Digital distractions, like Fortnite, can become addictions
COLUMBIA - Checking the phone constantly, surfing Facebook first thing in the morning or right before bed, playing games like Fortnite or Minecraft — digital distractions are prevalent and some people say addictive.
The designers are the best in the business at weaving hidden hooks into the most popular apps and games — blending tech and psychology to keep people in front of a screen.
Will Mattei, now an app developer in San Francisco, realized how much time he was wasting online each day and started looking into how to make the technology people need and want into something that improved lives and interactions.
He said the best apps are designed to keep people entertained and plugged-in.
"They want to keep you there for as long as possible so they've created a bunch of mechanisms to keep people online forever essentially," he said.
The smash-hit viral video game Fortnite has millions of children jumping into their favorite skin and casting away online in hopes of a victory. So much so, video streaming superstar Tyler Blevins, known as Ninja on Youtube and Instagram, is making more than a half million dollars a month because kids love to watch him play Fortnite.
Blevins has 11 million (and growing) subscribers on Youtube and more than seven million on the most popular video game streaming app, Twitch.
He was interviewed by CNBC about the influence he has on children and how he's making so much money playing games.
"I encourage everyone out there, all of the kids, you can't just drop everything and focus on playing video games to make a living. It's also becoming a very competitive career choice right now. You want to make sure you're securing your future and putting in the extra time to make this happen as well."
Some of the new superstars of a generation are most known for their game, but video games, not football or basketball. Phones, gaming consoles and technology are reshaping childhood.
It has some people, like Mattei, wondering if it's time to rethink how great all of the advances are.
"I do think we've reached a tipping point," he said. "On the Google search index trends, you can actually see how frequently key words are being searched since google started tracking since 2004. I noticed the search for terms like "internet addiction" or making technology more humane were trending down for years and years and years and just in the past few months they've started trending up again."
Mattei is one of a growing number of app developers trying to come up with ways to make time spent with technology a starting point for better actual interaction instead of a time drain. The change is called humane technology.
Apps, games and computer browsers that develop humane tech would abandon the psychology of hidden hooks, which are the same addictive techniques used to keep gamblers in casinos. Instead, technology, and the advertising that goes with it, would function to keep us moving or connecting "irl" (in real life) rather than into a game or app.
Common Sense Media, a non-profit group started to help families understand and navigate smart media choices for kids, offers the good and bad for parents who feel they've lost family time to Fortnite battles.
- It does reward collaboration between players
- The default setting keeps any personal information private
- There's no blood or swearing and the death is much closer to Minecraft than Mortal Kombat
- There's a potentially very creative building component
- It's free to play
- Games are short — about 20 minutes at the longest
- Kids can get lost for hours if not monitored, which is tough to do if a child has a smart phone. (Fortnite can be played on any gaming, computer or phone platform)
- You can't control or filter what other players are saying
- There are a lot of guns and weapons and everyone else dying is the goal
- It's also possible to spend real money buying extras and upgrades with v-bucks.
Common Sense Media gives Fortnite four out of five stars for overall quality and learning potential.
Monitoring how long someone plays any video game is essential to keeping it in check. Frequent breaks allow time for the brain to reset and go a long way to prevent technology distraction from becoming an addiction.
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