What Facebook and slot machines share is the ability to provide fast feedback to simple actions; they deliver tiny rewards on an imperfectly predictable “payout” schedule. These are coercive loops, distorting whatever the original intention of the user was. What began as “See a picture of person X” becomes “keep seeing more pictures.” The mechanism itself becomes the point.
Thinking about the machine zone and the coercive loops that initiate it has great explanatory power. It explains the “lost time” feeling I’ve had on various social networks, and that I’ve heard other people talk about. It explains how the more Facebook has tuned its services, the more people seem to dislike the experiences they have, even as they don’t abandon them. It helps explain why people keep going back to services that suck them in, even when they say they don’t want to.
People log in to Facebook forgetting why they did so in the first place. No wonder they end up leaving feeling having “lost time.”