Screen addiction is not the screen's fault

When the man behind screen addiction becomes hooked himself, he writes a book on how to become unhooked.

By Mickie Shaw, Multimedia Editor, @Mickieshaw77

After years of instructing Silicon Valley on how to hook users to their digital products, Nir Eyal now has a new book on how to unhook people from their digital devices.

Eval’s first book, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” taught tech companies how to leverage knowledge of consumer psychology to design useful, fun and irresistible digital devices. These devices became a habit that customers could not help returning to — over and over again. Eyal spent years teaching his methods, not only to Silicon Valley tech companies that glorified him and his book, but also to any business interested in having customers hooked on their products. Smartphones, tablets, personal computers and the internet itself have increasingly become compulsive and indispensable. Now there is widespread concern about internet and device addiction.

The catalyst for Eyal’s second book “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life” came when he was playing a game with his daughter. The game’s question was: “If you had a superpower, what would it be?” Eyal never answered the question, because he wasn’t present in the moment. He was on his phone. When his daughter left the room, Eyal didn’t even notice. This was the moment he realized he himself was hooked on his phone and using his digital devices far too much. The irony was obvious.

Eyal tried a variety of methods to curb his digital habits. He tried getting rid of his devices and going on a digital detox — he relapsed after 30 days. He tried using a phone without apps and a word processor without the internet — nothing seem to work. His attempts at recovery reminded him of the fad diets he had tried. Even though these diets had helped him lose some weight initially, he would eventually gain the weight back when he got off the diet. He wondered why he was drawn to using his devices constantly in spite of the distraction they were causing. He finally found the answer.

Eyal does not believe there is screen addition; just users refusing to take responsibility for their actions and letting distractions keep them from accomplishing their goals.

In an interview with Superhuman Academy, Eyal said, “It’s not the technology’s fault, it’s not its responsibility, it’s our responsibility. Distraction pulls people away from what they want to do. Distraction is never a good thing.”

“Indistractable” is a self-help book that uses a four-part model to help readers get away from their screens. The model deals with internal triggers, external triggers and traction to create action. Simple behavior changes recommended are: putting your phone on silent which will create fewer external triggers, email less, take only one laptop to meetings and make pacts with co-workers; if they see someone distracted with a device, that person owes them money.

In an interview with The New York Times, Eyal defended social media and gaming, “For many people, social media is a very good thing and gaming is a very good thing. It’s how you use it.”

Eyal, 41, is Israeli born and grew up in a suburb of Orlando, Florida. After studying business at Stanford, he started a company to sell ads within Facebook’s gaming apps.

Eyal’s 180 degree turn from “Hooked” does not bother him. “Indestractable” is about discovering the reasons for one’s distractions and then freeing oneself from those distractions, so one can perform and achieve one's full potential.

On his website, Eyal promotes his new book with these words: “Distraction always starts from within.”

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