Week 10: Addictive Devices and Humane Technology

Many people spend much more time using technology than they should be. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve wasted your time being unproductive while using technology, you are not alone. Web designers are using principles from psychology to keep users engaged with their products. Most companies earn profits from user engagement. The longer a user spends engaging with a product, the higher the profits are for the company. This has driven companies to incorporate addictive features in their products despite the harmful effects they may have on users.

The Vortex

The Vortex (Nielsen Norman Group)

The user-behavior pattern where a single interaction leads to a string of unintended interactions is referred to as the vortex. Users waste significant amounts of time stuck in the vortex. Companies continue to include addictive features on their web products regardless of the harm it causes their users.

Negative Health Effects

The vortex can lead to technology addiction where the use of technology disrupts a user’s day-to-day life. Being sucked into the vortex is associated with negative feelings and side effects that are amplified in technology addiction.

These effects include:

  • Mental disorders
    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Bipolar disorder
    • ADD
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Dry eyes
  • Academic problems
  • Poor time management

Associated Feelings

The vortex often leaves users with several negative feelings. Some of us recognize our behavior patterns and perceive them as negative. This discourages us from interacting with the web product again. Users can feel manipulated by the product to waste their time.

Some common feelings about the vortex:

  • Disappointment
  • Resent
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Regret

Vulnerable Demographics

All who use technology are vulnerable to the vortex and addictive devices; however, some may be more vulnerable than others. Millennials and the following generations are considered digital natives as they grew up with the development of personal technology. Older generations are digital immigrants as they did not grow up in the digital world and now have to adapt to the use of personal technology in their life. Although younger generations are vulnerable to the vortex as well, digital immigrants are more susceptible to feel concerned about the vortex.

The demographics that are likely to feel negative towards the vortex:

  • Those who are digital immigrants
  • Those who are not tech savvy
  • Those who are self-reflective

Addictive Design Patterns

Harmful UI (Humane Tech Community)

As many companies offer their web services/products for free and earn their profit based on advertisements and duration of user engagement, companies are designing their technology to be addictive for users. Companies are applying psychology principles to web design patterns to encourage increased user engagement. There are a variety of common tactics used in web design that successfully lure users into the vortex.

Fear of Missing Out

The fear of missing out (or FOMO) is a common tactic used to encourage users to engage with a product before it may be too late. Users will feel compelled to interact with a web application out of the fear that if they wait or do not interact at all, they will miss something valuable, whether that be a promotional code for a sale or social news. FOMO also relates to loss aversion where users take precautions to avoid losing potential opportunities.

The fear of missing out shows up in many aspects of life causing us anxiety. Web designers take advantage of this fear and incorporate features in their design that draw on this fear. For example, most social media websites design their timelines to show recent posts, so users must engage with the product often, or they will miss out on older posts.

Infinite Content

A commonly used feature in websites or web applications is the continuous display of new content with no end. This design strategy leads to mindless scrolling through infinite content. Infinite content also includes the autoplay feature for videos. These design features create the possibility for users to engage with content forever and encourage further interactions than those intended.

Scarcity Principle

The basis of the scarcity principle is our increased desire for something when we know it is rare. Web designers introduce and market rare content to increase the demand for and engagement with that content. Time limits for content use and low quantities of content are common uses of the scarcity principle in an effort to increase user engagement.

Foot-in-the-Door Tactic

The foot-in-the-door tactic aims to earn users’ trust and approval through an initial interaction of low cost. The goal of this tactic is to kickstart user engagement and allow the other design features of the website to prolong that engagement. The foot-in-the-door tactic catches the user’s attention with the hope of keeping it for many other interactions.

Hide-the-Milk Tactic

The hide the milk tactic refers to the common layout of grocery stores where the milk is kept in the back corner of the store to force customers whose goal is to buy milk to walk past many other tempting products with the hope they will purchase some of those other items as well. The hide the milk tactic is used in web design by placing the commonly looked-for content in locations that require a few interactions to find, forcing users to pass other content in the hope they interact with it as well.

