Manoush Zomorodi: Hello friend. This is an episode of Note to Self, but from when we used to be called New Tech City. Same good content, just the old name. Enjoy.
Curtis: Manoush this is Curtis Conkey from Colorado Springs Colorado. Your new series on Bored and Brilliant is brilliant except for one small detail. You were telling us how we were going to baseline our activities. You then go on to mention that you're now addicted to a game called Two Dots. Now I'm addicted to Two Dots when the week before I wasn't addicted to anything. That's one little flaw on your plan.
Manoush Zomorodi: From WNYC, this is New Tech City where digital gets personal. I'm Manoush Zomorodi and, Curtis I am so so sorry. It's challenge week for the Bored and Brilliant project. Regular New Tech City podcasts come out on Wednesdays and they're usually about 20 minutes long. This episode basically a normal episode but it's also your Bored and Brilliant challenge. Challenge number three. Cool, right?
Flurry analytics defines a mobile addict as someone who launches apps more than 60 times a day. The average consumer launches apps 10 times a day. To qualify as having an app dependency, you've got to be pretty app crazy. The people most likely to be addicted, well according to Flurry teens, college students, skewing female and middle-aged parents. That's my demo baby. Even if you aren't tapping apps 60 times a day, we all have that one app, that one damn app that we devote way too much time to.
Participant 1: I will find myself browsing Pinterest no matter where I am or really what I'm doing.
Participant 2: My most used app is probably Instagram. I would definitely be tempted to redownload it.
Participant 3: It was such a time suck.
Participant 4: I probably spend more time looking at tips for cleaning my house than actually cleaning my house.
Participant 5: I would spend hours on it every single day.
Participant 6: Deleting the Facebook app would probably be as hard as going skydiving and standing on the edge of the plane and having to make the decision to just jump.
Manoush Zomorodi: Jump, Francis Coco from New Jersey. You too, Amy Colbeck from Illinois, Jared Beck from Oklahoma City, and Megan [unintelligible 00:02:26] from Seattle. Today, all of us we delete that one app.
Manoush Zomorodi: If you're like, "No, no Manoush, this is too cruel." Well okay. Delete it just for the day. God, I'm a softie. I anticipated backlash to this challenge. I made myself the guinea pig for this one.
Manoush Zomorodi: My vice, as regular listeners know, is a game called Two Dots. If you don't know it, Two Dots is like Candy Crush but prettier. If there was a video game version of artisanal pickles made in Brooklyn, it would be Two Dots. Here's the thing, I have never been into games. Never. I downloaded it because I wanted to understand how these games hook people, just like a tech reporter doing her research. Well, that's like a crime reporter who tries heroin just so she can understand the crime beat.
Participant 7: It is 8:36 PM. Just put the kids to bed.
Manoush Zomorodi: Here's me about to get my fix the other night.
Participant 7: I don't know. I could read one of the like 1,500 books that I have next to my bed. What am I going to do? I'm going to play Two Dots. I'm so excited and so pathetic. I've been looking forward to this moment all day.
Manoush Zomorodi: Two Dots is the monkey on my back, my scotch, and soda. I wanted to understand how I got like this. How games and other apps, they suck us in and they keep us there.
Nir Eyal: My name is Nir Eyal, and it's spelled N-I-R, E-Y-A-L, and I'm the author of Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.
Manoush Zomorodi: Nir Eyal literally wrote the book on How to Make People Fanatical About their tech. In a large part of design has to do with behavior engineering. Do you know what Two Dots is?
Nir Eyal: I do, and I feel for you? Welcome to the club.
Manoush Zomorodi: Are you a Two Dots player?
Nir Eyal: I'm not a Two Dots player, but let me tell you, I know enough about habit-forming and even addictive technology that I don't touch this stuff.
Manoush Zomorodi: You don't play any games at all.
Nir Eyal: I don't intentionally, but you're not twitching or anything, [crosstalk].
Manoush Zomorodi: No, but am not happy. Am I? I don't know why.
Nir Eyal: This is, I think a fundamental question, that all of us-- as technology changes faster than we're able to adapt to it, all of us have to stop and ask ourselves, "Is this product serving me or hurting me?" I think the world, as Paul Graham said, is becoming a more addictive place, and that, if we don't understand how these technologies change our behavior, we're not able to do anything about it.
Manoush Zomorodi: You've even suggested that these companies, game makers, et cetera, should have use and abuse policies.
Nir Eyal: Yes. I wrote an article for TechCrunch that detailed the life of this woman, and she was testing out this product that was helping her counter steps. Like a whole gamified experience that she could have a virtual world based on the points, she was accruing in the game. She ends up climbing the equivalent of the Empire State Building one night to keep racking up these points. What I think a lot of companies should do is create a use and abuse policy.
