Tips for dealing with our unhealthy smartphone addiction?

Smartphones and shadows.

Originally I wanted to write a massive blog connecting the last blog about Thintelligenece, Tristan harris‘ essay reply, what I picked out of the quantified self, my thoughts following visiting Tokyo, Mark Manson’s smartphones are the new cigarettes and reading Alone together.

I found this from dating site review ages ago and it seems apt…

“The problem doesn’t lie with dating apps per se – technology in general is changing how we behave and interact. People are spending more time updating and commenting on their social media accounts than they are having actual conversations or meeting up with people IRL. Take a look at any bar or restaurant, and inevitably you see a group of people at a table, and none of them are talking to each other – they are staring at their phones.”

Theres a common theme that maybe our use of smartphones might not be all its cracked up to be? However I don’t really need to tell you this right? The amount of times I have walked into a lift in the last week, looked around to see glowing faces and no eye contact at all is quite scary as purely a thought experiment. I’m currently at about 90% looking at screens – if you were wondering.

Its quite easy to be slightly concerned, but I’m wondering why my phone usage pick up during the first day of the Quantified Self 2017 conference in comparison? Could there be something in the way I use my phone?

Quantified Self 2017
People put up their hands for how long they were on their phones during the conference

Not only this Aaron Parecki gave a talk about choices when choosing quantified self equipment or packages (as Justin said being things which are a mix of hardware, software and service). There seems to be some tips emerging between the 3 different sources.

So I thought I’d share them together.

smartphones looks

    • Lower the brightness, use some-kind of twilight mode or turn your screen to greyscale.
      As Tristan Harris says apps and operating systems are made to keep you looking and interacting for longer. They have this down to a science now. Theres also tons of research indicating that the blue light from LCD screens messes with your sleep routine, heck I swear by redshift and twilight. The greyscale is interesting too.
    • Turn off all sound and light alerts (vibrate will do)
      I’m totally shocked when I hear someones ring tone to be honest, I mean really? I turned off all notification lights from day one, so surprised when I see a flashing or strobing light on other peoples phones.
    • Turn off that stupid mode when it wakes up your phone screen to show you notifications.
      I always thought it was a iphone thing but seen it on Androids too. I honestly think so stupid as its battery zapping and ever so distracting. This also totally kills the doze mode on Android! Plus think about it, it lasts about 5 secs and if someone sends you a detailed message, you only get half the message forcing you to pick up the phone.

My Shadow

      • Put different apps on another phone, tablet device or smartwatch.
        My tablet is wifi only and has a very different set of apps and use. I also limit what kind of alerts I get on my pebble smartwatch, which also means I don’t need to look at my phone for the time. I had no idea the ipad doesn’t include a calculator? Each device is different and has a different purpose, there are apps which I wouldn’t dare put on my phone but I’d consider it for my tablet.
      • Don’t feel guilty for not picking up the phone!
        The guilt people put themselves under is out of control, no one will notice if you reply 5, 15, 30, 60mins later. You don’t need to reply straight away, unless you are expecting something or trying to get hold of someone.

    It Begins with Bonjour

    • Have some self-control
      Don’t use your phone as a (anti) social crutch; barrier between the physical world and you. I get the loneliness is a difficult and maybe social settings make you feel uncomfortable? But force yourself to be present in the moment, you might be missing an opportunity.
    • Don’t put your phone on the table
      I get it, Doze only works when your phone is flat and left alone for a while but since Android N it now works in your pocket. I use to do this all the time to save battery, at the end of a long conversation it would actually be stone cold! If you must, keep your screen facing down and don’t get tempted to unlock it (You should of course not have that stupid wake the screen up mode too!).
      smartphone
    • Think about your time as important
      It sounds silly when you think about it but our attention is finite and should be treated as important. When thinking about ourselves, we tend to put ourselves down, saying I’m no one special but to be frank we are important! Everyone of us are capable of such incredible things but not if we are all looking at our phones.
    • Think about what you are doing with your phone
      Are you simply filling time or doing something constructive with your time? No judgment about what you class as constructive but adding a like to a friends profile picture can wait. I recently tried to get a friend to do more constructive things with his phone but the continuous (endless/bottomless) stream of social notifications was too great it seems.
    • Stop with the selfies!
      Ok this is just my thing but if you can’t turn to a stranger and ask to take a picture, then something is seriously wrong! Live a little maybe that conversation might turn into something you wasn’t expected. Think about those Snapchat filters, encouraging you to act a certain way... Its not subtle but people get caught up in it and don’t think, and this is what the app maker wants from you. I’ll remind you of the fruit machine flow state which Natasha Dow Schüll, talks about in her book addicted by design.
      Smartphone
    • Stop with phone one upmanship
      I have seen too many times when someone shows something, then someone else pulls out their phone in response. Before long everyone has their phone out looking to out do each other. Theres even silence while everyone looks and pops up for social proof every once in a while.
  • Theres many more
  • …but that will do for now. If you can think of more, add a comment and I’ll likely do a updated blog with more soon.

