Technology isn’t just “part of life” anymore.
For many of us, technology is our lives.
As Apple’s catchy marketing mantra goes, “there’s an app for that.” And in 2020, there’s an app for virtually everything.
Compare that to 30 years ago, when almost no one carried a cell phone, home computers were just becoming commonplace, and the most invasive part of technology was getting telemarketing calls at dinner time. The prominence of technology has changed our lives—for better or for worse—in almost every way imaginable.
But what many of us don’t consider is how that constant connectedness has changed our most basic behaviors. When considering the role of technology in our daily habits, a sort of chicken-and-egg question arises.
Does technology drive our habits, or do our habits drive technology?
Here’s How Technology Changes Our Habits
Research shows that a major key to changing human habits is rewards.
That’s a big part of why apps are so successful in changing our behaviors—because they offer immediate rewards in the form of lights and sounds that give our brains a quick hit of dopamine, the chemical that causes happiness and satisfaction.
That’s what makes smartphones addictive at their most basic level. We tend to reach for our smartphones constantly (and often subconsciously) because our brains are craving the dopamine hit that will come if there’s a surprise notification—like a new text message or social media update—on the screen.
In this sense, almost all software is designed to drive habits. The problem is that habit-causing rewards lose their power the more often you experience them.
Knowing this, many developers have keyed into the habit-making power of rewards to create software specifically to change our behavior.
Take, for example, the popular exercise app “Zombies, Run!” The game turns exercise into an adventure, tracking users’ movements to create a sense that they’re running to escape from hoards of zombies, pick up supplies, make deliveries to survival compounds, and more.
In the game, runners can track their best times and progress. By succeeding at different challenges, they can unlock new levels and rewards. That’s what makes the game fun and what makes it so helpful to people who are trying to build exercise habits. Because rewards lose their power over time, the linear progression of the game and the possibility to unlock new levels creates new and better rewards the more you use it.
Behavioral Changes and Technology’s Role
There are two main types of habits:
- Changes to behaviors that were learned through experience—existing habits.
- Changes to behaviors that are new or unlearned—new habits.
Technology has the best chance to cause the second types of behavioral change, because the technology is what drives a person's learning of a new habit. Technology can offer simple rewards that help train you to do a new behavior. Over time, the reward loses its power, but once the technology is removed, that training means you still do the behavior.
In other words, you’ve formed a new habit.
On the other hand, technology isn’t as effective at causing behavioral changes to existing habits. That’s because in order to change a habit that’s already formed, there needs to be a reward for the new behavior that’s greater than the reward you already get for the old behavior. That’s not an easy thing for an app to do (more on that in a minute).
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Top comments (1)
Interesting post! I have been trying to build a new routine to be more organized. I'd say that technology helped me change my habit to become easier. I tried the old-fashioned way by writing it down on paper, but it is not really efficient. Then, I was recommended to use task management software like Wrike or Quire. So far, they are great at keeping me productive and prioritizing tasks.