It used to be, if you made an addictive product, if you were an alcohol distiller, you could throw up your hands and say, "Well, we don't know who the alcoholics are, it's not our problem. How do we know who's abusing our product." Today, these companies know. Maybe it's the upside of collecting all this data about us, is that for the first time, they can isolate this very small percentage of users. Turns out to be about 2% to 5% of users who go too far.
Manoush Zomorodi: I want to delete it, but I would have to know and I need to check into this that if I delete it off my phone, it'll still keep me at the level that I'm at because I worked hard to get there.
Nir Eyal: Right. Which illustrates a perfect point. The fact that you said to yourself, "Oh, I need to keep this level," is exactly why these hooks are so powerful.
Manoush Zomorodi: That explains why I have a problem, and why so many people who signed up for Bored and Brilliant feel uneasy about how often they turn to, not just games, but also apps like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. The list goes on and on. Well, mama don't like being played with. Coming up, I confront the maker of Two Dots.
Manoush Zomorodi: We're back. This is New Tech City. I'm Manoush Zomorodi. We're in the middle of the Bored and Brilliant project, and a week of challenges that have been designed to get you rethinking your relationship to your phone, rediscovering the art of spacing out. As you've heard in the episodes leading up to this one, spacing out, letting your mind wander, is when you do your most original thinking and problem-solving. Yes, I wasn't doing any of that because I was playing Two Dots. I know very little about games and how they're made, so I invited in the designer of Two Dots.
David Hohusen: Sure. My name is David Hohusen.
Manoush Zomorodi: I invited him into the studio. Little did he know what he was getting into. I feel a little guilty about this actually. David, the reason why I called you here to the WNYC studio, is because I'm actually very mad at you. I felt like I needed to get to know the person behind the Dots, who are driving me bonkers bananas. For people who maybe haven't fallen under your spell yet, could you just sort of explain what Two Dots and Dots, what the gist of the game is?
David Hohusen: It's the simplest game you can imagine. It's a grid of dots of different colors, and you can connect these dots just by literally drawing a line between the two of them. Two Dots was my first time working in the puzzle genre. We worked five people, four people working on this thing full-time.
Manoush Zomorodi: Tell me like-- set the scene for me.
David Hohusen: Yes. We're looking at a graph and we'll be like, "Okay." The numbers are so mind-boggling, you can't even really understand, because you'll be like, "All right." In the last 7 days, 100 million games were played. Out of those 100 million games, a third of them took place on level 35. That's when you're like, "Oh my god, what have we done?" A third of our players are stuck on this level, and then we'll dial down and we'll see like, "Oh my god." Some of these people have played this level 100 times.
Manoush Zomorodi: I'm checking right now which level I am on because I think it actually-- it's 35. That's where I am. I'm not kidding you. It's right before where you're like, "Yes." Here's my question though to you. Is it really random or are you messing with me to try to get me to buy another life?
David Hohusen: No, I'm not messing with you.
Manoush Zomorodi: It's really truly random?
David Hohusen: It's totally random. I think this is the thing like people are like, "Oh, like Candy Crush, Two Dots they mess with us. They figure out when we're close and then they make the randomness work against us."
Manoush Zomorodi: You're saying level 35 is going to stay just as hard as it is.
David Hohusen: Probably not. It's tricky to talk about-- Luckily Two Dots has been a huge success.
Manoush Zomorodi: You're going back to like [unintelligible 00:10:19] to speak. No, come on what's going on? You're you're there. You're at level 35 and you're seeing this plateau, do you not want your players to feel stupid?
David Hohusen: Right, and then we make it easier.
Manoush Zomorodi: That is what's going to happen.
David Hohusen: It's going to happen, yes. Randomness is a real factor, skill is a real factor. I think a lot of creative people have those moments when they're just like, "Oh, I'm killing it. Like I'm writing that song and it's like, I'm not even trying. It's just coming natural to me." I think playing games is something similar.
Manoush Zomorodi: Here's the thing. I try and tell myself, "But my special reasoning is better," or "I really decompressed nicely after work today." Give it to me straight. Am I fooling myself? Am I making excuses?
David Hohusen: No, I actually think, in many ways, you are tapping into a part of your brain that you don't usually tap into. That's the powerful thing about games. I really do believe this. Game players who are committed, people like me who have basically been playing games their entire lives, similar to an athlete, have these abilities mainly problem solving or the ability to think about five or six steps ahead constantly. It also allows you to have a little bit of a more altruistic attitude towards life.
Manoush Zomorodi: For real?
David Hohusen: For real, because you have this idea that you can accomplish anything.
Manoush Zomorodi: I wasn't being altruistic the other night when I literally hid it from my husband. That's deception. We laugh, but that's deception. I'm embarrassed at what I'm doing because I'm not giving you money, but I am giving you my time.
David Hohusen: Sure. I think it's a little bit of give and take. I think it's up to individuals to be smart enough about it.
