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RESEARCH INSIGHT | Stemming the Tide of Digital Addiction

The Research

We spend our days looking at them, talking to them, and touching them. We sleep with them, work and play with them. They increasingly consume our time, attention, and money: we are addicted to our digital devices, or more precisely, the digital experiences they enable. Our addiction is both akratic (we are aware of the negative consequences) and engineered (designed on purpose). Marketers are complicit in this engineering: via digital networks and big data they ubiquitously monitor and experiment on consumers. This knowledge is being used to create ever more addictive digital experiences that are enabled by devices and the platforms and content available on them.” pricing. Digital addiction is engineered by the tech industry, which in turn is similarly addicted to business models based on the harvesting of human attention. Faced with this double-bind, the negative consequences of digital addiction will not be addressed on the market level; public policy intervention is needed.

The authors discuss policy solutions and how informing, guiding, and restricting consumers can help ameliorate the problem and promote the public good. Marketers can have a role in decreasing addition to devices.

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What You Need to Know

  • Marketers are complicit in creating addictive digital experiences; however, they have the opportunity to devise solutions as well.
  • Public policy intervention may be necessary to curb the onslaught of addictive digital experiences.
  • Marketers should be on the lookout for public policy that guides, informs, and restricts consumers in how they interact in the digital space.
 

Abstract

We spend our days looking at them, talking to them, and touching them. We sleep with them, work with them, and play with them. They increasingly consume our time, attention, and money: we are addicted to our digital devices—or, more precisely, the digital experiences they enable. This addiction is both akratic (we are aware of the negative consequences) and engineered (designed on purpose). Marketers are complicit in this engineering: through digital networks and big data they ubiquitously monitor and experiment on consumers. This knowledge is used to create ever-more addictive digital experiences enabled by devices, their platforms, and their content. In this article, the authors explore marketing’s role in the rise of the phenomenon: from product design, through advertising and big data, to the dynamics of ubiquitous distribution and “free” pricing. The authors then turn to policy solutions and discuss how informing, guiding, and restricting can help ameliorate the problem and promote the public good. The article concludes by outlining multiple areas for marketing and public policy research.

Pierre Berthon, Leyland Pitt, and Colin Campbell (2019), “Addictive De-Vices: A Public Policy Analysis of Sources and Solutions to Digital Addiction,” Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, 38 (4), 451–68.