Thintelligence: Why we don’t move to decentralised systems?

Caught with the cookie jar

I recently posted on Mastodon after attending the doteveryone event in Manchester.

Interesting little rant at the doteveryone event.
Basically pointing to our ultimate comfort with propriety & opinionated software & services when complaining about things like Mastodon, Wire, Signal, etc.

All lack the engaged user base to break through because decentralised/federated systems are “just” too hard?

I say balls!

Maybe actually we’re too lazy and rubbish judging long term benefits in the face of short term rewards? Theres a whole industry feeding our short term highs

Our laziness is chronic and I half understand it but then I’m always reminded of the massive industry setup to encourage us to stay safe in their roach motels.

The term which comes to mind is… Thintelligenece?

The state of mind where a person does something without considering the consequences. The idea may seem brilliant at first, but the after-affects usually prove to be deadly. This phrase was invented by Michael Crichton in his book Jurassic Park (the character Malcolm says it)

I’m not saying installing whatsapp, facebook, etc are necessarily deadly but the lack of consideration of the consequences does make me and others worried. Its the short term gain over long term impact? (more cake anyone?)

Something to think about as you write something for the Mozilla Festival this year!

BBC Newsnight on Cambridge Analytica

Was Britain’s EU referendum hijacked by the American alt-right using a technique known as psychographics? Gabriel Gatehouse from BBC Newsnight reports on the data analytics firm Cambridge Analytica.

I’ve said so much stuff about this already but frankly “Overzealous PR?” is total laughable crap! I actually laughed quite a lot when I heard this. Its very clear they were involved (to one degree or not) and like a kid with their finger in the cookie jar, they got caught.

Celebrating, I didn’t reproduce day

Bill Mahar hits the nail on the head with “I Didn’t Reproduce Day.” Its a  excellent observation of the state of our society, where people are pressured into having children because “you don’t have children?

I know Bill is being deliberately controversial and I don’t really think we need a I didn’t reproduce day but he’s right about this pressure from our society and its not really on…

This will instantly wind up a lot of people, especially those with children. It may feel like an attack on you but its not. Its about giving people the space and freedom to make their own decisions not feel guilt tripping them into something which others think is correct. Similar messages are applied to couples which are not married.

Welcomed back to the Quantified Self

Quantified Self 2017

Everytime I go to the Quantified Self conference (2013 & 2014), I walk away with something more than I was expecting. Its been 3 years since I was last at the conference and a lot has happened in that tme. The Quantified Self has shifted from the heydays of super stardom on the front of wired magazine; to everywhere and nowhere. By nowhere, I mean its not really talked about because its actually everywhere. The amount of people with some kind of app or device which they are actively tracking something is so huge. This also raises the question of Self-Tracking vs. Self-Surveillance (which Jana Beck actually covered in her breakout session); are most people self-tracking or is some other entity surveying them? There’s also a debate about how enabling they really are for most people who received a Fitbit for a present.

Garry Wolf raised the topic of what is the quantified self at the start of the first day in the opening talk. Lots of people answered the question from their point of view and it was good to hear the diversity of answers and people building on the previous one.

When back with Gary, he concluded the conversation with a final thought on the subject…

“Everyday science through examination of yourself”

Gary also noted it’s been 10 years since the first conference and threw out 10 interesting points over the last 10 years, plenty to think about; including a Michael Polanyi quote and a request for people to take part in a live experiment around smartphone use. The results were revealed at the end of the day and were quite a shock. I personally only looked at my phone twice over the first day. But as I explained I have my tablet and laptop. It was interesting to hear I wasn’t the only one to have different apps on their different devices. This lead nicely into a group discussion about smartphone use.

Its so easy to feel the fear of missing out (FOMO) at the Quantified Self conference, as there is on average 8-9 things happening in parallel. You really have to pick and if its not for you, move on. Its very much the BarCamp rule of two feet.

Like the rule of two feet, here’s my highlights of the conference.

Session 1: Show & Tells

Quantified Self 2017

I missed the first one by Jana Beck on tracking crying but I got in to see Aaron Parecki kicked off the ignite talks; he later did a session which I’ll dig into the details of with data portability and data ethics in mind. The big things for me was the micropub plugs. I’m going to simplify micropub by saying its like ifttt but open, decentralised and a W3C standard supported by the indieweb community. That was the point when I thought I need to check this out in detail because it reminded me of the media pipeline thoughts I had a long long time ago.

