Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Addictive Effects Of Consumer Interfaces And Technology

By far the most impressive conversation/panel discussion at this year's Wisdom 2.0 conference was the Saturday February 28th break out session "How Can Technology Serve and Support Humanity" with Sherry Turkle (@STurkle), Tristan Harris (@tristanharris) and Justin Rosenstein (@rosenstein).

In this session, rather than just discuss the need for mindfulness and meditation which I feel the rest of the conference continues to support and hammers home quite effectively, this session focused on how  either corporations or consumers could take action to demand healthier, less addictive interfaces.

  • Problem: Consumers are more and more addicted to their digital technology devices and interfaces causing an increase in the inability to focus, higher stress levels and lower quality of life (for a more poetic explanation please watch this beautifully produced video by media theorist, Douglas Rushkoff's, Present Shock
  • Why: The attention economy metrics of success 
  • Potential Solutions: Ethical design by corporations and product designers/developers or political consumer action 
Justin Rosenstein, framed the "addiction" problem by outlining the basic success metric in today's attention economy…whether it be games or meditation app everyone is try to get users to "habitually" use their products.

Tristan Harris, representing silicon valley's design community, outlined the leading design books that all product developers must read to ensure that users stay "hooked" to their products. He framed it as the "race to the bottom of the brain stem… to manipulate and hijack brains"

Harris's proposed solution was a call for like minded designers to take responsibility through ethical design or ethical UX…who together would create design methodologies that protect the human psyche, design differently and design for choice. See more here at Design For Time Well Spent

Sherry Turkle, came at the problem from an entirely unexpected and delightful angle. She described the situation as vulnerable consumers being exploited through the affordances of technology. Technology offers us quite a bit, but the trade off is this "addiction" state we currently find ourselves in.

Turkle's call to action was for a politicized consumer movement, similar to those that evolved during the fight against obesity, climate change or most recently for Net Neutrality.

Turkle also described a recent study by her colleague at MIT, Natasha Schull, author of Addiction By Design, Schull's cultural anthropology study on slot machine gambling in Las Vegas. Shull, like Harris also advocates building choice into interfaces which she describes in a recent interview as how "Cass Sunstein would put it, choice architecture -- in other words, that choices always unfold in context."

My reaction to this variety of solutions was a need to map it out.

Historically, at this Wisdom 2.0 Conference, the emphasis has been on encouraging personal responsibility and building emotional intelligence as a way to cope with the hyper-connected, ever faster paced digital world we live in. But I have found over the course of a months time, since the conference has passed,  that Turkle's words have resonated deep within me, and ignited a strong desire to participate in a consumer political movement that raises awareness and demands change.

Course correction can occur when strong consumer demands for change are met by smart producers, who hear and embrace the needs of their aware and educated target consumers.