Manoush Zomorodi: Do you make a point of being bored regularly?
David Hohusen: I try to. It's really hard actually.
Manoush Zomorodi: Basically you're saying, "Manoush, get a grip."
David Hohusen: Yes. It's just a game.
Manoush Zomorodi: Okay, David. Point taken. Get a grip. It's just a game. That question about whether Two Dots or any video game for that matter is doing something for me is making me smarter in any way, is it?
Zach Hambrick: My name is Zach Hambrick.
Manoush Zomorodi: Dr. Zach Hambrick is a professor of cognitive psychology at Michigan State University. His specialty is researching how people develop expertise, how they learn and then master something. I asked him if Two Dots was making me smarter in any way?
Zach Hambrick: I wouldn't bank on it. When you do these games and these tasks you're acquiring specific skills that don't have demonstrated benefits beyond the game itself.
Manoush Zomorodi: Okay. So-- Yes.
Zach Hambrick: If you play Ms. Pac-Man a lot, then you're probably going to get better at Ms. Pac-Man and you might get better at Mr. Pac-Man or super PAC-Man. You might also get better in video games where you have to move through a maze, but you're probably not going to be better at Space Invaders or some real-world task like filling out your tax return.
Manoush Zomorodi: One last-ditch effort on my part to convince you that Two Dots is doing something for me. I have found that, as I get better at the game, I am able to think several steps ahead. I can see like, "Oh, [crosstalk] get that dot-- Right. Yes. This has never been my strong suit. Don't you think maybe there's a possibility that I am now thinking further ahead and that could apply to other things in my life?
Zach Hambrick: There is a possibility, and what we need now is rigorous scientific evidence. Yes, there's a possibility, but the next step would be to demonstrate it scientifically.
Manoush Zomorodi: There's a possibility that there's life on Mars and that's why we are sending a spacecraft there. Are you going to look into this, Zach?
Zach Hambrick: In fact, we are. We haven't looked specifically at Two Dots, but this is exactly the claim that we're testing and have yet to find evidence for.
Manoush Zomorodi: Yet to find evidence?
Zach Hambrick: Which doesn't mean there isn't evidence. It just means that we haven't been unable to show it and the number of other people have not as well,
Manoush Zomorodi: Even supposedly, educational games haven't proven they work, so no excuses. New Tech City producer, Alex Goldmark provided moral support when I finally did the deed. [door knock]
Manoush Zomorodi: Come in.
Alex Goldmark: All right, your phone [crosstalk]
Manoush Zomorodi: You're watching me. You're keeping me honest here. Oh my God. I want you to know that this is not backed up anywhere. Can we just check what level I'm on? Let's just check.
Alex Goldmark: Is this is your last rights for your feedback.
Manoush Zomorodi: I just want you to know how far I've come. You want to see where I am? I'm at level 168. I see the end here. This is killing me. All right. Here we go. Ready? I'm pressing down on my apps. They're all jiggling which means they're ready to be deleted, but only I have to do it. It's all right. I have to do it.
Alex Goldmark: Look at that X, it's just calling for you to hit it. Hit that one on the left.
Manoush Zomorodi: You move?
Alex Goldmark: Yes. You did it. How do you feel?
Manoush Zomorodi: Nauseous?
Alex Goldmark: Really?
Manoush Zomorodi: No, I really feel nauseous. I feel sad.
Alex Goldmark: Do you need a hug?
Manoush Zomorodi: Maybe, yes.
Alex Goldmark: You're going to get through this.
Manoush Zomorodi: Okay. You need to leave now. I need some alone time. [laughs] I did it. Now you delete that app. Take it off your phone. Let's see what it does for us. Right now it hurts, but I think it's going to be worth it.
Manoush Zomorodi: This was a regular full-length episode of New Tech City. Tomorrow we go back to our special shorter Bored and Brilliantchallenge podcast. Challenge number four. It's going to be fun and I think empowering. Hopefully, more than today. I promise. If you're new to the show and listening through the newsletter links or the website, subscribe to our podcast feed on iTunes, or Stitcher, or anywhere else so that we can hang out every Wednesday, trying to sort out the messy puzzles of the digital age. We'll do it together.
A week from today on the next full-length episode results from Bored and Brilliant. Even if you aren't doing the challenges, fascinating insight into how people are using their phones and where their pain points are. Thanks so much for listening to New Tech City, I'm Manoush Zomorodi.
David Hohusen: Do you want me to beat 35 for you?
Manoush Zomorodi: Are you serious?
David Hohusen: Yes, I'll beat it for you.
Manoush Zomorodi: He's going to beat 35 for me. Oh my God.
David Hohusen: If I do these two greens, and then I do these two yellows, and I do these three reds, I can make a blue square. [crosstalk] I can make a yellow square.
Manoush Zomorodi: Yes. Well, that's nice. Line over dots.
David Hohusen: Line over dots.
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