Antonio will spend this St Valentine’s as millions of other UK singles: swiping profiles on a dating app. He has been looking for a serious relationship for over a year now, when he moved to London. Antonio is good looking, hard-working, with pleasant manners and interesting to talk to, and yet got no luck.
Most matches he gets don’t reply to his messages at all, or their conversations die after a few phrase exchanges. Others just keep talking, and ignore his suggestions to meet up in person. To meet just with one girl, Antonio has to send over 100 messages, and do even more swipes. With his busy lifestyle, he finds online dating incredibly time and energy consuming.
Antonio is certainly not the only one feeling disappointed about the amount of time online dating takes from his life. Whether you are looking for love or sex, the return on time invested is quite modest, to say the list. Tinder users swipe through more than 1 billion profiles, but only make 12 million matches per day. I.e. only 1.2% of all swipes end up in matches. You’d have a much bigger chance of success to find a match of you said hi to 100 random people in a pub.
An average Tinder user spends up to 90 minutes a day reviewing their matches. However, only one in 500 swipes leads to a phone number being exchanged, according to Justin McLeod, CEO of dating app Hinge. We have more choice of partners than ever, and yet we end up lonelier than ever before. Instead of humans, it’s our phones we share our most intimate experiences with.
The three whys
One reason is too much choice. In an experiment by Sheen Iyengar, people who were offered too many varieties jams to choose from, preferred not to make any choice and walked away with no purchase. Those who had fewer jams to choose from, were more likely to make a purchase. Similarly, too much online choice leads to the analysis paralysis. Instead of talking to one person, we keeping swiping for more.
Another reason of why we end up spending so much time on dating with limited results is the very design of the dating app. Tinder and co are in the business of keeping you online, and so use various tricks to maximize your time spend on the app. For example, most apps are designed to keep you swiping, not messaging to people (you need to make fewer actions). You have very little reason to talk to one particular person, and not keep swiping. What if the next one is even more amazing than this one?
Most dating apps use the effect of “variable reward”. By endlessly showing you new matches, they make your brain release dopamine, the neurohormone of pleasure and anticipation of the reward.
Apps make it really easy to remove a contact, too. Just click a button, and there’s no person. So we end up objectifying people, and don’t care much about establishing the contact with current matches – they are all equal in our eyes. Researchers found that only 7% of male matches on Tinder would send a message, and only 21% of female ones (the study did not specify sexual orientation).
A vicious circle
Rejection hurts. A few men I interviewed for my book wondered, if there was something wrong with what’s written in the profiles, or with what they look like, that they didn’t get messages. (There was nothing wrong with any of them). Quite a few complained their self-esteem was going down, as a result of using an app, and thinking about removing it.
Another way to cope with this frustration for men is to start swiping even more women right to increase their chances for a response (there is even a program that does it automatically for you). On the contrary, women get even pickier as to whom to swipe or respond. So the vicious circle continues and the real winner in this race for love is the dating app.
What to do
Does this mean you need to give up online dating if you actually want to meet someone? Not necessarily. I’m sure you know as I do quite a few success stories. However, you may want to ask yourself about the return on the time invested in the app, and how many people you could have met in that time if you chose a different way.
If you still have hopes in online dating, being aware of how technology affects your behaviour and setting up yourself rules will help. You may choose to try talking to everyone you match with, get to meet them possibly soon, not spend more than 10 minutes a day or leave the app if you have no result in 1 month.
As to Antonio, he is still online, but now plans to ask his friends to introduce him to a nice girl, in an old-fashioned way. I’ve got his contacts in case you want an intro.
ESTIMATED READING TIME – 6 MINUTES
This is an extract from Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age”. We've launched a crowdfunding campaign for it, to get your copy please support us here!
In my teenage days, Russian boys dreamt of becoming oil billionaires, and girls hoped to become oligarch’s wives or lovers (no, there wasn’t much equality back in the days). Twenty years after though, boys and girls in Russia, UK, USA, France, China and pretty much everywhere in the world hope to become billionaires by building and selling a tech start-up.
Tech companies have replaced oil barons not only in teenage dreams, but also in the global markets. Five top businesses by market capitalization are now Silicon Valley enterprises; six of the world's wealthiest 10 people made their money in technology.
Our time and attention is what feeds this growth. It became the main currency of today’s economy.
