Technology is changing our behaviour.
The first generation of ‘digital natives’, those who have never known anything else but the internet and apps are growing up. Their experience of the the world has been through a digital lens, the internet is part of who they are. And it’s not just that generation, as technology is becoming ever more pervasive and integrated into our daily lives it is changing all of us who are who are in constant contact with it.
Neuroplasticity tells us, that learned repeated behaviour leads to reprogramming of neural connections. Our constant immersion in technology is not only changing the structure of our brains also our corresponding behaviour. And not all of those changes are for the good. What aspects of our behaviour is technology impacting?
- Our attention: How we can no longer go for more than 30 seconds without checking our mobile phones or responding to a notification. We are constantly exposed to a barrage of messages and notifications these days as different apps compete for our attention. This has made us somewhat like lab rats hooked on that little dopamine rush that checking those messages give us. The result? Distraction and divided attention, making it harder and harder for us to be able to focus on any one thing for a sustained period of time.
- Our feelings: How Facebook is making us feel sad. You just have to Google “Facebook and emotions” and words like “sad, lonely, jealous” spring up. Research from Stanford (the Anti-social Network) talks about how Facebook encourages us to show an ‘airbrushed’ version of our lives, and post only the good bits. This results in making us overestimate the happiness of others and makes us feel unhappy and wanting in our own lot.
- Our commitment: How companies like Snapchat are using psychological tricks to encourage users to spend more time on their platform. Tristan Harris in his TED talk explains how the nefarious act of Snapchat ‘streaks’ works. Having a ‘streak’ with a friend means you need to communicate with them every day and build up this continuous communication or ‘streak’. If you don’t post a streak to your friend every day this means you break the streak and will be in the bad books with that friend. This trick plays on the human need to be consistent and not let others down. And the result? Millions of kids are locked into meaningless communications with others every day and find it difficult to extract themselves from this situation.
- Our freewill: How games likes Sims make it easy for kids to want to spend money on them. These Fremium type business models depend on players getting hooked early on in the game. The game makes everything easily available at the beginning and allow players to quickly and easily build up their family. However, as players progress through the game and level up, everything slows down and it gets harder to build up the family’s world. That is, unless you pay for it. This may be the way for the game to sell its services but the problem is that that this game is primarily targeted at kids. Young people who may not have great willpower and who, if they have access to in-app purchases, can easily end up in trouble and spending lots of money online.
- Our relationships. How apps like Tinder are changing how we experience love. Online dating has exploded in the last 10 years and has been successful for many people. However, apps like Tinder are not always good news. A damning article by Vanity Fair last year outlined some of the pitfalls of the giant dating app. It spoke about how Tinder is making it easy for some people to behave badly and how more worryingly, it is having a negative impact on people’s self worth. As the app encourages its users to swipe through a series of photos in search for the ‘hottest’ pictures and disregard anything else about that user. Focusing on looks alone makes it more difficult to find a more lasting meaningful relationship.
And the important thing to consider for us UX’ers is that we are creating these experiences. Now more than ever, we have the data, tools and knowledge at our disposal to create experiences that mould and influence the behaviour of the people who engage with them.
While this is obviously an exciting juncture to be at with lots of opportunity for us to harness the advantages of technology for good, it is our responsibility to be mindful of how technology can have a negative impact our users. Our first rule of UX should be: Do no harm.
- Tristan Harris TED talk: How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every
- Vanity Fair: Tinder and the dawn of the dating Apocalypse
- Pamela Pavliscak TED talk: How to live happily in the Digital Age