Can Technology Really Change Your Habits?

Screen shot 2014-09-01 at 12.31.34 PMTechnology has already made radical changes in our mobility and transportation: mobile technology allows us to telework, thus freeing us from rush hour commutes, and apps help connect us to options like transit and bikeshare. Information technology increases reliability when it comes to connecting with transit, which in turn can reduce the need to build expensive infrastructure.

So there’s no doubt technology has changed the way we work and get around. But when it comes to changing our deeply-ingrained habits – like automatically getting in a car alone to drive to work – can we rely on technology to alter our routines and make us better commuters?

Probably not, according to this article.

Here is the low-down:

“Technology can certainly help you track your progress and remind you when things need to be done, but, at the end of the day, we’re complex people and the only way you can really change is to do it yourself.”

Rewards are powerful motivators when it comes to changing behaviors, and technology companies know it. Many of the tech companies developing apps actually work with psychologists to develop the kinds of reward that keep people coming back to use their products. Rewards can range from the act of checking in or showing progress on a graph.

But awards lose their effect over time. It’s intrinsic awards – a sense of satisfaction that comes from your own psyche – that help people develop new neural pathways and form new habits. Extrinsic rewards, like a badge or trophy, wear off or can be taken away.

When it comes to using apps to change habits, like the way we commute, there’s only so much they can do. They can make commuting easier by connecting us with a carpool ride, knowing when the next bus will arrive, or finding the fastest way to get from one place to another. But real, long-lasting change can only come from you.

Arun Sundararajan, a professor at NYU’s Stern School of Business, says “Over the last decade, we’ve started to overestimate the power of technology and we reduce the importance of things like community. A big part of behavior change has to do with changing the environment that you’re in and changing the interactions that you have with people.”

image via Capital Metro

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