Here’s an interesting confession from a guy who has been a tech enthusiast for a long while: I HATE smartphones.
Like legitimately hate them.
My animosity towards them has been growing and growing over time. It started when I caught myself laying in bed every night and opening Instagram to see whether anyone had liked the photos of my daughter that I used to share there regularly.
I’d anxiously wait for the number of new notifications to be updated — and often, I’d be upset that I didn’t get as many notifications as I wanted to. I really felt ignored at times, trying to figure out why some people would have 60 or 70 or 80 likes on pictures of their kids and I’d have four.
Then, I’d start looking at the people in my network who had liked the pictures of OTHER people in my network. I’d see that people I considered friends were actively liking content shared by each other, but they never seemed to like or favorite content shared by me. “They are shunning me,” I’d think.
I’d even play games where I’d go in and like and favorite pictures with increasing regularity. “Look, I’m here and I’m saying I like your content!” I’d think every time I’d drop a like or a comment on pictures of other people’s kids. And then I’d wait to see if they’d reciprocate — reloading my stream tons of times each night to see if anyone had noticed me.
If they did, I’d go to bed relieved. If they didn’t, I’d go to bed feeling sad.
How crazy is that?!
Only adding to my animosity towards phones has been the impact that they have had on the people around me.
I’m a pretty social guy. I love being with and around others and engaging in deep conversations with them. But I started to notice that every time I was with other people in a physical location, there were fewer and fewer sustained conversations because people were CONSTANTLY checking their iPhones or their SMART Watches.
Heck — a few years back, I ponied up a bunch of cash and went to ISTE and couldn’t BELIEVE how little attendees actually interacted with the people they were sitting with. At one point, I was taking a break in a seating area on a really comfortable couch. There were ten other people in the same area. None of them looked up from their devices a single time.
I see the same trends in my family life, too. Our living rooms — places where we used to gather to connect and to laugh and to enjoy — have grown increasingly quiet as people pull out their phones and sift through their streams instead of invest in each other.
That pattern has strained the relationships that I have with people in my life who pull out their phones the most often. I just don’t enjoy being around them anymore because I know they are going to turn away from me and turn towards their devices every time that we are together. Seeing their phone out makes me resent them — and, given how frequently they keep doing it, I’m not sure they even care.
Here’s what’s REALLY evil: The people who are designing social apps are TRYING to “hijack” your attention.
Need proof? Check out the details in this article on the Guardian.
Did you know that app designers are attending $1,700 seminars on how to “manipulate people into the habitual use of their products”? Does knowing that the person responsible for the next update of your app has probably studied the role that anticipation and craving and triggers play in the human mind — and are intentionally using that knowledge to develop features that take advantage of those inner needs and impulses.
And can you spot the built in features of the social apps that you use the most frequently that exploit your inner needs and impulses?
Here’s one: The “drag to refresh” feature on so many of your favorite social services is intentional. From a purely technical standpoint, you could see your new notifications immediately when you open an app, but by requiring a drag to refresh, app designers are manipulating your need for anticipation. It’s like the feeling you get when you pull a handle on a slot machine. You can’t wait to see what comes next — and because that anticipation is so strong, you are likely to KEEP dragging to refresh all day long.
Sometimes, you’ll be disappointed because you won’t have any new notifications. That will cause angst. You’ll work harder to create and to share content in those social spaces that people WILL like and share.
Other times, you’ll hit the jackpot. A post will take off and you’ll see it shared and liked over and over again. And every time that you drag to refresh, you’ll feel the rush that comes along with seeing dozens of new notifications.
Either way, you’ll keep coming back to your social service.
You’re a digital moth, y’all. And drag to refresh is the flame.
Should we blame social services for trying to turn you into a habitual user?
Of course not. They are creating a product that they need to profit from. If they didn’t think through how to best capture your attention, they wouldn’t be acting in their own interest.
But we should be aware of the fact that they ARE trying to manipulate your attention — and their goals have nothing to do with helping you to be a more complete person.
So what are the solutions?
Here are mine:
(1). You’ll never see me checking any social apps on my phone while we are together: That’s a promise I made a few years back to the people in my lives. I may pull my phone out to check the time or answer a call from my kid — but even then, I’ll tell you what I’m doing so that you know that you are more important to me than any social stream that I may be swimming in. We owe that to each other.
(2). I’m uninstalling MOST social apps from my phone: The challenge with social apps is that we use them most frequently while we are on our phones. Here’s why that’s a problem: Our phones are almost always with us.
Hanging out on the couch with your partner and/or your kids at the end of a long day? You probably have your phone with you, too. Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with relatives you haven’t seen in six months? You probably have your phone with you, too. Visiting with friends who you value at a local brewery? You probably have your phone with you, too.
So the times when you should be the MOST present are also the times when you have a device full of services that are trying to pull you away. And given that it’s difficult to resist the tricks being used to manipulate you into using those services, you are far more likely to allow your attention to be hijacked — and by default, to turn away from the people who you are physically present with.
But if there aren’t any social apps on your phone, that social interruption can’t happen. Better yet, over time you will rethink your relationship with your device. You won’t see it as a tool that feeds your need for anticipation or craving or triggers. It will be easier to ignore if it isn’t the primary source of reward and anticipation and need and craving in your life anymore.
I’ll always keep Twitter on my phone. That’s because it is a place where people reach out to me with questions about the professional work that I do. But I don’t need Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Untappd on my phone anymore. Those are purely social services to me — and in order to prioritize the social interactions that I have with the people around me, I’m going to intentionally turn away from having similar interactions with people on my my phone.
Does that mean I won’t use social services at all?
Nope. It just means that I’ll have to dig my computer out to participate in those spaces — something I’m far less likely to do when I’m on the couch with my kid or at the bar with my friends. I’ve got Twitter open right now in a tab on my browser — but I’m also sitting alone in the back of a Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery banging away at the keys on my computer. If my attention is hijacked, it isn’t being stolen from people that I care the most about.
(3). I’m going to nudge the people in my life — my peers, my relatives, my students — to take the same actions. I’m going to teach them about the manipulative design features in social services that are pulling them away from one another. I’m going to encourage them to think through the consequences of divided attention — on their own happiness, on their relationships with other people, on their ability to learn.
I’m going to ask them to think about whether or not it is ethical for companies to design products that intentionally leverage human behaviors to steal their time and attention without being explicitly clear about their intentions.
These are conversations that we need to be having. Otherwise, divided attention and intentional manipulation through app design become the new normal.
And I’m not OK with that.
Does any of this make sense to you?
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