“four person holding phones” by rawpixel on Unsplash

If you’re a frequent user of Instagram, you might’ve noticed that they let you know when you’ve spent too much time on the app.

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Its not just them though, Facebook is rumoured to have rolled out time-well-spent features too. There’s an activity dashboard and a daily reminder. I haven’t actually seen these features because I deleted the app from my phone a month ago. But from what I hear, they are testing it out.

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And I think that’s great. I mean how often do you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds hoping for a dopamine-induced hit of stimulation?

If you’re anything like me, way more than you’d like.

Its so easy to get caught up in the oh-so-important digital worm hole forgetting the less important things in life like spending time with the people around you. Or, like, feeding your dog on time.

So its quite refreshing to see that the most popular and websites have started prioritising on health over revenue and engagement.

Even Apple’s new OS lets you know when you’ve spent too much time on your phone. I just downloaded the update and I gotta say, I love it.

I set my social media time limit to 30 minutes a day, and guess what? Those thirty minutes were up way before lunch. I then spent the rest of the day twidlling my thumbs feeling pretty disconnected. Quite the millennial huh?

And Android has some features like this too. Google Pixel owners can set time limits on specific programmes. They receive a warning when they near the limit, and will be locked out once the restriction has been passed.

When you think about it, this is a stark contrast to the previous trend of building habit forming apps — a corporate conspiracy to get people hooked.

I remember a friend once told me “if a company isn’t selling you something for money, you are the something they’re selling for money.” What he meant is that nothing comes for free. If you’re not paying for a commodity, you are the commodity.

These companies are selling you to advertisers. And that’s cool. That’s how this works.

But it does become a problem when companies start neglecting the fact that despite being commodities, we are still people. We are still influenced by the products we use. They do affect our lives. And you can’t sell our information, because of, y’know, trust and all the other good stuff.

Its starting to feel like habit forming apps are to design what disposable plastic products are to Industrial Design.

Nir Eyal says companies are making the shift for their own profit. And maybe he’s right. But hey, who cares right? As long as it benefits us, I’m okay with them making some money off of this.

And sure, there’s the rare exception when good habits are formed through these habit forming apps. But they aren’t prevalent enough.

Because over the years, we’ve taught ourselves to design for the sake of designing. But maybe, what we should have been doing instead was designing for people. Based on their lives and needs. Not trying to pedal mindless entertainment to the masses as a substitute for real value and real experiences.

And I’m not saying that social media apps are evil or should be banned. I’m saying that they should be designed to enrich our lives. Not to become our lives.

They should be designed to make people feel good about themselves. Not trigger an existential crisis.



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