Multipacks of Crisps, Supersizing and Pagination
You're sitting in front of the TV binging on whatever show people are binging on these days. In your left hand is a bag of cheese and onion crisps ('chips' for any Americans reading this).
With your free hand you straighten out the bag and give it a shake so that all of the tiny crisp shards gather in the bottom corner, then invert the whole thing over your mouth and let a small, sharp river of crumbs flow into your mouth. It's the best bit.
You discard the empty packet and continue watching TV, throwing a glance at your phone from time to time.
The taste of cheese and onion lingers in your mouth. You're not quite satiated.
"Dare I have another packet?" you ask yourself.
On the kitchen table sits a multi-pack of crisps with one bag missing. The bag you've already demolished.
You then find yourself in the kitchen standing before the open multi-pack, not quite sure how you got there.
Just one more.
You take a bag out and fold up the opening of the multi-pack before putting it away somewhere out of sight. You mean business this time - last packet. No more.
Back on the couch and you once again find yourself with crisp dusted, saliva moistened finger tips and an empty bag.
There is now a pile of two. A visual reminder of tonight's snacking.
That's it, the whole story.
Now I want you to think through this scenario again, but this time replace the multi-pack with a single 'share' bag of crisps.
One of those share bags of crisps holds about as much as four or five regular packs. Yet how much easier is it to sit down and destroy an entire bag of them?
With the single, smaller, packs you have a logical stopping point. At the end of each bag you get to consider your next move. Do you have another? Have you had enough?
With the share bag you can just keep going. Sure you might try to reseal the bag and put it away, but it's still open...
And it calls to you...
...Just one more.
So you continue to pick away at it until you've consumed about five smaller packs worth of crisps.
It seems like packing the same amount of crisps into smaller bundles might help us psychologically when it comes to impulse control.
What does it all mean
I used to spend a lot of time on Reddit. I say spend, I really mean waste.
It brought zero benefit to my life and I spent a couple of hours a day indulging it.
I'm not saying it cannot be used in such a way that it can bring value to your life. I'm saying that I didn't use it that way.
I just flick through gif after gif, meme after meme and let out a little chuckle here and there.
So I quit. I just stopped going to the site and I didn't miss it one bit - which I guess is the real test of whether something adds value to your life.
Breaking the habit wasn't hard, I just blocked the site on my computer. So if I wanted to visit it I'd have to manually edit some configuration file before punching in the URL - just enough hassle to be off putting.
Recently, however, I've gone back to Reddit. This time I've tried to use it productively by connecting with other bloggers and actually getting involved in a community where I can learn from and maybe even help teach others.
The first thing I noticed upon my return is that the 'Next' button is gone (not on the mobile site, but desktop and the app).
It used to be that you would scroll down through a page of content and then have to click next before you get more.
It was a nice logical break. A point at which you can ask yourself "Do I really want to continue on to page 17? I've been here for hours."
If you don't use Reddit you've likely seen this elsewhere. Facebook and Instagram do the same thing. You can scroll through your feed forever. You keep swiping and it keeps delivering content.
Back in the day there was a word that was more common in the online world and that word is 'Pagination'. This is the practice of dividing content up across multiple pages.
This was essential for performance reasons. You might get ten items on a page and have to click a 'next' button to get more. (This blog does it - go to the home page and scroll to the bottom to see for yourself).
These days, however, pagination is no longer cool and sexy. Actually it never was, but it was necessary.
Now you get infinite content, and just like our big share bag of crisps you keep picking away until an hour has passed and you have no idea what happened.
Of course the designers of these sites know exactly what they are doing. They want you to spend more time on the site. Just like those crisp manufacturers want you eating the whole share bag. Just like McDonalds introduced supersized food portions because consumers felt embarrassed buying multiple smaller sizes, but have no problem buying a single giant one.
So be mindful.
Internet content is fine if enjoyed in individual little packets, but those share bags - they're problematic.