Do you sometimes spend more time scrolling on Instagram or Twitter than you initially wanted to?

Yes indeed, more than sometimes. It is very hard to stop scrolling, because the next post is probably something enjoyable!

But if you keep going, you lose track of what you wanted to do beforehand. You get sucked in and might feel bad afterwards.

Habit forming

In general, social media apps feed us in such a way that we keep coming back for more feed.

First, they grab our attention, for example with a notification. "Your post got liked by 4 people" - of course you want to know who . Then, we get a positive feeling in the app because we had a like or saw a funny post. When this process is repeated, we form a habit of opening and using apps without even thinking about it. How many times do you open up Twitter/Instagram/Facebook per day? Do you really want to open it that many times?

Just keep scrolling

Once inside the app, its design has much power over what you do. In essence, you can do only one thing: scroll through feeds. Or, in Instagram stories, the feed scrolls itself.

These algorithmically generated feeds are entirely tailored to you. They shows you what you want. Or rather, they shows you a feed that will keep you in the app for as long as possible. This maximizes the amount of ads you see without pissing you off.

You probably follow hunderds of accounts, is all that you see really important to you at that moment?

Just like you need good food to be healthy, you need valuable information to satify you curiosity and improve your social relationships. And just like too much bad food can make us unhealhty, too much irrelevant information feed can overwhelm us and distract. On a large scope, it can increase stress, anxiety, and reduce sleep.1

So what can we do?

We go to social media feeds to get a quick laugh, to get inspired, to catch up with friends, or to get information we need. We get some value from this. We want it for good reasons.

So, just stopping with social media is not a solution. It's why you eventually reactivate accounts after a digital detox. At the same time, realizing this years' New Year resolution "I will spend less time on social media" is challenging because the systems are designed to keep you sucked in.

The solution is to redesign social media that helps us protect our focus, that holistically improves our life. This is dubbed humane design of technology.

The problem is, the companies behind these services will never make it happen. You might have heard this before; their paying customers are advertisers. You are a vital part of their product: targeted advertising. As any company, they try to optimize their profits. "Humane considerations" unfortunately don't help with this.

I am working on some projects to address this project.

NoFeed - follow content with intention

I am currently working on a prototype to help users access social media content in a more intentional way, eliminating distractions.

Unfortunately, Instagram/Facebook/Twitter closed down their API's so much that "designing your own feed" with existing services is not really possible.

As an experiment, the project aims to give you full control over a feed of acccounts ("links"): Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, Instagram accounts. It is an alternative "first page" to the post-feed.

So far, I am thinking of the following features:

Paper: The ethics of constrained choice environments in social media UI's

For a course group work for a course called Digital Ethics at my university, we are investigating the ethics of so called "Dark UX" patterns that influence users' decisions.

We will come up with a framework to teach these considerations in in UX design classes.

The project motivation:

We claim that the design of contemporary digital services such as Instagram, Facebook and Netflix undermines the user’s free will by hindering conscious decisions on which actions to engage in on these services and how much time to spend on these.

Marchine learning algorithms can predict the users’ next step, but increasingly, they also decide on the users’ next step by modifying the choice environment of the user (e.g. by providing auto-start of the next Netflix episode). This process of choice architecture works by exploiting certain human traits such as effort minimization to nudge users to perform actions that are beneficial to the architect. Moreover, some services influence users’ opinions by generating tailored content feeds (e.g. Facebook confirms existing political biases).

But there is a way forward! We propose ways to educate the designers and AI engineers of tomorrow to implement humane designs that help us keep our free will and focus on our true values - and thus truly enhance our human potential leveraging the latest technologies.