How Silicon Valleys Secretive Tactics Keep Us Stuck To Our Phones

Many pleasurable activities cause midbrain neurons to release dopamine´ and this growing ego practice of being popular on social media can increase this

Last night, when I went to bed I fell asleep while browsing through social media. My phone was still on and the next morning I still had it in my palm. I then unlocked it to see what notifications I had. As I head to work and wait for the subway to arrive, I pull out my phone one more time to kill some time.

At work, I am determined to finish all my pending assignments, but my phone buzzes with "Julia just liked your post.” I open the notification and then put the phone done but the dratted screen lights up again: "John just started a live video, see it now.” This is never ending with notifications popping up everyday and it doesn't matter if you silence them, the app icon will tell you what your pendings are. How many times have you checked your phone today? According to a study by dscout, a web-based research platform, people click on their smartphones an average of 2,617 times per day.

It’s not a secret that CEOs at Silicon Valley have lengthy meetings with their developers and UX engineers to find out how much more addictive they can make their products.

Notifications, comments, and even “likes,” are just some of the many tactics used to keep us in their platforms, consuming their ads. But is this damaging? Sean Parker, former founding president of Facebook, confessed that the platform that made him billionaire was designed with the intention of making people addicted to their technology by exploiting “a vulnerability in human psychology.” He said this while being at an Axios event in Philadelphia: “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains,” he said.

Then, what exactly do social media platforms and apps do to our brains? Well, the process is associated with the release of dopamine, the most important neurotransmitter in our brain, and it’s associated to many drives that control our bodies. The release of dopamine in our brain can turn into a rewarding experience, and can even be addictive. How technology influences the release of dopamine in the brain, is similar to how drugs hijack the release of this same chemical, which leads to addiction. But here are the basic tactics you should know about:


There is something irresistible about having to open your phone to check a notification. Call it curiosity, but tech companies know you won't resist it and so they are constantly bombarding you with as many notification as they can send you. From relevant to non-important: "You haven't checked you profile in a while, come back." Whether it is to tell you someone sent you a friend request, or to let you know you have a new follower: notifications play a big role in the locking and unlocking of your phone.


This tactic has to do with the release of dopamine the most. If we think about it, whenever we see a growing number of “likes” on our posts, or a positive response from our network of friends, it fill us with joy. At the same time, this ego-growing tactic encourages us to become more addicted since we want to re-experience the rewarding sensation over and over again.


Of course the main purpose of apps and technology is not only to make our lives easier but to help us kill time and entertain us with funny, emotional, and newsy content that we enjoy. This tactic consists on giving us what we want through information filters. Recently, Mark Zuckerberg decided to change his algorithm in order to change the dynamic of how we consume content that would “supposedly” make us interact more in the social world, and less in our phones.


The “comment” button and other replying methods on platforms, like retweets, is a way for users to interact with famous celebrities, politicians, and people we’ve never seen before. This keeps people’s brains connected since it makes us feel heard, especially when they reply to you. Participation in platforms is key to keep us tuned in since it boosts our confidence and desires to express ourselves.


The debate over whether tech companies are responsible for changes in our behavior is of interest to many psychologists. And Silicon Valley knows this because their money comes from how much time we spend on our devices. Proof of this is a book written by Nir Eyal titled Hooked: How to build Habit-Forming Products, in which the author teaches app developers and designers tricks and ways to turn their inventions into tools that entice people to consume all day.

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