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Editor’s Note: This article is co-authored by Nir Eyal and Jason Hreha. Nir is the founder of two acquired startups and blogs at NirAndFar.com. Jason is the founder of Dopamine, a user-experience and behavior design firm. He blogs at persuasive.ly.

Yin asked not to be identified by her real name. A young addict in her mid-twenties, she lives in Palo Alto and, despite her addiction, attends Stanford University. She has all the composure and polish you’d expect of a student at a prestigious school, yet she succombs to her habit throughout the day. She can’t help it; she’s compulsively hooked.

Yin is an Instagram addict. The photo sharing social network, recently purchased by Facebook for $1 billion, captured the minds of Yin and 40 million others like her. The acquisition demonstrates the increasing importance — and immense value created by — habit-forming technologies. Of course, the Instagram purchase price was driven by a host of factors, including a rumored bidding war for the company. But at its core, Instagram is the latest example of an enterprising team, conversant in psychology as much as technology, that unleashed an addictive product on users who made it part of their daily routines.

Like all addicts, Yin doesn’t realize she’s hooked. “It’s just fun,” she says as she captures her latest in a collection of moody snapshots reminiscent of the late 1970s. “I don’t have a problem or anything. I just use it whenever I see something cool. I feel I need to grab it before it’s gone.”

THE TRIGGER IN YOUR HEAD

Instagram manufactured a predictable response inside Yin’s brain. Her behavior was reshaped by a reinforcement loop which, through repeated conditioning, created a connection between the things she sees in world around her and the app inside her pocket.

When a product is able to become tightly coupled with a thought, an emotion, or a pre-existing habit, it creates an “internal trigger.” Unlike external triggers, which are sensory stimuli, like a phone ringing or an ad online telling us to “click here now!,” you can’t see, touch, or hear an internal trigger. Internal triggers manifest automatically in the mind and creating them is the brass ring of consumer technology.

We check Twitter when we feel boredom. We pull up Facebook when we’re lonesome. The impulse to use these services is cued by emotions. But how does an app like Instagram create internal triggers in Yin and millions of other users? Turns out there is a stepwise approach to create internal triggers:

1 — EDUCATE AND ACQUIRE WITH EXTERNAL TRIGGERS

Instagram filled Twitter streams and Facebook feeds with whimsical sepia-toned images, each with multiple links back to the service. These external triggers not only helped attract new users, but also showed them how to use the product. Instagram effectively used external triggers to communicate what their service is for.

“Fast beautiful photo sharing,” as their slogan says, conveyed the purpose of the service. And by clearly communicating the use-case, Instagram was successful in acquiring millions of new users. But high growth is not enough. In a world full of digital distractions, Instagram needed users to employ the product daily.

2 — CREATE DESIRE

To get users using, Instagram followed a product design pattern familiar among habit-forming technologies, the desire engine. After clicking through from the external trigger, users are prompted to install the app and they begin using it for the first time. The minimalist interface all but removes the need to think. With a click, a photo is taken and all kinds of sensory and social rewards ensue. Each photo taken and shared further commits the user to the app. Subsequently, users change not only their behavior, but also their minds.

3 — AFFIX THE INTERNAL TRIGGER

Finally, a habit is formed. Users no longer require an external stimulus to use Instagram because the internal trigger happens on its own. As Yin said, “I just use it whenever I see something cool.” Having viewed the “popular” tab of the app thousands of times, she’s honed her understanding of what “cool” is. She’s also received feedback from friends who reward her with comments and likes. Now she finds herself constantly on the hunt for images that fit the Instagram style. Like a never-ending scavenger hunt, she feels compelled to capture these moments.

For millions of users like Yin, Instagram is a harbor for emotions and inspirations, a virtual memoir in pretty pixels. By thoughtfully moving users from external to internal triggers, Instagram designed a persistent routine in peoples’ lives. Once the users’ internal triggers began to fire, competing services didn’t stand a chance. Each snapshot further committed users to Instagram, making it indispensable to them, and apparently to Facebook as well.

