Before you read this, take out your phone and check the amount of time you have recently spent on it. On average, I spent 3 hours and 41 minutes on my phone everyday this week. More specifically, 47 minutes per day on Instagram. The impact of this goes beyond the heavily-discussed effects on mental health and productivity. All of the time we spend on our phones contributes to accelerating a self-sustaining cycle resulting in our dependence on technology.
In an effort to expand the breadth of their data collection and subsequently, customer commitment, Facebook introduced the “Like” button in February 2009, giving the site a colossal advantage over other big tech companies. The “Like” button introduced an entire new facet of data collection; it gave Facebook a glimpse into the emotional identity of the user, while simultaneously stimulating the user a variable reward. Nir Eyal, author of Hooked: How To Build Habit-Forming Technology and according to the MIT Technology Review, “the prophet of habit-forming technology” dubbed variable rewards as “the most powerful tools that companies use to hook users.” Not surprisingly, variable rewards, such as likes, follows and streaks — same as those which are found in addictive gambling games — are synonymous with social media giants.
The most recent Pew Research Center survey found that only 51 percent of U.S. teenagers use Facebook. However, in that same report, 72 percent of teenagers use Instagram: one of Facebook’s many sub-companies. Facebook owns Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram and they compile data from all four of them. During those 47 minutes on Instagram, my swipes, taps, likes, follows, views and location metrics were monitored. This has been occurring since the site was first introduced. According to TechCrunch, a news outlet owned by Verizon and AOL, in 2012, Facebook was gathering 2.7 billion likes and 300 million photos per day, downloading roughly 105 terabytes of data each half hour. Extrapolated, Facebook was harvesting 5.04 million gigabytes per day. For scale, your phone likely has 64 gigabytes of storage in total. This was in 2012, when Facebook had just passed 1 billion users. Now, according to Facebook, they have 2.4 billion users across four major communication platforms and seven additional years of technology development. Despite the confidentiality of Facebook’s data harvesting blueprint, we can only assume exponential growth in their data capturing capacity.
Five years after “Hooked” was published, Silicon Valley meshed Nir Eyal’s theory with over a decade of comprehensive data on their users to craft a product which subtly, but constantly guides their user back to their company. As a result, according to a Pew Research Center study, 54 percent of American teenagers said they are worried about the time that they spend on screens. You might not be addicted, but you are wired. Companies like Snapchat, Facebook and Amazon have ingrained themselves into our lives. These apps provide teenagers and adults alike with communication and networking opportunities at a scale which previously were not dreamt of.
During my middle school years when technology was beginning to integrate into my personal life, the most debated question was whether I could get a Snapchat account. Three years later, my parents still don’t get the point of it. Why do you just send pictures back and forth? Can’t you just text them? What do you mean you are going to lose your streak? Wait, you get a Snapchat score? In seventh grade, I didn’t understand why I wanted it so desperately either, but I still did. Eventually, I have come to realize the immense social pressure and unique, rock-solid social networking framework that Snapchat has provided its users. As reported in their 2019 Q3 Report, Snapchat reaches 90 percent of people in the U.S. who are 13-24 years old. The reason being, Snapchat is simply a good product. Filters, Snapchat games and easy communication along with the variable rewards of Snap scores and streaks are make the user experience fun: these improvements are also responsible for making users continue to return to their service. Consequently, this allows the company to profit off of advertising. In the now technology-diluted, high school social reality — crushing social pressure makes it feel impossible to make plans, get to know new people or even go a weekend without Snapchat.
The cycle of data collection, developing consumer habits and ultimately improving the social networking capabilities of their website’s services, proved so successful that people don’t feel they can connect without it. With this said, it is equally important to recognize the irreplaceable research, innovation and convenience that companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon have introduced in their short life span. For example, according to Google’s annual report filings, advertising was an astonishing 85 percent of the revenue for the $877.19 billion company. Just a week ago, Google announced that their engineers had successfully developed a working experimental quantum computer. According to the company, their computer completed a mathematical calculation in 3 minutes and 20 seconds. Current supercomputers would take 10,000 years and intangible amounts of energy to complete the same equation. Google has also revolutionized the American classroom. As reported by The New York Times, Google’s educational service, called G Suite; its complementary apps and Google’s Chromebooks are present in over half of elementary and middle schools in the U.S.. We cannot extract technology from our society without a complete rebuilding of it. However, we must approach it with an eagerness to take advantage of the otherwise inconceivable opportunities to connect people and create things with a positive impact on our future.
It is hard to estimate how many monthly active users Google and its sub-companies have. With ownership of YouTube, Android, Gmail, Google Maps, and a dozen other companies, experts estimate that number exceeds 2 billion active monthly users using one or more of their services. If you are reading this, chances are you are one of those people.
According to Google, their web and app activity is a compilation of everything you do on their services, like Google Maps, Google Search, and Google Play. It can also include things you do on third-party websites, apps, and devices that use Google services or your voice and audio recordings.
Google sites their YouTube history as their comprehensive dossier of the YouTube videos you watch and the search history on YouTube, including deleted searches.
As reported by Google, location services show where you go with your devices, even when you aren’t using a specific Google service.
Facebook, the social networking giant, has over 2.4 billion active monthly users. Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Messenger and many other technology companies make up the company’s massive, $520.21 billion portfolio. Unlike Google, Facebook and Instagram require users to download their data to view it.
Here is your Facebook data download:
Here is your Instagram data download: