Tiemen Molendijk

August 12, 2022

We get up and go to bed with our smartphones constantly fighting for our attention. But why is this? Are you opening your Instagram because you really want to, or because you are constantly bombarded with notifications trying to lure you back into the app?

Free to use?

While its inventors create the illusion that we are freely roaming the infinite playground called Instagram. In reality, we are fooled here, because we are not consumers, we are the product. Instagram is in fact nothing more than a modern advertising company, constantly coming up with new strategies to entice people as effectively as possible, based on the data we ourselves provide them. After all, ads are only worth their investment if they attract our attention. And that is why the Instagram feed is designed to keep users glued to their screen as long as possible. To make you scroll down as far as possible and click through as often as possible. The more attention that is captured, the greater the revenue. We always use Richard Serra’s rule of thumb. In 1973, he said: “If something is free, you’re the product.” Back then, his comment was about how the product of television was the audience and that it was, in fact, the television that delivered the people/audience to advertisers.

Compulsion loop

Instagram is designed to constantly keep you enticed on whether you’ll get a reward for your actions (opening the app, refreshing) or not, you open or refresh Instagram and never know whether something new will pop up. Psychologists even compare this design to Las Vegas slot machines. The most important factor is unpredictability, if you know exactly what you will get, then it’s not exciting anymore to open the app, however when the reward is unpredictable, you will probably come back more often. For example if you’ve ever checked your Snapchat, then Twitter, then Instagram, then Snapchat again because, “Oh well, it’s been ten minutes and maybe something new came in”, then you’ve gotten stuck in a compulsion loop. A compulsion loop is a cycle of activities that are encouraged to be looped or repeated because of a neurochemical reward, in the form of dopamine, released into your brain.


But if these companies are deliberately trying to make us addicted to these apps, why do we keep using them? Because of peer pressure? Because we really want to? Or because we don’t like to face the fact that we aren’t masters of our own minds, and these tech companies actually cracked the code of our brains? 

Think twice and decide for yourself…