Within the last 10 years or so, software infiltrated almost every facet of our lives. Today, it’s with us everywhere we go. It’s in our pockets, strapped to our bodies, scanning our faces and listening to our voices.
This rapid ascent was no accident. The tech industry is obsessed with growth and market domination. Investors expect engagement metrics rocketing higher every quarter. Advertisers demand more eyeballs, more taps, more data. More is always better.
To achieve those constantly upward trends, software companies keep finding new ways to capture our dwindling time and attention, often resorting to dark patterns and aggressive tactics.
The result? People are overwhelmed, distracted and flat-out addicted to software — both at work and home. Things are so hilariously out of control, there are even phone apps that help you stop looking at phone apps.
In the design community, a small movement has been brewing around these issues, shining a light on harmful interfaces and shady business practices. It feels like an inflection point. After years of rapid change, it’s now time to pause and reflect critically on the Frankenstein’s monsters we built.
The software design features that keep you hooked
Think about the software products you use every day. They probably include all the following problematic behaviors — and you might be hooked on them more than you think.
1. Notification blasts: In the always-connected era, our days are dictated by a cacophony of buzzes, beeps and badges. Every time you’re dinged by a new email, group chat, text message or push alert, it’s an irresistible interruption that steals your focus from any meaningful thing you might have been doing.
In isolation, each little distraction seems excusable, but in the aggregate, it’s death by a thousand cuts. Every year it seems to get worse, with ever-more apps and gadgets vying for your exhausted eye.
This is a destructive pattern that wrecks our productivity, and we’ve all just accepted it as a routine part of our day.
How can we improve? For starters, turn those dings off! Then spread the peace to your friends and co-workers by changing your behavior. Don’t expect others to get back to you instantly. If you’re in charge of the tools your company uses, wean everyone off the workplace apps that encourage immediate real-time responses. Switch to products that prioritize asynchronous communication methods instead.