New US bill wants to tackle the addictive UI of the tech industry

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Scrolling Internet pages and auto-playing the next video have become a ubiquitous part of the internet. You almost can’t picture using specific sites without those features. Features though, which could eventually see themselves banned in a new proposal from a US senator, who is looking to target some of the addictive design patterns of the US Tech industry (as reported by The Verge).

Called the Social Media Addiction Reduction Technology Act, or SMART Act, it looks to ban these features that work to keep users on platforms longer, along with others that incentivise the continued use of these products. If approved, the Federal Trade Commission and Health and Human Services could create similar rules that would expire after three years unless Congress codified them into law.

Big tech has embraced a business model of addiction. Too much of the ‘innovation’ in this space is designed not to create better products, but to capture more attention by using psychological tricks that make it difficult to look away.

According to Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, there is some logic to this bizarre approach:

If I take the bottom out of this glass and I keep refilling the water or the wine, you won’t know when to stop drinking. That’s what happens with infinitely scrolling feeds.

While there is no doubt that there is a lot of addictive design patterns prevalent in social media that do keep people hooked onto the sites, I’m not sure if legislating the design of sites is the correct approach as innovative designers will always find a new way of keeping people using their sites and products for longer. Rather than stifling innovation, time can be better spent on helping people deal with their internet addictions or providing tools that better monitor their usage patterns and incentivise better usage of them instead, like Apple’s various tools which give feedback on usage patterns to its users.  

Still, it does speak a lot about societies addiction to different internet and social media sites and over the coming years, we are likely to see many different attempts to try and break the addiction people have with the internet and technology in general. Go play outside people.

Last Updated: August 6, 2019

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