Efforts to Take Control

The concerning effects of the vortex require measures to be taken to control the vortex. Users and web designers must change their current habits to minimize the harm of the vortex.

Turn off Notifications

Notifications and emails are common entry points into the vortex. Notifications are a good example of the foot-in-the-door tactic where users check their notifications, and after entering the web application, they get distracted by other content. Turning off notifications and unsubscribing from mailing lists is a good method to prevent entering the vortex.

Set Boundaries

When using technology, it’s important to set personal boundaries and limits.

  1. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the content you aren’t looking for. 
  2. Set time limits for daily technology usage. 
  3. Keep track of screen time and time spent on each website or application.
  4. Stop engaging with harmful or negative content.

Remove Addictive Apps

Toxic Apps (PNG All)

Certain apps are extremely addictive in design and provide few to no benefits. These apps cause more harm than good. If you are concerned with the time you lose from the vortex, it would be beneficial to remove these apps and stop using them altogether. TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat are examples of these toxic, addictive apps that you should stop using.

Center for Humane Technology

CHT Affiliation HTC (Humane Tech Community)

The Center for Humane Technology is an excellent resource for combating the vortex. This organization offers toolkits to different audiences to teach them about humane technology and how to combat the addictive designs currently used. The organization is bringing light to the necessity of humane technology in the media and in court. The Center for Humane Technology offers courses to teach web designers and technologists how to create successful and humane web products. This organization is pressuring legislators and businesses to address the current addictive designs of technology to become more humane and healthy for users.

Sources

Center for Humane Technology, 2021, https://www.humanetech.com/.

“For Policymakers.” Center for Humane Technology, 2021, https://www.humanetech.com/policymakers.

“For Technologists.” Center for Humane Technology, 2021, https://www.humanetech.com/technologists.

Harley, Aurora. “Prospect Theory and Loss Aversion: How Users Make Decisions.” Nielsen Norman Group, 19 June 2016, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/prospect-theory/.

Hogan, Steve. “10 Effective FOMO Marketing Techniques to Increase Online Results.” The Daily Egg, The Daily Egg, 26 July 2021, https://www.crazyegg.com/blog/fomo-marketing/.

Moran, Kate, and Kim Salazar. “The Vortex: Why Users Feel Trapped in Their Devices.” Nielsen Norman Group, 28 Oct. 2018, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/device-vortex/.

Moran, Kate. “Millennials as Digital Natives: Myths & Realities.” Nielsen Norman Group, 3 Jan. 2016, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/millennials-digital-natives/.

Stotts, Isaak. “What Is Technology Addiction, and What Harmful Effects It May Bring?” Edited by Michael Espelin, Addiction Resource, Addiction Resource, 26 Jan. 2021, https://addictionresource.com/addiction/technology/.

“Take Control.” Center for Humane Technology, 2021, https://www.humanetech.com/take-control.

This Post Has 6 Comments

  1. Hi, Kendra! The pictures you incorporated really helped me understand the concepts of addictive technology. The tactics companies use to keep users on the page may be effective, but the effects are negative. I know I don’t have loyalty to websites or platforms that make me feel manipulated. I especially enjoyed your section with tips to take control of the vortex. We can’t change companies’ advertising tactics, but we can change how we interact with certain platforms. This article I found from Business Insider provides a more in-depth analysis of why social media apps are so addicting (because they are designed to be addictive)! One of the most commonly used tactics to keep users’ attention is the same one used in casino slot machines. The “variable ratio schedule” says that an action is rewarded at various times, but the user doesn’t know when they will be rewarded because there is no discernable pattern. On Twitter, the scrolling wheel indicates more content is loading, but users don’t know what will appear. This sort of design is manipulative and unethical, but it’s commonly employed because it keeps users on the page, interacting, and spending money. It’s time for users to have more transparency and agency on these social media platforms. Great job with this post!