Ahnjili ZhuParris gave a ignite talk which was all about her quantifying her psychedelic experiences. Yes you heard right…She quantified her drugs use to improve her trips! Truly shows how diverse the things track can be. It was captivating to say the least.

Session 2: Self-Tracking vs. Self-Surveillance

This breakout session run by Jana Beck and was full of interesting points. Of course Hasan Elahi was brought up and the group tried to understand the difference between tracking & surveillance. It seemed to boil down to judgment from which entity? Both have issues including the illusion of perfection which can drive self-tracking; and of course the issues of external surveillance are very well know.

This is where I first met the open university who are working on a project called monetize.me. I also bumped into Kley Reynolds who I’ve been thinking about since 2013, when I heard him talk about using QS data to create a fingerprint for data & identity.

Session 3: Connecting Self-Tracking Data to Home Assistants

In this session I helped a out with another person as the speaker couldn’t make it due to flight problems. Myself and Jacqueline took over the session hoping someone would come with some more experience in using home assistants to track something. I had some experience with Amazon Alexia & Google Home but not for quantified/tracking. I could see how it might be possible with something like ifttt but not directly.

We didn’t have to wait long till some knowledgeable people stepped in and a discussion kicked off. I kept going back to the fact these devices are in group/family spaces. Somewhere along the line, Jacqueline & me started thinking about how you could use these devices to bring together a family and nudge them to eat more healthy through dinner time checkins. I feel theres a unpolished gem somewhere there.

Session 4: Using Your Data to Influence Your Environment

Quantified Self 2017

I ran this session and I knew with a brief skim through object media and perceptive media, Questions and thoughts would come from a very data literate crowd. I wasn’t wrong.

Lost of thoughts about the role of public in a media landscape which can be changed and modified. There was a lot of discussion about why and the true benefits of using personal data in storytelling. In retrospect I should have shown parts of my interview back in 2013: We research how personal data and storytelling can be combined.

Points were made about customization vs personalization; people felt that was a big difference and could be the cause for some backlash. There was also a feeling that they would want to know how much things are customized and why if interested. Also there was a sense negotiation was a key aspect in this all, something we are exploring with the Databox project. There was a sense you could try it with little data shared then decide to ramp it up later to see what difference it made to what you saw first time.

A interesting fact was mentioned that fruit machines can be skinned in as quick as 20seconds. This was mentioned when talking about customization of the reality around you. Which led to Minority Report discussions.

It was a positive discussion but lots of worries about how to tell stories with enough richness/depth to work with the diversity of personal data that may be shared or used.

End of the first day

There was lots of discussions following the smartphone experiment at the start of the day. A small list of good ways to stop being distracted by your smartphone started to emerge.

I used Quality Time and as said previously clocked up 2 checks and only 20secs of actual screen time. Some people ran into multiple hours.

Quantified Self 2017

This crossed with Aaron’s list deserves a blog of its own really… (coming soon – honestly!)

More than optimization (day 2)

Quantified Self 2017

The over optimization intrigued me on paper as there is always a dark sense of over quantification in the hope of perfection? I hadn’t really thought how it could be used in team sports to create personalize routines for each rugby team member instead of applying a routine to the team broad brush; it makes perfect sense right?

Session 5: Making money from your own data with Monetize.me

After meeting Monetize.me in the second session, I went along to a dedicated session. I think the plan for the session went slightly out the window but it was fruitful and it all came down to data negotiation. I did talk about the databox project and wondered how they hadn’t come across each other?

There was a lot of questions about how much is data actually worth? I pointed at Jennifer Moore and her position as the first personal limited company. I also mentioned how fresh/realtime is the data.

Of course this all lead to questions asking if you could treat all data the same? What about data discrimination and finally what are the business models which can emerge and what needs to change for it to be?

I also learned about Bitwalking which generates a crypto-currancy from the amount you walk.

Session 6: How to plan for data access with choosing a QS tool

Quantified Self 2017

I mentioned Aaron Parecki’s ignite talk earlier, and there was plenty more depth in his workshop. Aaron started out explaining the process he’s gone through with quantifying himself. He talked about the pain of data portability through broken devices and closed services. This all lead him to a checklist he uses.

  • How much effort is required?
  • How does it Sync?
  • What is the sustainability of the service/product?
  • What is the data portability options?
  • Whats the competition like?

Each point had a bunch of issues under them for example in how does it sync; breaks down to questions about centralized servers vs direct sync to a local computer/device. Sustainability was focused on business models of the likes of Apple, Google, Fitbit, Jawbone, etc. All very different and it all depends on the user which once they are comfortable they are with it (if everything is made transparent, and the user can make a real informed choice!). I talked about Gadgetbridge in connection with effort and syncing.

Hopefully Aaron will make his slides public (but this needs some more thought!)

