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 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
- Bipolar disorder
- Sleeping disorders
- Eating disorders
- Dry eyes
- Academic problems
- Poor time management
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:
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When using technology, it’s important to set personal boundaries and limits.
- Don’t allow yourself to get distracted by the content you aren’t looking for.
- Set time limits for daily technology usage.
- Keep track of screen time and time spent on each website or application.
- Stop engaging with harmful or negative content.
Remove Addictive Apps
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
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.
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.
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“Take Control.” Center for Humane Technology, 2021, https://www.humanetech.com/take-control.