He says that people feel good about apps which focus on relaxation, exercise, weather, reading, education and health, spending an average of nine minutes a day on these.
On the flip side, people feel less happy while using dating, social networking, gaming, entertainment, news and web browsing apps, yet spend 27 minutes a day on each of these. The reason behind our seemingly mindless scrolling is the lack of a stopping cue, or "a signal that it's time to move on, to do something new, to do something different," Alter says.
"We're spending three times longer on the apps that don't make us happy," he says. "That doesn't seem very wise."
Anyone who has gone on a Netflix binge can relate: After several hours of viewing episodes of your favorite show, you might receive a pop-up message that asks, "Continue watching?" That's a stopping cue to make sure you actually want to keep going.
"But the way we consume media today is such that there are no stopping cues," Alter says. "The news feed just rolls on, and everything's bottomless: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messaging, the news."
To encourage a step back from this endless loop of checking emails and social media, Alter points to the late "low-tech parent" Steve Jobs, who once told The New York Times how he limited the amount of time his children spent with technology.
Notably, France has attempted to limit time spent looking at screens by banning after-work email.
Alter admits this isn't the easiest problem to address, but it's worth it. "At first, it hurts. I had massive FOMO," Alter says. "But what happens is, you get used to it.
"You overcome the withdrawal the same way you would from a drug, and what happens is, life becomes more colorful, richer, more interesting — you have better conversations," he says. "You really connect with the people who are there with you."
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