An article by Quartz reported that on an average day people around the world watch one billion hours of video on YouTube. 70% of those hours come not from a person searching for an answer to their question, but YouTube recommendations.
Doritos and Addicting Algorithms
Intoxicating Flavor and Drool Inciting
Doritos are both high in salt and sugar - both major pleasure solutes. Other flavor boosters such as MSG, disodium inosinate, garlic, and various cheeses add to the allure. The powder includes acids (i.e. lactic acid, citric acid), that trigger the release of saliva, making everything else taste better.
No surprise here, social media and YouTube videos also have engaging content. Humour, tragedy, self-validation, feeling connected, etc. what every you desire.
The Perfect Ratio
The human brain likes around half of the calories in a food product to come from fat. Surprise, surprise, 0.48 of the calories in Doritos come from fat.
Next time you visit YouTube, observe the homepage or the sidebar, it is clearly not just one genre of content. Just like your brain likes a nice balance in types of calories, YouTube recognizes you like variety in your YouTube videos as well.
Vanishing Caloric Density
Doritos have a hard texture but quickly dissolve. The seemingly vanishing calories tricks your brain into wanting more.
In your social media feeds, the short posts and videos give your brain quick bursts of satisfaction, and encourage you to proceed with the easy action of moving your thumb half an inch to scroll through the page.
Use Sensory-specific satiety to our Advantage
Sensory-specific satiety is the tendency that big distinct flavors taste good, but overwhelm the brain, depressing your desire to have more. Fast food uses complex formulas that pique the taste buds just enough to be alluring, but do not have a distinct overriding single flavor that conveys the message to the brain to stop eating.
The concept of "sensory-specific satiety" applies very nicely to YouTube videos and social media feeds. Next time you fall into mindlessly scrolling , ask yourself, "was there anything convicting or valuable in the content I just consumed". Most of the time your answer will be "no". Just as with food, meaningful content sates our appetite; instead of looking to consume more, we dwell on what we just read/watched by making connections, reflecting, and applying.
Practically, I am not asking you to do a 180 degree U-turn in the content you watch. Chances are, what you are consuming already has truly valuable elements to it. You just have to make a mental mindset switch from "more, more, what's next" to "that is cool, what does it really mean for me?"
Run, Hide, or Take a Detour
People trying to stop constantly snacking on junk food often just stop buying it. Why? They know that no matter how much self-discipline they have, the engineers behind that product have created something irresistible.
First, a specific suggestion for YouTube. Although the YouTube algorithm is helpful in finding videos that are fascinating to me, sometimes I cannot afford to be distracted but still need to find a video. So instead of first going to youtube.com, I search for the video directly via a search engine, to avoid the temptation of the YouTube homepage.
An excellent solution to both YouTube and Social Media feeds and algorithms is a simple extension I use called Undistracted. The Chrome extension works across all major social media sites and video streaming sites such as Facebook, YouTube, and Netflix. The extension gives you options to block various parts of the site. Such as with YouTube, you have the option to hide recommendations, hide the sidebar, hide comments, and hide up next suggestions.