Why do people buy lottery tickets?
It's certainly not based on any rational analysis of financial risk or reward.
So, why do something that almost never seems to work?
Because it actually works every single time.
What it does is release a hit of dopamine, first when you think about buying one, then again when you decide to buy one, and then a third time when you actually transact. For regular players, these three moments of hope and joy demolish the sadness that comes from actually losing.
It's a hope rush, for cheap.
Well, the same thing is true for the billion people carrying around a Pavlovian box in their pocket. The smart phone (so called in honor of the profit-seeking companies who were smart enough to make them) is an optimized, tested and polished call-and-response machine. So far, Apple's made a trillion dollars by ringing our bell.
Every time it pulses, we get a hit.
Every time we realize we haven't checked it in two minutes, we get a hit.
Hit, hit, hit.
And again and again.
The box vibrates, we feel hope and fear and our loneliness subsides, then we check, and we lose (again).
But we are hooked, so we put the phone in our pocket and wait for it to happen again.
Ring a bell?