The new gods
In pre-historic times, humans were constantly short of energy, and so needed to constantly hunt (or gather) to refill it. This consumed most of their time. As civilization progressed and we discovered and started using fire, and then electricity, we were able to gain more energy from food, and consequently, more free time.
We didn’t make a good use of it though. This time and energy is now occupied by very large internet corporations. Technology has become a new kind of religion, and the ultimate goal of these new gods is to keep us online as much as they can.
We check our devices between 85 and 221 times per day, scroll down pre-loaded Facebook and Youtube feeds, buy things online even when don’t need them, and continue to endlessly consume. We can’t concentrate anymore without being interrupted every five minutes by a notification. And even if researchers like Gloria Mark from University of California, Irvine, show that even a short interruption significantly increases the time needed to complete a task and is bad for your productivity, we are increasingly encouraged to be distracted – in the office and outside of it. In fact, we are told that we are being productive and agile by trying to be everything everywhere.
Click and keep
A number of studies by Microsoft, Google and similar companies show that the longer we stay online, the more likely we are to buy something. The more internet pages we browse through, the more advertising an internet company can show us, and so the more money they make.
As a result, their KPIs, their success metrics, and designers’ bonuses, are usually tied to how much time we spend on a website or app, and not on how productive or focused we are. Their objective is to keep us online as long as possible, and to make us click on the ad links as much as possible. And they succeed, if one can call it a success. As per Ofcom report, 49% of Brits admit to spend more time online than originally intended.
In “the click economy”, each click is rewarded by money. And usually it’s Google and Facebook who benefit from a “click economy” the most, since they have the most visitors.
The business models that require people’s attention and clicking on links require a constant flow of new content, which needs to be produced at a top speed. The goal of many popular sites is therefore no longer information, but the attention itself. The quality of this attention doesn’t matter, as long as people click.
Whereas there have been experiments to measure, how engaged and interested in the content visitors are, most advertising is still sold based on cpc (cost per click). Just because it’s the easier for a media planner (a person who decides, how ad dollars or pounds will be spent across different websites) to use one number to compare the costs of buying ads on different websites, even if the audience of these websites is completely different.
This is why both advertisements and article headlines get more extreme and nonsensical. You might have heard of the term “clickbait titles” since these are title that help generate clicks. “You won’t believe what happens next”, or “How one woman made $$$ in her bedroom” or “Your mom will hate this trick” are all examples of attention-grabbing titles that make you want to click, click, and click more.
Music videos, commercials, movies, and reality TV shows look like softcore porn: any kind of attention sells. Youtube star Tyler Oakley in a 4.7 millions views video seats in front of the camera with bottles of beers duct-taped to each of his hands and drinks them for about an hour, giggling. Doing similar gigs, Tyler earns hundreds of thousands pounds and enjoys 8 millions subscribers.
Digital economy feeds through your attention, at the same time putting the quality journalism in a difficult position of competing for the same click pounds or dollar with the most obnoxious websites.
The captivating design
In order to capture human attention, software companies design their products in a specific way. This has been described in detail in Adam Alter’s “Irresistible” and Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” books, as well as in Tristan Harris’s blog.
For instance, a popular game Candy Crush adapts to the time you spend playing: if you play a few minutes every day, tasks are easy. But the more time you spend playing, the more complicated they become. Anna, a client of mine who runs a beauty salon, admits she only managed to stop playing the game when she uninstalled it from her phone.
A pre-loaded newsfeed on Facebook or Youtube is another way to keep a visitor on the website for longer. Notifications are yet another powerful and cheap way to make you come back to your device over and over again. An app will keep sending you notifications, until your habit is formed, and you don’t need further reminders, and your behaviour becomes automatic.
No wonder that companies make it really difficult to change notifications settings. For instance, it takes 6 steps to change your notifications settings on Facebook. One of the key UX design principles says that every action should take a user as few steps as possible – so obviously Facebook isn’t very interested in helping you get rid of notifications.
What can you do?
We might have not noticed it yet, but most of us are already living in the matrix, where our online experiences are pre-engineered, and distracted behaviour is encouraged to keep feeding the machine.
As in the movie, it starts with a realization. A good place to get your red pill is to start measuring, how much time you really spend online across all devices, and how much of this time is productive. I use a free version of Rescuetime browser extension to do that, and there are plenty of others to help.
I often find that my clients underestimate, how much time they spend online, by approximately two hours per day. This is a lot of time. This is one extra month per year you could get for things that matter. Do you complain that you don’t have time to do things that you’d like to? Here’s where your time goes.
