to technology. From the omnipotent tyranny of email to our dependence on social media, there is a question here that the broader technology has failed to address in our dogged quest to build products. At times, the addiction to refreshing my newsfeeds only induces more anxiety, more so than making me feel informed and purposeful. Our habitual usages are measured by the explosion of software as a service applications in last decade. And while they serve as additional proof that technology creates ease and delivers powerful insights, we have yet to discuss the implications of such products. With every new automated feature, obsessive mobile game, and delivery service app, we spend more and more time becoming intimate with our technologies. In which case, what kind of new habits are these products prompting and what, if any, are their societal values?
Although this aspiration will not apply to all technologies, as we continue to iterate and rapidly improve in the coming years, I hope we will give greater consideration to not only creating tools that produce convenience but also in building to promote better habits.