Photo credit: Dierk Schaefer

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Did you know that his claws are made from crystallised tears?

Have you a heartstring? Then the sequel to open world anti-hero game Prototype would like a chance to pull at it. It has a sad Johnny Cash song, it has a dead wife and it’s not afraid to use them.
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For the past five decades the photographer Danny Lyon has produced a mix of documentary photographs and film – both politically conscious and personal. As the artist turns 70 this year, a new exhibition called The World is Not My Home: Danny Lyon Photographs will celebrate his lengthy career at the Menil Collection in Houston from March 30 to July 29.

In the early 1960s when many photographers where working the poetry of the streets and snubbing their noses at the tradition of “photojournalism,” Lyon embraced both the lyrical potential of photography as well as its ability to raise awareness to current political issues. Some of his earliest images as a staff photographer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) documenting the civil rights demonstrations against segregation in the South (later published in the book The Movement) made their way into the mainstream press and also onto SNCC posters and brochures. “My camera was my entrance into another world…I had the rare privilege to see history firsthand.”

The Menil Collection has played an important role in Lyon’s career as it was one of the first institutions to acquire his prints as early as 1974 and the Collection currently holds 246 of his photographs. “Addie and Ted de Menil [Adelaide de Menil and Edmund Carpenter Snow] made a large contribution of my work to the Collection, and that morphed into this larger show,” Lyons said of the exhibition. The photographer’s cousins Leon and Ginette Henkin also gave the Collection 20 vintage prints that Lyons had given to the them in the sixties and early seventies. The World is Not My Home: Danny Lyon Photographs will consist of approximately 45 photographs covering his career from 1962 to the present including recent montages and his Polaroid albums which have never been shown.

Lyon lived in East Texas and Houston for 14 months while photographing within Texas prisons. This work would eventually be published in his 1969 book Conversations With the Dead: Photographs of Prison Life, with the letters and drawings of Billy McCune #122054. Lyon’s virtually unrestricted access to several prisons and their inmates went as far as conceiving the idea of having his book printed by the inmates working in the Huntsville prison print shop. The fruit of this idea, a smaller and necessarily less ambitious book of 15 images called Born to Lose (printed by Don Moss #150590 and with layout and lithography by ‘Smiley’ Renton #189994 and Ed Carlock #192204) will also be on display in this exhibition at the Menil.

John and Dominique de Menil started their collection in 1945, focusing on European painting and American contemporary works including Minimalism and Pop Art. The collection holds nearly 16,000 works of art. “I met Dominique when she was a teacher in Houston,” Lyon recalls. “She knew of my work in the prisons and helped me get art supplies to Billy McCune. In 1974, Mrs. de Menil was one of the first to ever purchase prints from me, and then in 1975 paid for the making of my film Los Ninos Abandonados. She handed me a check and said, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’” Los Ninos Abandondos is a film about street children in Colombia which has been recently been digitally restored and will be shown at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts as a companion piece to this show.

Los Niños Abandonados (1975) – Restored 2012 (Trailer) from Watchmaker Films on Vimeo.

“Dominique de Menil said to me many years ago that there was always something ‘happy and sad’ in my photographs,” Lyon says. “The announcement card shows a man gleaning coal walking down a long and sad railroad track. It could have been taken in America during the Depression, but it was made in China four years ago as part of my Phaidon book Deep Sea Diver. The hymn The World is Not My Home is a sad one, but it also implies an existential relationship to life and the world around us.”

Danny Lyon is an American photographer. He blogs at this address (http://dektol.wordpress.com) where he posts his current work with the Occupy movement, and more of his work can be seen here on his website. The above photographs are from the show The World Is Not My Home: Danny Lyon Photographs, on view at the Menil Collection in Houston, March 30 – July 29. 

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions. Visit his blog here.

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