Session 7: Self-Tracking for the Good of the World

With my public service hat on, I went along to Justin’s session. We explored some of the issues with the internet and I did say, we should be looking at the work Mozilla are doing around the internet health report, but we focused on other things.

One of those things was the packages; packages being things which are a mix of hardware, software and service. This was intriguing to me and got me thinking about opinionated software.

We talked about the public benefit of quantified health but there was a large conversation about how you compare data when the different black box devices can’t agree on a step actually is. This was when someone suggested some governance and that the Quantified Self site has a large number of devices/services/packages reviewed. Maybe there should be some kind of ranking system and clear indicator of different aspects of that thing (you could use Aaron Parecki’s indicators) . You can imagine the QS community making it clear what devices are to be avoided and best practices.

I tweeted Gary to say its time the Quantified Self got political.

Session 8: Quantified Self meetups

I drifted around a few sessions but settled on a session about the meetups, as the Manchester Quantified Self meetup stalled a little while ago. Last time I was at the conference I was inspired to setup a QS meetup. I’m still inspired to run the meetup but it was great to hear from those new and old to the meetups.

Sharing stories and hearing from Steven who is well known in Quantified Self circles was very useful. There was lots of questions about the choice of the format, use of meetup, etc. Steven pretty much said the Quantified Self will support any changes the organizers make. That would include format, event, description, etc changes.

Like Gary said at the start of the first day, things are always changing and they are flexible to these.

With this in mind, I have kicked off another Manchester Quantified Self with a different format.

The wrap ups

Quantified Self 2017

The last keynote talks were fascinating and centered around circular/cyclical time. The picture of the complexity of patterns summed up so much of it.

The people

The best thing about Quantified Self conference is the people, they are so amazing. No edge, just open and all so geeky. No matter where we were it was great conversations which spilled out from the many sessions I didn’t get a chance to attend.

Quantified Self 2017

On the first evening we started at the Casa balcony bar then had dinner at the Café-restaurant De Ysbreeker and ended up Canvas again. Love that place and its so weird seeing it become this incredible place now from the squat it use to be.

On the second night, we headed out in search of cocktails (theres a story behind this, which I never actually posted till now). We almost ended up at Prik and Blue boy which will make 3 people laugh. This time we ended up in a Amsterdam festival and then a speakeasy place called Door 74. Being a geeky quantifiers, we decided to hack friendship by trying the 36 questions in a group.

We didn’t get far, but I actually think it worked…

Quantified Self 2017

Another great time at the Quantified Self… So much learned so much to think and act on. If I have anything to do with it, I’ll be back next year for sure. Massive thanks to everyone who I bumped into over the 2 full days. It was emotional, fun and exciting all at the same time. Special thanks to the newbies who I spent a lot of time with.

Quantified Self 2017

Shenanigans in Amsterdam

I tweeted this because this will never be forgotten by those involved, a night of Shenanigans

dsc_0237
Simon suggests burgers for dinner at Burger Zaken, Amsterdam. The Wagu burger wasn’t too bad at all.

I was hunting for cocktails and google maps suggests going to a place called Prik. Where we finally connect the dots realising its actually a gay bar (seems so obvious now, but alas I didn’t connect undressed with undressing so go figure). Just at the point when we seen a heavily pregnant cat order drinks at the bar (I kid you not) and join it with a cocktail of our own.

dsc_0243

Moving onwards we tried Tales & Spirits, but it was fully booked and they suggest a new place which just opened that evening. Blue Boy. It use to be a gay cinema, we were told but from that night its a trendy restaurant with very good cocktails. So we went with the recommendation. The night seemed to be full of animals from pregnant cats in Prik to the massive stone dog watching over us while we drank.

dsc_0247
It was Jasmine who first went to the toilet and came back to the table saying it was a little weird having unisex toilets. I said that’s just Amsterdam. Then when I went to the toilet, I followed the corridor to the toilets.

Then I made the mistake of using the wrong sexes toilets as the place was so new they forgot to add signs to the doors. For me it wasn’t till the woman also washing her hands asked if she was wrong? I looked confused and she repeated it; getting what she was talking about. I said I think its communal toilets no biggie. But it wasn’t till I left and had the shock from another woman entering, that I realised I was actually wrong. Her partner walked out another door (also with no sign) and I saw the urinals. Embarrassing yes but everybody laughed it off – thankfully!

Back to Niewmarkt and Cafe Cuba for one more before realising the last metro was only 10mins time. Once back at the hotel, I decided to make the most of that super warm night in mid September by doing a mix on the pacemaker outside the hotel entrance.

The inner child in us all

The inner child in us all

Everytime I go to the Quantified Self Conference, I take away so much more than just knowledge. I will write up what I saw later

But we were in a bar after the conference and people got talking. The conversation turned to the 36 questions (yes those ones) and the answers were open, frank & refreshingly honest (what else would you expect from quantified selfers?). Later in the night, we all started digging into relationships at a much deeper level and the question was asked how people deal with arguements in relationships?

