Faculty & Research -Online Videos: a well-orchestrated addiction

Online Videos: a well-orchestrated addiction

Why a 3-minute glance at a video can quickly turn into 3 hours of binge-watching. Social network addiction has become a major topic for discussion. However, less attention is paid to addiction to online videos, which nevertheless gets many tongues wagging. Every day of the year, YouTube videos are viewed for a billion hours the world over.

The average viewing session lasts around 45 minutes, but some of the site’s 1.5 billion viewers (especially those with lower self-control and self-esteem) dedicate a considerably greater amount of time per day. For hours on end they watch films, comedy videos, and news clips, among various types of content…even when they are away from home in situations where they would normally be expected to interact with fellow human beings in real-life contexts.

Customised recommendation systems that suggest news videos matching the preferences of each user and which load automatically as soon as the previous video has finished contribute significantly to the over-viewing of online videos. By contrast, traditional TV stations have great difficulty following up their own, less closely-targeted marketing campaigns. Youtube is renowned for its recommendation set-up powered by high-performance algorithms. Pay-to-use streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video are not to be outdone. Such platforms know everything about our online behaviour and previous choices. Sometimes you get the impression that they can even track our state of mind!

Our research highlights the fact that a lack of self-control is one of the deciding factors in the abuse of streaming videos. Faced with such carefully engineered temptation, users with less restraint tend to give in and carry on viewing videos when they actually have other things they should be getting on with, especially working or sleeping, thereby endangering their social life and health.

More ethical technological tools

Users often start watching videos in search of certain information but then end up carrying on watching for a lot longer in full knowledge that they simply cannot stop!

In such a context, is it therefore reasonable to let a handful of ultra-powerful international service providers monopolise the spare time and attention of hundreds of millions of individuals for financial gain? Not in our opinion it isn’t. Movements such as “Time well spent” have been set up in recent times in order to counteract this brain kidnapping by promoting more ethical technological tools.

Since 2013 the Center for Humane Technology, founded by a former Google executive in response to the methods adopted by the firm has been fighting for improved regulation of online activities and the distribution of new applications enabling people to re-allocate their time more constructively.  In early-2018, Mark Zuckerberg confirmed his desire to overhaul the operation of Facebook in light of this growing wave of criticism. Many applications and browser plugins have been devised in order to rein in the overuse of screens.

For example, Distraction Free Youtube blocks the video channel recommendation service. News Feed Eradicator, another browser extension, blocks unwanted Facebook notifications. Tools such as Rescue Time and Moment enable users to see the time spent on each application. Freedom can prevent smartphone access to the web, social networks or specific applications for a pre-set period of time. Stayfocus offers the same option for computers.

Tristan Harris, the young founder of the Center for Humane Technology, offers his opinion freely on the subject via YouTube, explaining his aim of making technology serve people. In his opinion and in that of followers of the “Time Well Spent” movement, it is now essential that new applications are designed in such a way as to respect certain ethical rules, comprising artificial intelligence tools that encourage the self-control and self-esteem of users rather than overuse.

This ambitious undertaking could be the way forward in improving quality of life for all.

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By Rajibul Hasan – Professor of Marketing, Rennes School of Business