'Fulbrighter: Net Working?'. A Digital Wellness perspective on the O.G. Social Network going Digital.
September Theme: Compulsion: the dark side of 'Engagement'
1/3 (I missed my second August one!) Pre #SmartphoneDetox.
Having worked in analytics for consumer tech products, the driving metrics are all about 'Engagement'. "How many DAU (Daily Active Users) to we have, how Engaged our Users?" In other words, "do people have a compulsion for using our product".
My brother Jeremy attempted our FirstWeekFlipPhone challenge in August. He wrote a fascinating piece about his experience: http://FlipPh.one/jeremy-medium. The first half documents a pattern that you will see commonly repeated if you check out the videosof other folks who have taken the Challenge. But in the second half, he compares the experience to his journey overcoming alcohol addiction. Let's reflect on where we see consumer tech fitting into our society's view of behavior addiciton. My thoughts:
1. Consumer tech should be seen as potentially addictive: on a spectrum from social media mobile apps (like Instagram, Snapchat etc.) down to early 2000s .net websites (like http://www.fulbright.org.uk/ when I applied).
As a heuristic, I'll port the Substance | Harm disctionion from substance addiction literature to discuss digital compulsion. As he's nearly graduating from a Medicine degree at Oxford, I was interested in my brother's opinion perspective of this. As you'll read in his piece, he writes: "Phones, pills, drugs, booze, porn, the bookies, all insidiously seep into and fill whatever empty holes that have grown inside of us over time." He makes the case that these compulsive phenomena are related enough for this to be a valid comparison. What do you think?
2a . Dependence: Those social media mobile apps are closer to traditional digital addictions like gambling & internet porn than your average website. This is practically self-evident from the phenomenal Daily Usage metrics acheived. Especially extreme cases like I've seen in my research (e.g. teenagers with 9h/day on social media mobile apps).
2b. Harm: This is much more debatable. Where do you think the average level of harm from compulsive usage of social media lies, from Filling in your Fulbright Application to Gambling your Life Savings away? Even if someone doesn't suffer from any of the usually cited ills (cyberbullying, unexpected privacy invasions etc.) is the mere time drain alone worthy of the label of 'harm'?
I think it's a good thing if people use this app more. I believe Fulbright's communication folks should set and track explicit 'engagement' goals: I'd be suprised if they aren't already.
Let's think about the ethics of apps with 'good' end goals (like Headspace), designing their apps to be compulsive.
As someone who aims to keep, and advocates where possible, a daily meditation practise, I believe that if Headspace inspires more people to meditate daily that is a good thing. But what if this is acheived through casino-style compulsion techniques - e.g. gamification, manipulative notifications etc? There must be some limitations to the lengths we let tech companies go to hack our attention.
With this is mind, if people using Fulbrighter more is a good thing, is it right for Fulbright to design for maximum engagement? Are there any tools/techniques you wouldn't want them to try on you?
Feature of the Month: Trips
The problem with social media feeds is an overload of irrelevant information. Facebook 'solved' this by abandoning the chronological feed for algorithmically generated suggestions. I'm more excited about solutions which are simple and transparent. Like the Notify People feature.
Say I want to target my post to people in LA who might actually wanna meet IRL. I can filter for 'Location' and 'Connect For' and notify a maximum of 50 folks.
Attention: sunny Californians who have said they are not interested in meeting folks: you will be spared a notification from me! Unfortunately, I am still forced to make the Post in order to notify these people, which means my Travel Brag may still clog up your News Feed (along with everyone else in the world...).
Folks who have been Notified by a Trip (preferably this exact one): how does that look on the other side?
I may use this feature to Notify folks who engage about these posts.
See you on the Flipside,
Laurence (w4rner) Warner