The Three Ways Mobile Changes Behavior
Jason is currently Director of Product at Quixey, which acquired his startup, Kite.io, in 2014. Previously, he was a researcher for BJ Fogg in the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, where he created the world’s ﬁrst taxonomy of human behavior, complete with comprehensive strategies. This was used as the applied psychology framework for the World Economic Forum in Davos (2011). In recent years, he has been a collaborator with Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and author of New York Times best seller Predictably Irrational. He is a User Experience Advisor for 500 Startups and a mentor for the Thiel Foundation’s 20 Under 20 Program. He studied neuroscience at Stanford University.
There are three primary ways that mobile technologies change our behavior:
1. By making things easier
2. By interrupting us
3. By giving us feedback
By Making Things Easier:
Let’s start with the first method: by making things easier. Apps that have taken common, often annoying activities like finding and hailing a cab, or shopping, and made them simple and quick have won big. Uber, Amazon, Instacart, and Postmates are all prime examples of companies that have created fanatical users by making their lives just that much easier. Instead of driving to the store, grabbing a cart, and walking around to find the items we want, we can now open a simple app where we can jump from aisle to aisle in the click of a button (and even use a search bar to find the things we desire). While a full-fledged shopping trip takes twenty to forty five minutes, an app-based shopping experience takes only two to five. It’s a difference of an order of magnitude. The cost for this upgrade in ease? A subscription fee or small to moderate delivery and service charge.
By Interrupting Us:
For a substantial portion of the day we’re in habit mode. Habits are autopilot behavioral responses to specific environmental contexts we’ve seen before. In other words, they’re behaviors that have worked advantageously in this same context before and have, thus, been selected for. Since they’re automatic responses, they save us time and the mental energy that deliberation and conscious thought would require. While they can sometimes backfire, they’re generally quite helpful – getting us efficiently perform the right action in the right context.
Because they occur under the radar of conscious thought, the only way to break our current habits, and form new ones in their place, is to interrupt them. We can then grab and redirect our attention towards the behaviors that we want to perform instead. Mobile phones and apps are adept at this process, sending context-aware push notifications and reminders that can easily snap us out of our mindless Facebook scrolling, or TV watching, and focus us on our diet, our homework, or countless other concerns. As BJ Fogg, the Head of the Stanford Persuasive Tech Lab, has talked about before, the era of apps can be seen as the era of “Trigger Wars”, in which companies like Twitter, Facebook, Google, and Apple fight for user attention, and try to break and form new habits in their user bases, with the adept use of interruption (AKA triggering).
By Giving Us Feedback:
Finally, mobile products can change our behavior by giving us feedback on our actions. This includes our physical actions (walking, running, shopping in the store, etc.) and our digital actions (posting on Facebook, sending a message, etc.). The FitBit is an example of a mobile device that gives us feedback on our physical actions. The device aims to encourage positive, healthy behaviors by letting us know how active, or inactive, we’ve been on a given day. It’s also able to calculate calories burned from the number of steps we’ve taken, so that we can get a sense as to how productive our exercise has been on a given day. Soon after I purchased my first FitBit, I found myself embarking on a daily thirty minute lunch stroll so that I could hit the lauded goal of 10,000 steps/day. This is a perfect example of a simple feedback mechanism changing a real, and consequential, behavior.
Facebook is another example of a feedback system. However, instead of measuring physical activity like the FitiBit, it measures and provides information on our online social lives. Through Facebook, we’re constantly getting feedback on where we stand socially, who is most interested in us, and what kinds of things are cool or acceptable to say (and what kinds of things are boring or unacceptable to say). This feedback comes in the form of comments, likes, friend requests and messages instead of graphs and numbers (steps).
While this is a simple list of the ways that mobile can change behavior, it still encapsulates most of the products we see today and will likely see tomorrow. This is because it speaks about psychological truths in the users of these products, and human nature and cognition doen’ change that quickly. Most products will win by doing one, or a combination, of these three things well.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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