I mentioned the fact I like to buy hour glasses for wedding gifts, because from previous relationships; sometimes you just need a time out for a short while. Maybe enough to stop think, drop the ego, etc.

That was when someone (can’t rememeber her name) pointed me at the Burning Man exhibit above. My mind was blown. Its breathtaking and sums up so much about life and relationships. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since, to be honest.

Alexander Milov's Burning Man 2015 scupture

I can’t quite explain the connection but when I saw it, it made me think about the Watchmen scene with the Nuclear Kiss. I’d say something about revealing the true self in a moment of intimacy or something?

Atomic Kiss from Watchmen movie

My first LED diabolo in darkness test

Since the Firejam 2 weeks ago, I’ve been getting more into the diabolo with lights or even fire thing. Today I hit the garden to try out the LED kit on my old diabolo. The results are not bad, but it’s not quite what I was after. I’d like to see more blur with the diabolo moves really but I guess I can do this in post if I like.

Added some music and uploaded to youtube. Of course Youtube doesn’t like the music and theres a flickr version too incase youtube removes it from different regions.

I shot the whole thing on my Nikon D3200 using the standard kit lens, manual settings and gorillapod. Next time I’ll mess with the settings and try it during dusk, because then at least you can see what I’m up to and I can see what the heck I’m actually doing!

Fun times ahead!

Especially as I’m starting to crack the Vertex!

Decentralization, the people, power, money and the future of the internet

Mozfest 2016

I made reference to the decentralised web multiples times in the past but recently I posted a blog about it. I didnt want to say too much because I knew the Mozilla Festival was due to announce the call for participation.

This year things have changed quite a bit; this year its based around the Mozilla Internet health report.

I’m co-wrangling the decentralization space (note the Z not S, I tried but failed…), and of course I urge you all to check out the space narrative below.

the future is here
The year is 2027: Who owns the Internet?

In the dystopian version of 2027, the Internet is owned by a powerful few. Big tech corporations, select media companies and closed governments control the content on the Internet, the data that flows across the Internet and how people connect to the Internet. This dystopian future is closer than you may think.

On the flip side, what is the utopian version of the Internet in 2027? What future do we want to build? Where do emerging technologies like AI, mesh networking and Blockchain fit in? How do we ensure people are the most important part of the Internet?

Join us at Mozfest as we look into the future. Dystopian, utopian or somewhere in between—let’s explore the Internet of 2027.

Exciting eh? but you maybe thinking, well this doesn’t sound like something I’d be interested in applying for?

Think again… its likely that there is something you haven’t considered which is perfectly fitting for example…

  • Power (political or system) distribution
  • Devolution
  • P2P technology like WebRTC, Torrent, etc
  • IndieWeb
  • Sharing economics
  • Crowd funding
  • Democratizing power
  • Open data and apis
  • Robustness & Sustainability
  • Net neutrality
  • Emergence
  • Open alternatives
  • Networks of trust
  • Mesh networking
  • The co-operative movement
  • Networked intelligence
  • Federated systems

So what you waiting for?

Add your proposal to the already growing list of proposals.

See you Mozilla Festival 2017

Wavebox for productivity wins

Wavebox intro

I was using Wmail for a while since I got a little fed up with using Gmail in Chrome, it was good but sometimes I found it zapping resources. I tried using Evolution, Thunderbird and a few other native email apps but missed some of the nice things Gmail does and supports. So when I first saw Wmail I thought I’d give it a try even with the slight skepticism from some around Electron.

So impressed with Wmail, that I donate to the development for it. It wasn’t long till they got in touch and said they were moving to Wavebox and as a nice extra I would get a year subscription to Wavebox pro.

The things I love about Wavebox is being able to hook up multiple gmail accounts including drive, contacts, calender, etc. Trello works great as does Slack (but I opted to keep the slack app for now). But the killer is being able to hook up any site you like. For example I use Mastodon and WordPress (the official linux app locks up a lot). I was tempted to setup Evernote and maybe laverna, standardnotes, a few other things but this will do for now.

The Verge seem to agree too

Its pretty great and the ability to add almost any site is pretty useful, especially with the lack of Linux support for some things. Yes you have to pay for the pro features but its worth it.

There is also a misconception that I won’t pay for software and thats rubbish. Its about the terms, for example Wavebox is actually open source but the terms of what you pay for are fine with me.

Now this is how you do the Diabolo

This is how you do the diabolo

The moves are incredible and raw; but its the transfers which are insane. For example about 2:40mins in he does a Gyro-Rotation but the transfers/move to a Vertex then adds a suicide. Don’t even get me started on the fast body wraps!

