Thirst for attention: why digital "vampires" are dangerous and how much is our time

Few products have “grown” in the past 10 years as explosively as smartphones. Since 2010 their sales

increased by about 25% every year.

In 2011, there were only half a billion in the worldsmartphones. In 2013, this number approached a billion. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, there were more than 3 billion smartphone users in the world. Each of them went online and was a user of applications. Each new account quickly surrounded itself with a cloud of social connections - just like the neurons of the brain do, solving the problem of adapting to a new environment.

The explosive growth in sales of thesegadgets with prestige or comfort - after all, a smartphone also simplifies life, like a refrigerator or a car. However, there is a fundamental novelty - the refrigerator, car, TV and other similar inventions do not encourage us to form new social ties.

The power of gadgets is that they fulfill our need for communication in the most efficient and convenient way. This need is so powerful that it can be called "thirst."

The famous Maslow pyramid can be simplified by leaving only two levels in it:

- Physiological needs associated with the formation and functioning of the physical body.

- Communication needs.They are based on the formation, maintenance and development of a social body. It is just as important as the physical. The need to feel needed or involved, to get approval or recognition, to express oneself or to fulfill oneself - these are all the needs for certain communication.

The need for communication is inexhaustible.It is so great that even in complete loneliness, a person does not stop dialogue - with memories, phantoms, higher powers or man-made idols (as in the movie "Outcast" with Tom Hanks).

Our collective brain is busy with two tasks at once. He actively forms a new - digital - habitat and at the same time tries to adapt to it.

Vladimir Shabason, co-founder of Self_

The digital market takes off with a rocket that propelsour thirst for communication speaks out. Even 20 years ago, we formed our social bodies through physical bodies, that is, communicating with each other directly. According to Robin Dunbar, the number of such contacts cannot be large, because each connection requires significant emotional and intellectual investments.

Dunbar's number characterizes the number of activesocial connections that a person is able to maintain physically. It lies in the range from 15 to 230 and is conventionally assumed to be 25. According to Dunbar, the average "tube" social body consists of only a couple of dozen such connections.

The digital body: how we stepped beyond the boundaries of the possible

Smartphones have taken us to an important milestone.Digital platforms have borne the lion's share of the cost of maintaining connections. Social contacts began to be measured in hundreds and thousands. The social body was supplemented with a digital one.

The digital body is shaped by digitalsystems. Interaction with the digital body can be fully simulated, for example the @Aliona_Pole project on Instagram, when an artificial, fully virtual model is created. This is its key difference from the social body. In addition, the same person can acquire a whole set of digital bodies for different platforms.

We are witnessing a phase transition of the familiarcommunication model into a new state. The explosive sales of smartphones and apps are accompanied by an explosion of reproduction and replication of digital bodies. They enter into relationships with platforms and with each other. And here we deliberately say exactly "they", because there is a distance between our social and digital bodies. And it is quite noticeable, which is confirmed by numerous studies of the last two to three years.

• We have difficulty getting along or disagreeing people in real life - "they" do it in a click.

• It is difficult for us to express our opinion - “they” quickly like.

• We are humble and self-sufficient - “they” are envious, boastful and vain.

• We are adult-like accurate in judgments - "they" are categorical.

• For us, the world is complex and diverse - “they” see it in black and white.

• We are deep - "they" are superficial.

• We express our opinion only if we are asked - "they" do it for any reason.

• We value objectivity - for "them" the information is correct if it comes from their own circle.

• We walk alone - "they" get lost in mobs, sometimes quite aggressive.

The average digital body is at its zenith todaypuberty. As befits a teenager, he is obsessed with an inferiority complex - anxiously awaiting approval in the form of likes, afraid to miss some events, aggressively defends his point of view on the most trifling issue and secretly believes that others are doing well and look much cooler. It is not independent, but insists on its independence. An excellent breeding ground for digital manipulators - or "vampires".

The most valuable currency in the digital world - your time

Although teenagers love the vampire sagas, inwatching digital vampires is not romantic gothic. These are applications that drink not blood, but attention. The phrase “your attention is invaluable to us” in the digital world should be taken literally. The digital economy is an attention economy. The competition of applications today is such that the user's attention has become the most valuable currency.

How much is our focus in the digital economy worth?

Working Americans spend in a smartphone inan average of 5 hours 25 minutes a day. The gap between millennials (born 1982–1996) and baby boomers (1943–1960) is small - the former spend 5 hours 40 minutes daily in their smartphones; the second - 5 hours.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics,the official average salary in the United States in 2021 is $ 984 per week. Nearly 112 million full-time workers and employees receive an average of $ 4,265 per month before taxes. This is how employers estimate their time. Thus, 5 hours of the average American working person is worth $ 133. Multiplying this amount by 112 million people and 365 days a year, we get about $ 5.5 trillion. The total American focus on smartphones is roughly three times Russia's GDP. There is something to fight for.

To earn as much as possible, digitalthe system should capture the user's attention by any available means. In adult life, taking place in the real world, it is not easy to draw us into some kind of networks. But the digital world is a different matter. The world of digital bodies is still the world of adolescents subject to manipulation.

Former Google Developer Tristan Harris,founder of the Time Well Spent movement, reproaches application creators for playing on users' weaknesses - laziness, vanity, self-doubt, dependence on someone else's approval, and further down the list. The user needs to remember, he says, that on the other side of the screen are the best marketing minds of a huge corporation that has invested billions in a single goal - to keep you here as long as possible. And it has nothing to do with hospitality.

