Smartphone addiction and tech addiction in general are very serious issues these days, but one former Googler by the name of Tristan Harris crafted a warning all the way back in 2013 that harped on some of the psychological flaws in humans that modern tech takes advantage of to keep us glued to our screens. With his warning now coming to light, it has become exceedingly clear that it went largely unheeded, as the psychological exploits he warned against are seen very commonly in the modern mobile app sphere. Some companies, including Google and Facebook, have been taking small steps lately to ward off smartphone addiction and curb users' screen time, but Harris' guidelines were clearly not followed in most apps.
The first flaw that he warned about was "bad forecasting", wherein an app or notification gives a user a signal that indicates a quick dip into the app, but has the potential to eat up time and energy. An app giving a notification that you've received a message or been tagged in a photo is one example, wherein checking out the notification will give you a clear shot to head into the main part of the app and lose a chunk of time. He also warned of "intermittent variable rewards", a sensation not unlike gambling that keeps users looking for a fresh hit of content. Loss aversion, commonly known as fear of missing out, was also on the list, and he suggested that apps could help curb this by making users confident that they can disengage without having to worry about missing anything important or good. He also spoke about humans' tendency to experience undue stress and go into altered states of mind, citing the fight or flight response that some experience when checking email as an example. His final warning was a controversial one that runs counter to today's smart devices' design philosophies when it comes to user interfaces, and that's friction. According to Harris, taking the friction out of an addictive action can take away a user's chance to stop and assess the value of what they're about to do, potentially leading to mindless disengagement from surroundings.
All of the warnings issued by Harris can be seen in modern mobile app design in some form or another, and many tech firms seem complacent in that reality. Those who do take a stand risk losing users to easier, more addictive fare, which means that the largest of the large will have to lead by example in order for Harris' warnings to be taken to heart in the industry.