If you thought that was great check out the smoother 2016 gold final with the same guy.

Art of influence and misdirection

On the eve of another big decision, I’ve been thinking about influence and misdirection quite a bit.

I was reminded of a book and TV series I saw when I was much younger. It was called How to be Cool. Part of the thinking is influence and the theory of memetics. PBS did a series called The Merchants of Cool, although the one I remember included Douglas Rushkoff.

Fire, night and a diabolo, what could go wrong?

Jamming with a LED diabolo - Photo credit Ian Wilson
Thanks to Ian Wilson for capturing this one of me

On Saturday night I finally got myself down to the castlefield arena to join the firejam. I’ve had a diabolo LED kit for a while but never actually installed it to any of my diabolos before. After much work, I got half of one added to my Sundia diabolo and joined the mainly fire poi people down at the arena.

Sundia diabolo with half a LED kit

I was amazed at the fire especially with a DSLR camera, I mean the LED is impressive but fire just looks incredible.

Firejamming

My pictures don’t do it justice but I’m seriously considering getting a fire diabolo. I did try it once and of course it requires special strings and a special diabolo but I got a feeling it would be so much fun. Looking forward to the next Firejam already…

Tristan Harris essay on attention hijacking and ever so dark patterns

Human attention is a scarce commodity

I heard about Tristan Harris through Time well spent which some people have been sharing a while ago. Kept meaning to read more about him and the essay he wrote. Its a excellent read and well worth reading. A few times while reading it, I wanted to annotate it some how. I know the w3C have finally sorted out the spec and I could do it via Diigo or even Wallabag if I wanted to; but sharing it seems to need more research on my part.

So instead I thought I’d half blog about it while copying the main points (once again you should read the whole thing yourself). Tristan has sectioned the points so I’ll copy that.

But I did want to say I find it interesting that Adrian Westaway from Special Projects and Tristan Harris are both magicians. The link between magic and design is a interesting one.

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices

Western Culture is built around ideals of individual choice and freedom. Millions of us fiercely defend our right to make “free” choices, while we ignore how we’re manipulated upstream by limited menus we didn’t choose.

This is exactly what magicians do. They give people the illusion of free choice while architecting the menu so that they win, no matter what you choose. I can’t emphasize how deep this insight is.

When people are given a menu of choices, they rarely ask:

  • “what’s not on the menu?”
  • “why am I being given these options and not others?”
  • “do I know the menu provider’s goals?”
  • “is this menu empowering for my original need, or are the choices actually a distraction?” (e.g. an overwhelmingly array of toothpastes)

Absolutely, I do this a lot because I’m wondering how to break the system or hijack for my own needs. Usually when going to restaurants I need to hack it because I have so many allergies. If I didn’t hack it then I’d be pretty much dead.

I also find patterns quite interesting and can identify them quickly, so my tesco monthly shop will have every 2-3 months a deal on toilet rolls because I assume thats when they get the new stock in and need to shift some of the older ones. This funny example of understanding allows me to hack the system for my own needs.

I also tend to ignore all the recommendation stuff including the instant reply stuff I seen google has added to gmail. I also start to wonder more and more how this data is being mined to generate these results. Of course I got a big interest in big/linked data, data ethics and opinionated software.

Hijack #2: Put a Slot Machine In a Billion Pockets

One of the most tricky things I’ve seen many people try and deal with is not checking their phones and when they do, they do for what reason? To check out someone has liked something they have done. This comes straight out of the Sherry Turkle’s book Alone Together.

If you’re an app, how do you keep people hooked? Turn yourself into a slot machine.

But here’s the unfortunate truth — several billion people have a slot machine their pocket:

When we pull our phone out of our pocket, we’re playing a slot machineto see what notifications we got.

  • When we pull to refresh our email, we’re playing a slot machine to see what new email we got.
  • When we swipe down our finger to scroll the Instagram feed, we’replaying a slot machine to see what photo comes next.
  • When we swipe faces left/right on dating apps like Tinder, we’re playing a slot machine to see if we got a match.
  • When we tap the # of red notifications, we’re playing a slot machine to what’s underneath.

It takes some serious will to break away from the slot machines, especially when every once in a while it actually pays out (as such).

bThis is very much a dark pattern or dark art which drives a huge economy. Notifications like the breaking news banner on news sites tap right into the dopamine sender and the only way to break this is being more conscious. The truth is unsettling and we may not be able to easily change this without both sides being more aware/conscious of this all. Tristan points the finger at Google and Apple and yes they have responsibility but it can’t come from them alone.

Hijack #3: Fear of Missing Something Important (FOMSI)

Creating, inducing or manufacturing FOMO (fear of missing out) is pretty dark stuff.

Another way apps and websites hijack people’s minds is by inducing a “1% chance you could be missing something important.”

