Update: Apple just announced iOS 12 with a geolocation based Do Not Disturb feature!
Several years ago we might have scoffed at the notion of smartphone addiction, but today most of us have come to the sober realization that it’s a very real phenomenon which we often recognize in others but deny personally. Studies have repeatedly shown the negative impact smartphones have on our psyche: from destroying our attention spans and ability to focus, to increasing risk of depression and even suicide.
“God knows what Facebook is doing to our children’s brains.” -Sean Parker, early Facebook investor
Parker also shared what he describes as Facebook’s earliest mission: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible.” And he’s not the only early investor with concerns-
“Like gambling, nicotine, alcohol or heroin, Facebook and Google … produce short-term happiness with serious negative consequences in the long term.” -Roger McNamee, early Facebook investor
In a hyperconnected world, how do we create a healthy relationship with technology in that enhances our lives?
Reverse Engineering Habits
“Smartphone addiction” is a bit of a misnomer as people aren’t addicted to the phones per se, but to the actual apps installed on them. In order to understand how to combat habitual behavior, we first need to understand how these apps are designed to suck our attention.
Several years ago, “behavioral design” became a buzzword in design circles as a discipline to engineer desirable behavior in users. Dr.BJ Fogg founded the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University and created the Fogg Behavioral Model, which states that behavior results from sufficient motivation and ability, combined with a trigger.
One of Fogg’s students Nir Eyal, synthesized Fogg’s model into the Hook Framework for designing habit-forming products:
Don’t Trigger Me
As you can see, Triggers are the catalysts of habitual behavior and in the context of smart devices, the ultimate manifestation of an external trigger is the notification; that piercing “ding” that sucks our attention into a rabbit hole of endless feeds for way longer than we intended.
Frequent notifications are the enemy of flow, so a clever way to reduce them is what I call Roundup- instead of delivering notifications as they come, they’re rounded up to a preset time frame and delivered in batches. For example, instead of delivering 6 separate notifications between 10AM and 11AM, deliver all 6 notification at 11AM:
Reducing notifications is a good start, but like the old idiom goes- there’s a time and a place for everything, and my local Dominos sending me a coupon at 7am while I’m on vacation abroad is neither the time nor the place. Much like my iOS Smart Widgets concept, iOS’s Do Not Disturb could benefit from a layer of context to provide positive experiences.
What good is silencing your iPhone when a single call rings off your MacBook, iMac, iPad and Apple Watch? Users should be able to easily set multiple devices to Do Not Disturb:
There’s no good reason why you should have to manually silence your devices inside of a movie theater, workplace, or university. Users can define custom or choose preset geofences inside of which Do Not Disturb is auto-enabled:
While our phones are great at keeping us connected with our friends when away, they also tend to keep us disconnected when we’re with them. Nothing kills an passionate conversation quicker than an obtrusive notification:
To incentivize the use of this feature, users will be notified when their contacts add them to Friends Nearby and ask them to return the favor:
Everyone’s lifestyle is unique, which is why you should be able to control when, where, and around who, apps are allowed to disturb you. Since iOS knows which apps send the most notifications and when, Siri can suggest personalized recipes to curb disruption based on individual usage trends. Users can also create custom recipes to suit their routines, which allows for more complex interactions, for example- watching Netflix on my Apple TV can trigger Do Not Disturb on all my other devices.
Although contextual Do Not Disturb is a small piece of the digital wellbeing puzzle, it’s an important step in regaining our ability to be present. In the future I see a few interesting possibilities which could be explored further:
- Siri Activation: a voice command from any device (HomePod, iMac, Apple Watch, etc) that enables DND on all/multiple devices.
- Rethinking Permissions: When giving initial notification permission to apps, perhaps incorporate restrictions based on time, location or even friends nearby.
- Whitelisting Friends: Perhaps the ability to silence an app such as Instagram while allowing activity from certain friends?
As I was rethinking DND, it occurred to me that iOS Settings’s UI transgresses fundamental Gestalt grouping principles as it poorly separates different sections and hierarchy:
By giving each function it’s own section, grouping and hierarchy become much more apparent:
Here’s Part 2 of the quest to mental wellbeing:
Special thanks to my immensely talented friend Ilya Mazurkevich for the illustrations above, follow him on IG @ active.soul Also shoutout to Mazzurski for lending a second eye.