You see your phone light up from the corner of your eye and instinctively reach for it. What started as a simple notification check snowballs into an hour-long session as you swipe through rows of notifications and scroll through endless social media feeds.
This is by design.
From app developers to tech behemoths such as Google and Facebook, companies have spent years working to make consumer technology as addictive as possible. After all, time spent with their products could equal big bucks for the company.
However, that’s starting to change, and we could be at the precipice of a shift in how software is designed. Apple and Google are implementing new features aimed at curbing phone usage, and apps like Instagram are rolling out features intended to help you manage your time with the app better.
So, why are they doing this, and is it enough?
Tristan Harris previously worked at Google as a design ethicist, and he saw first-hand how developers worked to capture people’s attention and hook them in. He was part of the infamous “Facebook Class” from Stanford. Led by instructor BJ Fogg, who oversaw the Persuasive Technology Lab, they studied how to “persuade users to take certain actions,” according to Wired.com. The article stated that the class “developed the techniques to make … apps and gadgets addictive” and that members of the class went on to create Instagram and design products at companies such as Google, Facebook and Uber.
Fogg told CNN that he disputes the characterization that his class taught people to create addictive technology.
Speaking about his time working at Google, Harris told NPR’s TED Radio Hour that “at the end of the day, it was about capturing attention.”
“You know, how would we hook people into spending more time on the screen or driving more page views or getting people to click on ads?”