If Attention is Today’s Currency, How Are We Spending It?

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Philip Brewer

Philip Brewer

According to The New York Times’ Carl Richards, “Attention is a currency. We choose how to spend it, just like we spend our time, energy and money.” He adds, “We think of certain things as being free, but if it requires our attention, we’re paying a price of sorts.” Fortune’s Mathew Ingram goes so far as to call it the “attention economy.”

Recognizing that technology, especially social media apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn, seem to be getting more and more of our attention, I wanted to understand the source of their addictive powers. That’s what led me to read Nir Eyal’s bestselling book Hooked. It’s also what led me to interview him as a guest on my podcast, Curious Minds.

Nir’s studied the research in psychology, design, and behavioral economics that explains why we get hooked. And he’s developed a helpful framework that helps us understand it. Here are the highlights of what he writes about in his book and what he shared in his interview:

It all starts with a Trigger. A Trigger cues us to take action. It’s the first step in the Hook Model. It may appear as a flag indicating someone’s left us a message or tagged us in a comment.

An Action is the behavior we take in anticipation of a Variable Reward. We may swipe or push the red flag, in order to connect with someone, get new information, or move to a new level.

The Variable Reward can hold the key to our making a habit of checking or pushing or swiping. We want to find out what the trigger has in store for us and, because it varies, it’s an enticing reward.

Habit-forming tech hooks us bit by bit by asking us to Invest in them, that is, provide information. The more information we add – photos, comments, likes, and so on – the more hooked we get. We’ve invested in the tech, and that investment keeps us coming back.

Over time, the External Trigger that caused us to act – the flag or buzz or notification – is rivaled only by our Internal Triggers. These are the emotions that draw us back again and again – boredom, excitement, sadness, jealousy, and curiosity. That’s how we know we’re “hooked.”

Knowing how we get hooked can help us get “unhooked.” Nir Eyal shares some specific tips on how to do that in his interview. Check it out here!

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