What did it take my two (three, four) hours to do?A common question from the typical victim of a vampire app who realizes that time has been wasted and the issue has not been resolved. This is no coincidence. Modern digital products are breaking the user's self-regulation, including the sense of time characteristic of an adult. Whereas a teenager doesn't care about the clock at the party.

The world of digital bodies is still the world of adolescents subject to manipulation.

Vladimir Shabason, co-founder of Self_

Tristan Harris says vampire strategy isit is a dead end that carries an existential threat to the entire society. The reason is not that users' attention span is finite. It is physically impossible to spend more than 10 hours a day on smartphones, but the point is different. To become a teenager is degradation for an adult. By encouraging regression, digital systems will one day have an army of stupid, disconnected and aggressive users. There will be no winners.

Growth pains: how we pay for increased communications

So far, digital vampirism leads to neuroses,reminiscent of teenage riots and experiences, a kind of pain of growth. Among them is nomophobia, or the fear of being left without a gadget. Another phenomenon - fabbing - is the inability to distract from the smartphone even with a live interlocutor sitting opposite. Digital suspiciousness - anxious endowment of messages with emotion or annoyance due to a slow response.

What else?Lost Profit Syndrome (or familiar to all FOMO traders) is the fear of being left out of supposedly important events while offline. Procrastination and biased behavior - meaningless scrolling through mail and instant messengers in a stressful situation that requires quick action. Obsessive fear that the charge in the battery may not be enough. Phantom Vibration Syndrome is the deceptive feeling that your phone is ringing or beeping. The list is far from complete.

Alarmist predictions of some researchersboil down to the fact that users of digital products will degrade in accordance with the traditions of cyberpunk. Their authors are guided by the logic of the present and recent past: look, on the one hand, greedy digital vampires, and on the other - a nominally adult audience, behaving like teenagers. And this will not lead to any progress.

But there is another point of view:let's try to explain why it is worth listening to it more attentively. We are at a phase transition point, experiencing quite natural stress - technological, ethical, social, and so on. The communication paradigm is changing. The system of social connections is being restarted. Each of us acquires a digital body and rethinks ourselves in it. We are adapting to the changed environment. It's complicated. Neuroses and distortions are inevitable.

From a social point of view, the general move tothe digital environment is reminiscent of a mass exodus from village to city. The new townspeople, experiencing an acute neurosis due to the move, for some time tried to live as before - they planted turnips on the balcony, the dressing room was adapted for storing potatoes, and in the courtyard they strove to secretly break a couple of beds. They were extremely uncomfortable, and they often became objects of manipulation and victims of scammers. They lost their integrity - a distance arose between their "urban" and "village" social bodies. They had to overcome the complex of strangers, learn new cultural codes. This is exactly what happened - the next generation fully adapted to the environment and regained its integrity.

Humanity has long demonstrated a brilliantthe ability to quickly adapt to changing living conditions. And yet, simple extrapolation does not work well. Facts from the past and present rarely speak of the future. Nobody drives a car, looking only in the rear-view mirror and saying: the road ahead is the same as in the back! This is why gloomy predictions based on the extrapolation of the present into the future should not be trusted. They do not take into account our ability to learn and correct our own behavior.

Author of the book "Population Bomb", Americanbiologist Paul Ehrlich predicted in 1970 that the world's food supply would not be sufficient for everyone. According to him, by the end of the 70s, a famine of biblical proportions should have erupted, when from a lack of food would die from 100 to 200 million people annually. In 1975, he also predicted that up to 90% of the rainforest will disappear by 2015.

Also in 1970, Life magazine reported:"Scientists have convincing theoretical and experimental data that by 1985, due to air pollution, the amount of sunlight reaching the earth's surface will be halved."

American geochemist Harrison Brown publishedin 1970, an article in Scientific American, which predicted the depletion of world copper reserves immediately after 2000. Lead, zinc, tin, gold and silver, according to his calculations, should have ended before 1990.

Ecologist Kenneth Watt in the 70s predicted a drop in the average world temperature by 11 degrees and the onset of a new ice age by 2000.

These are all extrapolation errors - projections of the past.trends for the future. People as a species are interesting in that they are able to independently not only form, but also correct the prevailing tendencies. So it will be in the digital world.

Evolution Continues: How Digital Interactions Will Change

We are a highly adaptive biological system.The stress arising from these or those changes forces us to adjust the generally accepted patterns of behavior. The Ecostress of the 70s gave impetus to the emergence of stricter fuel standards, hybrid engines, green energy, electric cars, energy-saving technologies. Likewise, networked puberty and digital vampirism will be the prologue to the emergence of digital ethics and conscious networked behavior.

In the short term, digital vampirismdoomed. His problem will be solved from two sides at once. When developers realize the aforementioned existential threat, they will decide that keeping the user in a passive state is so-so a task compared to "making someone's life better with our product" and extending the customer's life-time value. And new releases of digital systems that are designed to work in the long run will be healthier.

On the part of users, growth of people is inevitable,aware of the importance of digital integrity. The distance between a person's social body and his digital body will be reduced. Networked puberty will inevitably be replaced by growing up, and adults tend to have a responsible attitude towards their time.

Special applications already appear,educating digital awareness. They will control the total time on the smartphone, the number of touches, the trajectory of movement through the applications, practice media austerity or encourage the use of the gadget in the context of the task at hand. Some apps will offer digital relief and even detox.

We'll still be watching for a while.on the part of users archaic intolerance and rudimentary aggression, and on the part of developers - slave-owning habits and ambitions of digital "landlords". This is a natural evolutionary stage that will become a thing of the past. When a new society is born, it tries on the old patterns - just like the fetus, on its journey from embryo to infant, accelerates through all evolutionary stages in order to completely forget about them in adulthood.

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