  2. Hi Kendra!
    I really enjoyed reading your blog post for this week’s lesson. I liked how relatable the post was as it talked about FOMO and the mental health effects of technology. I never thought about how the actual design of a website could lead to its addictiveness. I specifically liked the hide-the-milk tactic because it related going through a grocery store with a website that makes readers click around before finding their targeted information. I found a relevant article to your topic by Medium entitled “How Tok Tok is Addictive”. This article discusses why Tik Tok is so popular (there are around 80 million active users each month). One of the reason is the infinite content that you mentioned. A user can scroll and scroll on Tik Tok and never reach an end. The article also mentions that Tik Tok has short videos that keeps us engaged for hours. In fact, one of the negative effects of Tik Tok is that it is shortening our attention span because we are becoming used to being constantly entertained. As someone who uses Tik Tok, this article was fascinating to me.
    https://medium.com/dataseries/how-tiktok-is-addictive-1e53dec10867

  3. Hi Kendra! I really liked reading this blog post because it is very straightforward and to the point. I feel like I gained a lot of information from this! What stood out to me the most was the concept of FOMO. I personally know how this feels about thinking that you might be missing out on something so you join in. For example, TikTok was something that I never had and after a while, I felt like I had to get it because I was missing out on the content that everyone else was seeing. And, now that I have it, I can see that Tiktok does the timeline thing that you mentioned (where you have to engage often because otherwise content will be gone). The article that I found related to this was: https://blog.hootsuite.com/tiktok-algorithm/ . It talks about how it chooses the videos that show up on your feed based on the things that you’ve already liked so that it keeps you interested in the content. I know that they do this but it seems a little more creepy when you think about how it’s sucking you in. Overall, it pretty much says that aside from videos, it goes by how you interact with other users and your device or account settings. So, relating back to your piece, this plays off of the FOMO by making sure that your content within your feed is something that you really won’t want to miss (and therefore, gives you FOMO). Great blog post overall!!

  4. Hi Kendra. I am very pleased with your blog post. I think you did a great job getting all the information out there and keeping it plain and simple. I was very interested in the topic of FOMO. I think that is a silent but deadly thing when it comes to social media.
    Aside from the time sensitive sales, the amount of people that learn their “news” on social media is very large and they most likely fear they will miss out on new posts or something similar. Personally, I have never been a huge victim of the infinite scroll, although I do know that most people could sit on social media for hours. Recently, since the start of COVID-19, I think that the infinite scroll has really became evident on TikTok. https://uxdesign.cc/why-the-infinite-scroll-is-so-addictive-9928367019c5 This article looks at the behavioral psychological side of the infinite scroll. The author of this article says that he doesn’t use much social media, but finds the infinite scroll on both netflix and youtube as well. He also says that likes on social media “translate into three of the most powerful reinforcers — attention, approval, and affection from other people.”

  5. Hi Kendra! While reading your blog post, I found myself agreeing with and relating to much of what you had written. The first paragraph is a great hook and keeps the audience engaged because it is so relatable. I think in this day of age, we have all had times where we definitely have wasted a few hours (or more…) using technology and being unproductive because of it. Due to the fact that most companies earn profits from user engagement, it makes complete sense why they would do nearly anything to keep the consumer on the site, scrolling and scrolling… but, when does it become unethical? Your blog gives us good answers for that. Your image for the “vortex” was extremely information because I had never heard of that before, but we should all know what it is because it affects all of us users. The organization of your post is very readable and clear, and allows for readers to grab the information they are seeking and go. I like your section detailing vulnerable demographics, as well as your image for addictive design patterns. I googled more about addictive design patterns and found this site: https://qz.com/1241558/the-psychological-design-tricks-websites-like-facebook-and-amazon-use-to-keep-you-addicted/, and think it’s worth taking a look at. It’s very informative, just like your blog post! Overall, awesome job!

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