Your Phone is a Slot Machine

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Slot machines make billions of dollars a year around the globe. They make more money than all of the other games in a casino combined. It’s a simple psychological device.

Step 1: You play
Step 2: You either win or almost win (a.k.a. You lose)
Step 3: Dopamine is released in your brain

Hint: Step 3 is the key to the whole thing. Now consider your phone.

Step 1: You look at your phone
Step 2: You either have a notification or you don’t
Step 3: If yes, Dopamine is released in your brain

When you look at your phone, you are checking for notifications such as

  1. Emails
  2. Phone calls
  3. SMS/Slack/Chat
  4. Twitter Activity
  5. Facebook Activity
  6. New Podcast
  7. Breaking News
  8. A patch of digital vegetables needs collecting
  9. Etc

Every time you look, simply put, you are pulling the slot machine arm and asking the digital universe, “What do I win?” Each little notification is something to do, something to react to, something to be happy about.

And a little dopamine is released.

If you have no notifications and you look at your phone, you feel a bit sad, a bit neglected. Every time you see something new, you feel a bit energized, happier.

The most successful digital platforms are the ones that give you that dopamine hit regularly. It’s no coincidence.

I’ve started thinking about my phone differently since I noticed this parallel. How addicted am I to my dopamine hit?  Can I NOT look at my phone? Will I start to feel withdrawal symptoms? Would I be happier with or without it?

We are such primitive creatures sometimes.


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