Apps are Not Benign 

I read a very timely article yesterday. Timely because tomorrow I begin the second phase of my latest experiment, the Less Media period.

The Less Media phase involves deleting your social media apps from your mobile devices and no screen-based entertainment for two weeks. I decided before beginning this process that I would allow Jays post-season games so long as I’m with other people, making it a social affair. Having given myself that exception, I was feeling pretty good. That is, until yesterday when I realized next weekend is the season premiere of The Walking Dead, and let’s just say there is a minor cliffhanger that will be addressed at the start of the show. So, I have one week to figure out how that fits into this process.

Now back to this article.

I was reading The Atlantic (on my iPad) and came across an article called The Binge Breaker. It features a silicon valley man whose experience working for companies that design psychologically addictive apps has inspired him to start an organization called Time Well Spent with a mission to create a sort of code of ethics aimed at software developers to encourage the creation of apps that treat people with respect and enhance the quality of the time spent with the product rather than demanding more from the user.

This article reminded me of a statement made by the creator of the More Social Less Media program. During an interview, he said “these apps are not benign”. At the time, I definitely agreed as I understood what he meant. But, reading this article really drove home that many apps (likely most) are designed to pull you in and demand more of your time. And that’s just the design of the app (like buttons, algorithms, etc).

On top of the addicting design features, research has shown there are very real psychological implications of the content posted by users. For example, FOMO, fear of missing out, is rampant as users witness friends engaged in activities and putting up photos of their life. Those photos are carefully selected and curated to tell a story of what the user wants others to see.

And then there are the news feed links posted online. A friend recently told me she deleted facebook from her phone because of the election posts inundating her news feed. And I didn’t blame her. It’s one thing to read a news site, which she does every day, but it’s another thing when your feed turns into an aggregate of every news and opinion piece along with the accompanying comments. A small curiosity of what others think can drag you into a rabbit hole and suddenly an hour has passed.

Lest I sound too harsh about social media, I do see a place for it and there are some benefits. First and foremost, I love that I can see what family and friends are up to. Second, I think social media had an important role to play in social change. I have seen some inspiring and thoughtful posts by friends that have been quite moving. I appreciate seeing thought-provoking posts and the ensuing dialogues that come from them. But, at least on my news feed, these are the exception and not the rule.

And, I know it will all still be there in 2 weeks.

My task in 2 weeks time will be to figure out how to ensure my interactions with social media (and other apps) are time well spent instead of the alternative.

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2 thoughts on “Apps are Not Benign 

  1. If you can wait to watch The Walking Dead until Tuesday the 25th, I can come to your place after my evening event and we can watch it together and catch up. SOCIAL WALKING DEAD. Plus, I’m going to be in Waterloo.

    Like

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