The itch

On addictions that shed your skin

Davide talked to me today about this one book called “Hooked” he’s been digging. It explores a topic I am as of lately exceptionally torn by: addiction. On the cover of the book, one can read this enticing sentence: “How to build habit-forming products that drive customer engagement”.

As a result of this mundane marital conversation the word itch came up. Davide made me question to what extent one can manipulate the level of itchiness a self-made product can cause. And by self-made product I mean just pretty much everything one can self-produce: a work of art, a dessert, a mobile app, an entire relationship. In such cases, the intensity of the itch is directly proportional to the manipulative skills of the artisan.

Were you ever gifted a brownie that left you wanting more, willing to travel almost 10km just to grab a bite? Did you ever own a pair of leggings you would never want to get rid of, even when your son had already puked on them several times before? Have you ever met someone who fascinated you to the point of wanting to spend entire days with them?

What do all these things have in common? The fact that at some point the psychological process behind their creation -on the maker’s side- was meant to produce a habit -on another poor soul’s side-.

Habits are reinforced by their utility and grow stronger if their content is variable and unpredictable. When such conditions exist, habits turn into addictions. They take their time to show up, but as soon as you decide to skip them just once, your whole body aches and that funky itch knocks on your door like “it’s Britney, bitch”.

How do you feel when you’re already on the train and realise you left your mobile phone at home? Ha. Yeah. See? You’re a victim of addictions too, so don’t look away!

Those who gamble know that sooner or later they’re gonna get a result. This may turn out to be positive, even if the chances of it happening are really REALLY small. But it’s the one probability of the outcome being positive what serves to generate expectations.

The non acceptance of the outcome in relation to your expectations almost always creates an unbalanced and bitter situation as soon as the result is unpleasant. Managing such situations requires time, efforts, a couple of kleenex maybe and a vodka somewhere. But it’s completely doable.

So coming back to Davide’s book, when you engineer a product so well crafted that can turn into an addiction, are you being morally correct? I mean, if you consciously generate an ecosystem specifically designed to manipulate the user, are you going to hell? #seriouslytho 

Fortunately for me a thing such as LIFO exists, so the last habits to get added to the log are the first ones to leave. The trick here is to create a new and exciting habit that will become stronger than the former one, so that the prospect of never eating brownies again doesn’t seem that bad anymore.

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