Have you ever deleted the facebook app on your phone and then installed it again? Have you then noticed you are being asked three times in a row, after each time saying no, to turn on notifications? Have you ever stopped for a second to think about that?
The way a user is being navigated on facebook is nothing but manipulative. The interface and experience design are created in a way that pushes you to go in the direction they want you to go (their commercial interests). If you are going through these steps without paying actual attention, you are definitely losing control over your data and your behavior.
There are so many obvious mechanisms used to steal and capture your attention on facebook. If you are not in full control of your attention, like most of us, you are already one of their victims.
They got your phone number, asking you what number people can use to reach you. Two cute little creatures having fun with phones in their hands, are sitting right above that harmlessly phrased question. The option ‘Not Now’ is hiding in almost invisibly light grey letters at the bottom of your screen.
This is design for addiction.
Everything they want you to click on is placed on an eye-catching, bright blue button. Everything they don’t want you to click on does not even look like a clickable button. Instead, it’s just small light grey letters at the least visible part of the screen. If you still manage to notice and click on them, a pop-up asks you again if you really want to skip phone number.
The next step says ‘Text anyone in your phone’, ‘Messenger will continuously upload your contacts to connect you with friends’. (How kind of Messenger to connect you with your friends, right?) An animated arrow joyously pointing to the bold OK button. So, if you didn’t want to give us your phone number, we’re gonna get at least all other numbers stored in your phone.
At the next step, they ask you to turn on notifications again. And again, that bright blue button saying ‘Turn on Notifications’ and the lonely letters at the very bottom hiding the ‘Not Now’ option. If you click on these letters, then again a pop-up window asks you if you really want to continue without notifications…
So what’s all that rush about notifications? And why do they want all the numbers you’ve stored in your phone?
You know the answers already. You know that every time you get a notification, you feel the urge to check your phone. And that this happens a lot of times during the day, which is fragmenting your attention and affecting your mood, ability to concentrate and be productive. Your phone numbers become your friend suggestions, whether it’s the plumber, your boss or an ex-boyfriend. With all psychological methods and tools available, they aim for minutes of your attention and bytes of your personal data, which can then be packaged up and sold.
Your addiction is their profit.
When I took a moment to think about this, I asked myself why this is happening. Why are we building products like this and why are we using products like this?
Designing for addiction is certainly not in line with the social responsibility we were discussing in design school when I was a student there. It is indeed the individual social responsibility that we seem to be still unable to fully comprehend as a concept. I guess most of us are not fully aware of the fact that all our actions are actually shaping the world around us.
There was a wasp in the bathroom the other day. It was crawling up the window, trying to get out. The window right next to her was slightly open. Nothing spectacular, I’ve seen that many times. Yet at that moment, I thought, why isn’t the wasp able to get out, if the exit is so close to her? Because she’s crawling on that big closed window and not leaving it, she only sees glass surface, nothing else. She doesn’t realize, that if she would fly a bit backwards, she’ll see the bigger picture. She’ll see that there is an open window right in front of her, through which she could fly out and be free again.
I couldn’t help but wonder if we, humans, are much different than that wasp.
So let’s look at our bigger picture now. Why do we face huge environmental challenges for example?
Probably, when we started building companies and products, we were focused solely on making and maximizing profit. So we invented millions of ways to create and increase needs, and hence products we could sell. We’ve got shampoos in travel size, wet tissues in pocket size and bulk packs, body lotion in trial size, gummy bears in a family pack. All of the convenience there can be, is there already.
In everyday life, we just buy what’s convenient to us and don’t think too much about bigger pictures, because we’ve got stuff to do, right? We’ve got to crawl up that window.
Yet, the bigger picture is there, whether we take a step backward to look at it or not. And it is being filled with islands of travel and trial size plastic. In a couple of years there’s going to be more plastic than fish in the sea. This is happening not only because companies produce so much plastic without caring about the consequences. It’s happening also because we all buy so much plastic without caring about the consequences.
That is just one example of many. It is obvious that we’ve gone too many wrong ways and it is important that we do not go the same wrong ways again. I want to draw attention to the individual responsibility of every single one of us. Global transformation can happen through individual transformation. Thus, it should become a very personal question for every one of us to explore, how should we proceed further? How do we want to live? What world do we want to create?
Now that computers and robots are taking up our jobs, we finally have the time and space to think about these important questions.
What is going to be your next move? What job are you going to choose or create? What company are you going to work for or build? What brands will you buy from? Which products are you going to use? Are you familiar with the politics and the effect of the companies you support on our world?
Every one of us is a role model. With every action you take or do not take, you are actively contributing to the development or regression of something.
If you have kids, younger sisters or brothers, cousins, friends, fans or lovers, you are a role model to them. In fact, you are a role model to far more people than you’d guess. Your actions matter. You influence others.
The Copenhagen Letter
One of the things that inspired me to write this article was The Copenhagen Letter. To debate and draft The Copenhagen Letter, 150 practitioners came together for 48 hours during Techfestival in 2017. They include technologists, designers, philosophers, educators, and artists. This letter mirrors their commitment, starting a conversation on the values and principles that guide technology. I would like to share with you the beginning of it here and invite you to read it all through:
We live in a world where technology is consuming society, ethics, and our core existence.
It is time to take responsibility for the world we are creating. Time to put humans before business. Time to replace the empty rhetoric of “building a better world” with a commitment to real action. It is time to organize, and to hold each other accountable.
I would like to join and contribute to that conversation on the values and principles that guide technology and business today. This is why I started this article with facebook. Facebook is one of the major phenomenons raising the important question of ‘Whose values are we following?’.
So grab back your attention and think about that question. What do you value more? Convenience or nature? Instant gratification or long-term rewards? Profit or people? Rethink everything. Find your values and base your everyday life on them.
This is a social responsibility subject concerning everyone. Please feel free to leave a comment. I am sure you have something on your mind right now and I would love to read it. If you have questions or critique, please do share them with me in a constructive and thoughtful way.