issues and experts

SFU expert on unplugging from addictive “de-vices”

September 30, 2019

Leyland Pitt, Beedie School of Business, 778.782.7712,
Justin Wong, Beedie School of Business, 778.782.9492,

Link to article:

Digital devices increasingly consume our time, attention and money and lead us to become addicted to them—or, more precisely, the digital experiences they give us. SFU Beedie professor Leyland Pitt and a team of researchers recently analysed the issue and how marketers and app developers contribute to it.

Pitt can elaborate on several policy recommendations, including mandatory labeling for apps to help consumers make better decisions; creating ‘stopping points’ where infinite scrolls could have natural breaks, similar to book chapters; and disclosures in ads for digital products, similar to prescription drug or food packaging ads.

Such disclosures could also include statistics on user time and add-on costs. Regulators could also impose taxes directly on the most addictive offerings, as they’ve done in the case of tobacco products, alcohol, and, in some cases, prescription drugs.

Pitt notes that digital addiction is linked to promoting obesity, sleeplessness, increased anxiety, decreased productivity, and relationship issues. It is also a factor in physical dangers related to distracted driving and walking.

“Digital experiences, like social media, are linked to decreased productivity in the workplace and it’s already costing the U.S. economy $997 billion,” says Pitt. “Today, texting while driving is now six times more dangerous than drinking and driving, and it’s costing the Canadian economy $25 billion.”

He adds, “If you’re checking a text for just five seconds while driving at 90 km/h, you’ve basically travelled the length of a football field blind-folded. That’s incredibly dangerous and foolish when you put it into prospective.”

The researchers say marketers and app developers work together to develop experiences that create an insatiable desire for users to keep returning to their apps. Companies achieve this by using various tactics such as the freemium model, gamification and making their app ubiquitous.

“It seems that digital addiction is impacting young adolescents the most, but that’s because they’ve grown up with digital devices,” says Pitt. “Addiction doesn’t know age. It can happen to anybody.”                              

Fast Facts:

According to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), 80 per cent of collisions and 65 per cent of near crashes have some form of driver inattention as contributing factors.

According to the CAA, driver distraction is a factor in about four million motor vehicle crashes in North America each year.

According to CAA, the economic and social consequence of road crashes in Canada is estimated to be $25 billion per year, including direct and indirect cost, as well as pain and suffering.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), people experience similar neurological responses in the brain when you compare compulsive social media use and the use of addictive substances.

The World Health Organization recognizes gaming addiction as a disease.

According to the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP), texting and driving is six times more dangerous than drinking and driving.

According to the Overload Research Group, distractions from digital experiences, like social media, in the work place are responsible for the loss of a quarter of each employee and employer’s day. This costs the U.S. economy $997 billion each year.

In China, mobile phone lanes have been implemented in a number of large cities for pedestrian safety.


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