If I convince you that I’m a channel for important information, messages, friendships, or potential sexual opportunities — it will be hard for you to turn me off, unsubscribe, or remove your account — because (aha, I win) you might miss something important:

  • This keeps us subscribed to newsletters even after they haven’t delivered recent benefits (“what if I miss a future announcement?”)
  • This keeps us “friended” to people with whom we haven’t spoke in ages (“what if I miss something important from them?”)
  • This keeps us swiping faces on dating apps, even when we haven’t even met up with anyone in a while (“what if I miss that one hot match who likes me?”
  • This keeps us using social media (“what if I miss that important news story or fall behind what my friends are talking about?”)

I personally don’t subscribe to a lot of things because I’m wary of the effect of FOMO. I also don’t follow a lot people on Twitter because I don’t use twitter in that way much to the annoyance of some of my friends and followers. I do have a lot of friend connections on Facebook but also don’t read the timeline (its not a timeline, rather a curated feed for you based on algorithms and what FB thinks you want, remember point 1 about what the provider wants out of the deal?)

My friend Jon Rogers left twitter saying I was right about twitter (I can’t find any trace of him on twitter too). I wish I could find the conversation/blog (which seems to be down), but I partly blamed the fact he was using the official twitter client which would do things which were not to the benefit of him in anyway. Similarly Oli who left FB and then joined again after feeling FOMO.

Final example is why I left Bumble; I recognised the pattern of FOMSI being manufactured by Bumble and decided I wasn’t interested in being involved. Its a shame because I liked the concept but it was ruined for me by this forced FOSMI.

Hijack #4: Social Approval

We’re all vulnerable to social approval. The need to belong, to be approved or appreciated by our peers is among the highest human motivations. But now our social approval is in the hands of tech companies (like when we’re tagged in a photo).

Social approval is massive and drives us to do things which we wouldn’t normally do if we stopped and thought. I’d add this mixed with FOMO are a pretty lethal combination.

I wish I could filter out the likes on FB which clutter up my notifications, the little hit of dopamine just isn’t worth it. But then again I also like to click like to almost give my approval. Maybe I should stop doing this? This would also stop helping out the FB algorithm with positive reactions, now that can’t be a bad thing?

Of course social approval goes way beyond the likes and into the scoring stuff which I have talked about before.

Hijack #5: Social Reciprocity (Tit-for-tat)

Now this one really bugs me… I understand reciprocity theory and how it can be hijacked to con/cheat people out of something they wouldn’t normally give. Influence is a great book which I’d highly recommend to everyone.

We are vulnerableto needing to reciprocate others’ gestures. But as with Social Approval, tech companies now manipulate how often we experience it.

In some cases, it’s by accident. Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories. But in other cases, companies exploit this vulnerability on purpose.

There was a period of time when the laws of social reciprocity seemed to dictate if you follow someone, you need to follow you back. This was rubbish of course, but pushed by twitters own system which encouraged you to follow back with one click. Twitter was a async follow but the service was changed to encourage something similar to a friend request later – most likely once the money became more important.

Of course Tristan is dead right about linkedin being a shocking example of this. I almost have to give them a award for their use of dark patterns to get you to do more within Linkedin.

orginal LinkedIn wants as many people creating social obligations for each other as possible, because each time they reciprocate (by accepting a connection, responding to a message, or endorsing someone back for a skill) they have to come back through linkedin.com where they can get people to spend more time.

Like Facebook, LinkedIn exploits an asymmetry in perception. When you receive an invitation from someone to connect, you imagine that person making a conscious choice to invite you, when in reality, they likely unconsciously responded to LinkedIn’s list of suggested contacts. In other words, LinkedIn turns your unconscious impulses (to “add” a person) into new social obligations that millions of people feel obligated to repay. All while they profit from the time people spend doing it.

Hijack #6: Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay

Oh boy this winds me up big time, endless feeds. Its very similar to the all you can eat buffets. The quality of the things you are consuming are dubious at best and although you started out with something decent it suddenly drops in quality or go so far off the original purpose or reason.

Another way to hijack people is to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore.

How? Easy. Take an experience that was bounded and finite, and turn it into a bottomless flowthat keeps going.

Cornell professor Brian Wansink demonstrated this in his study showing you can trick people into keep eating soup by giving them a bottomless bowl that automatically refills as they eat. With bottomless bowls, people eat 73% more calories than those with normal bowls and underestimate how many calories they ate by 140 calories.

Tech companies exploit the same principle. News feeds are purposely designed to auto-refill with reasons to keep you scrolling, and purposely eliminate any reason for you to pause, reconsider or leave.

