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  • I can't stop looking at my phone.

  • But I'm not alone.

  • Over 2.5 billion people have smartphones now, and a lot of them are having a hard time putting them down.

  • There's a new app that aims to curb phone addiction.

  • Addiction is money.

  • Are we a nation of smartphone addicts?

  • The problem is, our devices are designed to keep us engaged.

  • They're intentionally addicting.

  • But if you understand the tricks that grab your attention, you can learn to have a healthier relationship with your phone.

  • I think we're living inside of two billion Truman Shows.

  • Where, you know, Truman Show, you wake up and everything is sort of coordinated just for you.

  • And you really don't even realize it, but it's coordinating just to entertain you, or just to engage you.

  • That's Tristan Harris, he worked as Google's design ethicist.

  • And now he runs a nonprofit initiative called Time Well Spent, advocating for awareness of how tech companies profit off of users' attention.

  • It's not designed to help us, it's just designed to keep us hooked.

  • So I handed him my phone and asked him how he'd fix it.

  • It starts with turning off all notifications, except for when a real human is trying to reach you.

  • When you get a call, a text, or a message, it's usually because another person wants to communicate with you.

  • But a lot of today's apps simulate the feeling of that kind of social interaction, to get you to spend more time on their platform.

  • If Facebook sends you a push notification that a friend is interested in an event near you, they're essentially acting like a puppet master, leveraging your desire for social connections so that you use the app more.

  • But notifications didn't always work like this.

  • When push notifications were first introduced for email on Blackberries in 2003, they were actually seen as a way for you to check your phone less.

  • You could easily see emails as they came in, so you didn't have to repeatedly open your phone to refresh an inbox.

  • But today you can get notifications from any app on your phone.

  • So, every time you check it, you get this grab bag of notifications that can make you feel a broad variety of emotions.

  • If it wasn't for random, if it was predictably bad or predictably good, then you would not get addicted.

  • The predictability would take out the addictiveness.

  • That's the same logic behind slot machines.

  • And, it's effective.

  • Slot machines make more money in the US than baseball, movies, and theme parks combined.

  • And they become addicting about 3-4 times faster than other kinds of gambling.

  • Some apps even replicate the process of pulling a slot machine lever with the "pull to refresh" feature.

  • That's a conscious design choice.

  • Those apps are usually capable of continuously updating content, but the pull action provides an addicting illusion of control over that process.

  • In the future, we might see healthier ways of delivering notifications.

  • Research shows that bundling notifications, where phones deliver a batch of updates at set times, reduces user stress.

  • Then, you have to grayscale your screen.

  • The easiest way to attract your eye's attention on a screen is through color.

  • Human eyes are sensitive to warm colors.

  • In eye-tracking tests like this one, they gravitate particularly to bright red.

  • That's why so many apps have redesigned their icons to be brighter, bolder, and warmer over the years.

  • It's also why notification bubbles are red.

  • A little icon like this, or this, doesn't have the same impact on your attention as this.

  • But you can neutralize that distracting effect by selecting a greyscale color filter in your phone's accessibility settings.

  • When you make everything black and white, your brain isn't tricked into thinking that this is any more important to you than this.

  • I mean, there's a reason why slot machines are bright and color and flashing lights and ding ding ding ding ding.

  • They have the sensory input too, right.

  • And so, just noticing that if I take out the color, it changes some of the addictiveness.

  • Finally, restrict your home screen to everyday tools.

  • Make sure that your home screen, when you unlock it, doesn't have anything except for the in-the-moment tools that help you live your life.

  • I have Lyft, to get somewhere when I need to get somewhere, Maps, Calendar.

  • None of these are apps that I can fall into and then get sucked down some bottomless vortex of stuff.

  • If you're not sure what counts as a bottomless vortex of stuff, it helps to filter out apps that use infinite scrolling.

  • Unlike pagination, where users have to click to load new content on another page, infinite scrolling continuously loads new material so there's no built-in endpoint.

  • Video autoplay works in a similar way.

  • These interfaces create a frictionless experience, but they also reduce a user's sense of control and make it harder to stop.

  • Research shows that people rely on visual cues more than internal cues to stop consuming something.

  • In a 2005 study, individuals who ate soup out of a self-refilling bowl, ate 73% more than those who ate out of a normal bowl filled up by servers.

  • But those who ate from the self-refilling bowl, didn't feel any more satisfied.

  • So, a visual cue, like an endpoint, is better at telling you the right time to stop than your own sense of satisfaction.

  • And because so many apps don't have an endpoint, you have to build your home screen around the eventuality of distraction.

  • We check our phones a lot.

  • Most of us drastically underestimate how often we do so.

  • But technology might not always look this way.

  • There are ideas for alternative interfaces that give you functional choices and are more transparent about how much time you'll lose with one action, versus another.

  • But it's a really deep philosophical question: what is genuinely worth your attention?

  • On an interruptive basis?

  • Do people even know how to answer that question?

  • It's a really hard question, it's not something we think about.

  • But, for now, it's a question that everybody needs to start asking.

  • Thank you so much for watching, this has been episode 1 of By Design, this is gonna be a new series looking at different topics in design, in technology, looking at how human decisions on one end of creating something affect people on the other end.

I can't stop looking at my phone.

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B1 US Vox apps ding ding slot home screen screen

It’s not you. Phones are designed to be addicting.

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    Samuel posted on 2019/07/30
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