Addictive Design: A Case For Regulation

Enough — it’s obvious by now that apps are as addicting as crack, with people walking into traffic, off cliffs, not eating, etc. — and industry is not going to police itself. Brilliant minds like Tristan Harris and the people working on this is an echo of your ethos— sung as an #angry #designer, #mom and #spouse.

We’re all basically a drug dealer’s bitch, and his/her name is Instagram, WeChat, Fortnight, Facebook, Candy Crush, etc. etc. You know how addicted you are if you’ve lost your phone or looked around you in any major city. And, our children…the cheapest babysitter is sucking their creativity, processing skills and attention right out of their eyeballs. Fellow designers, blood and rotting grey matter is on our hands!

It’s our obligation to come up with ideas for solutions now. Here are some rough ones:

Let’s design solutions & regulation now pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaase

As much as regulatory bodies come with hoards of problems, we need it ASAP. California, can we please lead the way? Games/sites/apps should not be able to take more than x# of minutes/day or x$/day. Games should be designed to make someone feel good putting the controllers down after 45 minutes of play, not like they’re dying. I worked on the tobacco industry trials…will software companies be held to account for taking away people’s sleep, focus and productivity?

Design finite daily engagement: 
Imagine Fortnight telling your kid after an hour “congratulations, your daily mission is complete. See you tomorrow.” Or the downward scroll on Instagram ending with a message that your feed is complete for the day. Ideally at the end of the feed, you get a personalized nudge from my startup, MotiSpark to motivate you to do whatever it is you really want to like exercise, or write your novel :-) But, back to the point of this post…

Ahhh, yes, would labels hold any punch? I’m not sure, but the framework to measure what would be included on a label would indeed help consumers be aware of the attention economy.

I have been a software designer since 1994. Most of my brain children have died or you’ve never heard of them. But, I know that we, the companies and individuals that create apps and games know how much time and money you’re spending on our products/day. And, industry forces make the goal to take as much of your brain and wallet as we can. Your children’s too. The guilt and fury I feel for our children is what really made me right this. Last night, my 8 year, who hoards his savings, spend a large chunk on some fucking pixels. Yes, companies are downright evil about getting kids to give all their money and time that they make drug dealers look kind — and investors and the market rewards them. ARGH! The only regulation is around nudity and profanity….I can addict your brain to my novelty/dopamine-rush, sense of control, pleasant avoidance, pseudo-flow glee as much as I want. Fortnight wants and knows that children the world over are spending hours a day in game, zombified, spending all their money for a clump of pixels, designed to be irrelevant in a week.

Walk on the streets of any city in the world right now, and humans are glued to little screens…a momentous behavioral change that indeed has great benevolent powers, but the FOMA, simple hooked model of games and apps has presented humanity with a nightmare we cannot seem to snap out of. And, it breaks my heart.

Read this brilliant, painful portrait of humanity today by Oliver Sacks in the New Yorker:

“Much of this, remarkably, was envisaged by E. M. Forster in his 1909 story “The Machine Stops,” in which he imagined a future where people live underground in isolated cells, never seeing one another and communicating only by audio and visual devices. In this world, original thought and direct observation are discouraged — “Beware of first-hand ideas!” people are told. Humanity has been overtaken by “the Machine,” which provides all comforts and meets all needs — except the need for human contact. One young man, Kuno, pleads with his mother via a Skype-like technology, “I want to see you not through the Machine. . . . I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”
He says to his mother, who is absorbed in her hectic, meaningless life, “We have lost the sense of space. . . . We have lost a part of ourselves. . . . Cannot you see . . . that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine?”

You know the crazy stats about phone use…like in 2017 the average American opened their phones 80x/day, the average teen online 9 hours a day. Oh, yes, teen drug use is down because they’re all on screen-time crack with no oversight. Quartz’s article paraphrases reality:

… teens spend an average of nine hours a day online (paywall), compared to about six hours for those aged eight to 12 and 50 minutes for kids between 0 and eight.

I’m actually a technophile and believe that being networked together as we are can lead to a renaissance in human potential and global peace. But, what a fucking nightmare bump in the road we’re on.

Now, please, feel the sting of putting your phone down and thinking about something and don’t touch a screen unless it’s directly for work. I dare you for a day.