This is partly why I prefer to read RSS than get the endless supply of stuff from Google, etc. At least there is a bottom and you can see a number of unread items. With these news feeds, its endless and the quality or value of the content is dependent on the agenda or services current goals (that can be as simple as this advertiser wants to pay us lots of money).

Endless also sucks you into the world that its only available now/its temporary and next time you look it will be gone or different. This is why I use services like wallabag, pocket or even youtube watch it later. If its worth saving its worth spending some time on and not being rushed to the next thing. Yes its hard and there is a social pressure to have watched or read it quickly (skimmed) to keep up with the conversation. In fact coming back to something in twitter usually causes confusion if you come back to a post a few days later. This is why I tend to just blog it to give it context and the effort once I read it fully.

Endless scroll is becoming a bit of thing now too, similar to the swipe forever stuff. Don’t get me started about auto play video, which I have seen cause much problems with presentations in conferences; as you can imagine

Hijack #7: Instant Interruption vs. “Respectful” Delivery

Companies know that messages that interrupt people immediately are more persuasive at getting people to respond than messages delivered asynchronously (like email or any deferred inbox).

Given the choice, Facebook Messenger (or WhatsApp, WeChat or SnapChat for that matter) would prefer to design their messaging system tointerrupt recipients immediately (and show a chat box) instead of helping users respect each other’s attention.

In other words, interruption is good for business.

It’s also in their interest to heighten the feeling of urgency and social reciprocity. For example, Facebook automatically tells the sender when you “saw” their message, instead of letting you avoid disclosing whether you read it(“now that you know I’ve seen the message, I feel even more obligated to respond.”) By contrast, Apple more respectfully lets users toggle “Read Receipts” on or off.

I do generally avoid a lot of these instant messaging systems but even those I use have included this way (Gtalk, Wire and even Signal). If I can turn it off I do but I have observed how Facebook now throws up notification as a window above other stuff like a instant message. Lets not forget those horrible chat heads too.

Respectful delivery is getting rare and even when they are, you need to work at it. I feel quite lucky that I’m running Ubuntu as my host operating system which gives me complete control over the notifications but this doesn’t help when looking at a browser tab like Facebook, which wants to dominate (trust me this is the right word) the view. This is also another reason why I don’t have Facebook on my phones/tablets and why I limit messengers permissions.

Hijack #8: Bundling Your Reasons with Their Reasons

In the physical world of grocery stories, the #1 and #2 most popular reasons to visit are pharmacy refills and buying milk. But grocery stores want to maximize how much people buy, so they put the pharmacy and the milk at the back of the store.

In other words, they make the thing customers want (milk, pharmacy) inseparable from what the business wants. If stores were truly organized to support people, they would put the most popular items in the front.

This is bloody annoying and one of the reasons why a lot of apps dont really care or advertise direct links into parts of there systems. This is why I have to keep FB in a tab otherwise everytime I login, I would need to go via the news feed each time, a total waste of my time.

The whole point of the web is not having to go on a journey each time. Remember when you saw VR shopping malls and thought wtf? Well thats pretty much the same coming back to haunt us all, for whose benefit? Certainly not yours!

Hijack #9: Inconvenient Choices

This is a recurring dark pattern, the roach motel.

We’re told that it’s enough for businesses to “make choices available.”

“If you don’t like it you can always use a different product.”
“If you don’t like it, you can always unsubscribe.”
“If you’re addicted to our app, you can always uninstall it from your phone.”

Businesses naturally want to make the choices they want you to make easier, and the choices they don’t want you to make harder. Magicians do the same thing. You make it easier for a spectator to pick the thing you want them to pick, and harder to pick the thing you don’t.

For example, NYTimes.com let’s you “make a free choice” to cancel your digital subscription. But instead of just doing it when you hit “Cancel Subscription,” they force you to call a phone number that’s only open at certain times.

Hijack #10: Forecasting Errors, “Foot in the Door” strategies

People don’t intuitively forecast the true cost of a click when it’s presented to them. Sales people use “foot in the door” techniques by asking for a small innocuous request to begin with (“just one click”), and escalating from there (“why don’t you stay awhile?”). Virtually all engagement websites use this trick. Imagine if web browsers and smartphones, the gateways through which people make these choices, were truly watching out for people and helped them forecast the consequences of clicks (based on real data about what it actually costs most people?). That’s why I add “Estimated reading time” to the top of my posts. When you put the “true cost” of a choice in front of people, you’re treating your users or audience with dignity and respect.
This is tied to so many of the things said previously. One of the useful things I found is the putting things into wallabag and pocket is I can manager my own time; and not be forced into making a poor decision under time pressure
The Hurrah – A sudden crisis or change of events forces the victim to act immediately.
 
Its clear most humans do not make good decisions under pressure and scammers, con-artists, the systems we use know this too well.

There is so much more to discuss including the how to fix this all… but thats for another blog post…