If money is a stronger argument for you, you can do a quick calculation, how much distraction is costing you (also check Nielsen Norman’s work on the real costs of “free” online products like Gmail for businesses in distracted attention). For your back of the envelope calculation, simply multiply all the unproductive hours you’ve spent browsing by your hourly rate. This is the real money you’ve spent on being distracted.
This is an extract from Anastasia Dedyukhina’s new book “Homo distractus: Fight for your choices and identity in the digital age”. Please, support our crowdfunding campaign and get your copy here.
Augmented reality is here, and is already having a strong impact on everyone, including those who never played a video game in their lives and never heard about augmented reality.
Pokemon Go, a smartphone game that lets users catch imaginary figures of Pokemon (pronounced the same way in plural) on real streets, has become a global phenomenon in just a couple of weeks. It is dominating the Appstore, already boasts more users than Tinder and Twitter, and will be officially launching in the UK in a matter of days. Millions of gamers who got out of their rooms to browse through the real cities in search of virtual monsters mark the beginning of the new era for all of us, where the virtual and real worlds collide. And judging by the news from the past week, no one is ready for this collision and it will likely be quite painful.
The game in a nutshell
Pokemon Go uses the player's smartphone GPS data (similar to Google Maps) and camera to navigate them across the real streets and parks of the city or village in search for little virtual monsters. As a player moves along, she comes across different Pokemon, which she needs to capture. Some physical locations in the cities have been labelled by Niantic Inc, a Google split-off behind the game, as Pokestops -- places, where gamers can collect tools to capture more Pokemon. Players can also purchase the "lure modules" and place them in a Pokestop, which will attract the virtual figures to their area for 30 minutes, so they can capture even more Pokemon.
Once a player collected her Pokemon, she can train them in a local "gym" to get stronger and fight with Pokemon of other players.
Many gamers are enthusiastically sharing on social media that they are finally motivated to get into the streets instead of sitting in their homes, in search of new Pokemon, and even make real friends with strangers, who are on the hunt for monsters.
So why should you care? At the end of the day, this all sounds like an innocent fun for teenagers and kidults, who refuse to grow up. Except that it is not, and has already affected many more people around who have nothing to do with gaming.
What's going on?
The first worrying news is, of course, that the number of people staring at their phone screens all the time, while walking in the streets, will increase disproportionally. There have already been multiple reports of smaller and larger injuries, with players damaging themselves while trying to get a virtual figure and not noticing the traffic or change in the landscape. Drivers will now have to be even more attentive, as there'll be more players crossing the streets chasing a Pokemon and ignoring the cars. Let's hope not many of them will be in the driving seat.
Second, and even more disturbingly, the in-game "lure" feature has already been already reported as used by criminals to attract the players into the less crowded places with many Pokemon and rob them. The police in the US, where the game was released among the first, issued a warning to "keep behaving as you would do in a normal environment", advising players not to go by themselves to remote places, where they can be attacked. Easier said than done when you're on the hunt for a Pikachu.
Third, the life rhythm of many people who had nothing to do with gaming was disrupted, as physical locations defined as Pokestops and "gyms" in the game attracted players who tried catching Pokemon at all times of the day, including at night. Imagine waking up at 3am and seeing a group of people across your house furiously tapping their phones. The Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services in Australia issued a request to players not to go hunting inside the police station. So far Niantic Inc has not established the process of complaining and changing locations.
What we've learned so far
Over the last two weeks, we got yet another confirmation that software companies have an immense power to change the behaviour not only of single individuals, but also that of the masses. By simply placing a virtual figure next to a particular point, they can move thousands of people without any effort, disrupting the lives of businesses and humans. They might not still realize their own power, which isn't good news, because it means they aren't realizing their responsibility. Or they might realize it and only use it to earn money. Not good news either, let alone the fact that this power can be easily used and abused by criminals.
While the media is busy republishing the same press-release saying that the Pokemon Go is helping the gamers get into the real world, and hence helps their mental state, it's only a small part of the truth. What we actually witnessed is that people's brains getting totally confused with augmented reality. And this is only the beginning.
When the gaming company suggests we should "behave as normal", but claiming that is a hypocrisy at its worst or a total lack of understanding of how the human brain works. We are wired to look for unusual things, and Pokemon with their bright colours will be the first that our brain identifies. Not the "dangers" in the real world.
