Nir Eyal does not for a second regret writing Silicon Valley’s tech engagement how-to, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” even as he now has a new book out on how to free ourselves of that same addiction.
In his original manual for building enthralling smartphone apps, Eyal laid out the tricks “to subtly encourage customer behavior” and “bring users back again and again.” He toured tech companies speaking about the Hook Model, his four-step plan to grab and keep people with enticements like variable rewards, or pleasures that come at unpredictable intervals.
Silicon Valley’s technorati hailed “Hooked.” Dave McClure, the founder of 500 Startups, a prolific incubator, called it “an essential crib sheet for any startup looking to understand user psychology.”
Now in the latter days of 2019, Eyal has a new bestseller. This one is called “Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life.”
If “Hooked” was a how-to, this is a how-to-undo.
Eyal, 41, is not alone in this pivot. Since “Hooked,” whistleblowers like Google’s former in-house ethicist, Tristan Harris, have popularized the idea that phones are unhealthy and addictive. Onetime executives at Facebook and WhatsApp have turned into tech critics. At Stanford University, the researcher B.J. Fogg, who ran the Persuasive Tech Lab, has renamed it the Behavior Design Lab and is now starting to roll out tools to reduce screen time.
“A movement to be ‘post-digital’ will emerge in 2020,” Fogg wrote last month. “We will start to realize that being chained to your mobile phone is a low-status behavior, similar to smoking.”
Unlike the other newly wary, though, Eyal does not think tech is the problem. We are.
“We talk about addiction, but when it comes to Candy Crush, really? Facebook? We’re not freebasing Facebook. We’re not injecting Instagram here,” Eyal said one morning over croissants at New York’s Bryant Park. “These are things we can do something about, but we love to think the technology is doing it to us.”
And so in “Indistractable,” which was published last month, Eyal has written a guide to free people from an addiction he argues they never had in the first place. It was all just sloughing off personal responsibility, he figures. So the solution is to reclaim responsibility in myriad small ways.