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The Infinite loop of infinite scrolling: Why can’t we resist?


The Infinite loop of infinite scrolling: Why can’t we resist?

If you're scrolling your Facebook or Instagram feed aimlessly and suddenly noticing that two hours have passed, then infinite scrolling is not unfamiliar to you at all.

More or less, we all have faced it. And the horrific thing is that, even after knowing this is not a productive thing and is killing our precious time, we fail to resist. 

A recent survey conducted by a Chinese mobile internet company UCWeb shows that 70 per cent of users spend more than an hour on social networking sites in Bangladesh. About 23 per cent of them spend more than five hours on social networking sites a day.

The global scenario is even more frightening. According to the global tech care company Asurion report, people in the USA reach for their device an average of 352 times a day – once every two minutes and 43 seconds.

Tasnim Shahriar, a BBA undergrad shared, “For almost every night, I take my phone thinking I’ll just check a few messages and then will sleep. But, before I know it, I find myself glued to the screen for about one or two hours.”

The same is the case for Shaila Anjum, a homemaker. She expressed, “I don’t know much about these phones and systems. But when I search for any of my favourite items, suggestions keep on coming and I just can’t stop. This hampers my family life a lot.”

Like them, all of us know that this mindless scrolling is harming us. Then why can’t we stop?

Two theories need to be understood first to understand the reason behind this obsessive behaviour. One is ‘Skinner’s Box’ and the other is the ‘Unit Bias.’

The Skinner’s Box is named after the famous professor of psychology, B.F Skinner at Harvard University. He introduced this concept in 1938 in his book titled ‘The Behaviour of Organisms.’

The concept is simple. Imagine a rabbit with a lever inside a box. Sometimes, when the rabbit presses the lever, it receives a piece of carrot, and sometimes it doesn’t. And there is another similar box with a rabbit and lever in it. In the second box, a carrot is given every time the lever is pressed.

It was noticed that the rabbit continued to push the lever compulsively much more often than the rabbit who was given carrots every time. 

Like a rabbit, it’s human nature to seek predictability and patterns. In their absence, we search for them. When you see a notification you’re rewarded with a like or comment, you’re motivated to keep watching for them.

So, we pull to refresh. The same principle is used in different video games and apps. The unpredictability of rewards or achievements keeps us hooked on that game or app.

To understand Unit Bias, let us first know the mechanism of infinite scrolling. The infinite scrolling design pattern was created by engineer Aza Raskin in 2006. The simple principle was to load more content in the background as people scroll. So it allows us to scroll infinitely as long as there is more content to see.

Now, the Unit Bias theory says, human brains are naturally motivated to complete a unit of something. The tendency is to believe that whatever amount we’re given of something is the ‘right’ amount, so we try to finish it to gain satisfaction.

But here the catch is, there is no unit, no ‘right amount.’ So we can’t stop ourselves from checking out more content as we scroll.

Another important thing is AI or Artificial Intelligence. Nowadays, advancements in AI have made recommendations more accurate and led us to a more comfortable life. But is it so?

Our favourite apps are gathering piles of information, monitoring our likes and dislikes, and providing us with many likeable recommendations which ultimately keep us hooked on that app for a long period.

Now the question comes, how do we stop it? Once Jaron Lanier, an American computer philosophy writer, said, “If you are not paying for the product, you are the product.”

So, self-awareness can be the first thing to maintain a healthy balance. Set a limit, be strict to maintain it. Get off the urge to search for new likes and comments.

Don’t take social media or any favourite app too seriously that your family, friends, and relatives are deprived of your precious company. After all, if we are given the chance to relive one hour after our death, we surely wouldn’t want that to be spent on mindless scrolling.

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