We all have certain "spacial maps" in our brains, according to which we navigate. Our brain is used to identify the obstacles and measure the distance to them. By stopping to use our side eyesight while staring at our phones, and stopping to rely on our sense of spacial awareness that has been developing for thousands of years, we put ourselves in the immense danger in the real world. A mobile phone is not an object that is capable to replace all of our 5 senses, and yet in the current version of the augmented reality this is what it encourages our brain to do. Again, all attempts to say that "people should behave normally" are simply a lie - you can not behave normally when your brain is overwhelmed and you are not using your normal perception channels.
Augmented reality as it is presented through Pokemon Go is not enhancing your life experience and perception, it is depriving you of your capabilities to react to the threats and opportunities of the real world.
Then again, the dopamine affect. Dopamine, the hormone of pleasure also associated with all sorts of addictions, gets released when we discover something new and unusual - and Pokemon Go perfectly fits the bill.
Add to that parents, who are clueless about what sort of things their kids are doing on their phones, as they "don't get this tech stuff" and we get a pretty apocalyptic picture.
What shall we do?
Don't get me wrong, I am not trying to say that Pokemon Go is an ultimate evil and needs to be prohibited. In fact, it's a very average and a rather raw game, which will be on its peak for a few months, until it's displaced by other, more sophisticated games.
However, the game release showed us that the power has shifted. Software companies now have as much (if not more) power as policy makers, but they don't have policies and procedures to prevent the harm they might do, except of "issuing a warning", which isn't doing anything. Our minds and behaviours are impacted in the strongest possible way, and our daily lives might be affected even if we have nothing to do with the above. And the worst thing, we aren't realizing it and keep enthusiastically experimenting on millions of people.
Perhaps it's time that we recognize that technology isn't just about "people having fun" or companies just earning money, but is actually bringing massive shifts to how each of us lives and how our society operates. Perhaps it's time to start talking about it in a constructive way in the public space - involving policy makers, media, lawyers, and of course, developers, who need to start thinking about the social consequences of their work and make it part of their daily jobs. Perhaps there need to be certain legal frameworks, and sociologists and emergency services need to be involved in the discussion before games like Pokemon Go get released. It's too big of an issue to run it as a worldwide an experiment.
Are you interested in digital detox topic, but don’t want to lose much time browsing through multiple articles? To save your time, we’ve prepared a digest of our top favorite digital detox stories this week.
If you are like 75 per cent of the Brits, who believe they have no control over their use of Internet-based products and services and need a reason to put your phone down, The Yoga Journal gives you not just one, but three:
1. Using your mobile excessively could lead to anxiety and depression
2. “Surveilling” the lives of old friends provokes the green eye, and depression as a result of that
3. It can cause conflict with your second half, as you’re likely to prefer your phone to your partner
Did we convince you? Why not try unplugging? To do that, you could use the weekly “digital diet” proposed by Savings Guide. The best part: it can also save you a few pennies as we usually treat our money the same way we treat our time!
Day 1: Monday - Task: Find out where your money and time online is going
Day 2: Tuesday - Task: Make a conscious effort to unsubscribe from promotional emails in your inbox
Day 3: Wednesday - Task: Block all tempting websites/apps/games on your phone
Day 4: Thursday - Task: Stop using social media, set a goal to avoid it for 1 week
Day 5: Friday - Task: If you enjoy betting on games, make an effort to not gamble via technology
Day 6: Saturday - Task: Have a completely digital free day, no devices/no connectivity
Day 7: Sunday - Task: Reconnect with real friends and real experiences
If this doesn’t work, you can always try an internet addiction recovery centre – check out what it’s like in this story by Huffington Post.
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Listen to the full interview with Dr Michelle Blanchard on how modern technology can help you be healthier in Consciously Digital podcast section, where we cover the following questions:
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Anastasia Dedyukhina is a professional coach and a pioneer of the Consciously Digital™ concept.
Having spent over 10 years and numerous hours in front of the screen promoting the benefits of digital for top media and advertising brands and witnessing hundreds of overstressed colleagues, Anastasia concluded she needed to change her lifestyle if she wanted to remain healthy.
She gave up her smartphone and now trains people on conscious use of digital technologies and claims she has never felt so productive and happy.
You can learn more about her path and background on her website, www.anastasia.tips.
Benefits Of Tech
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