Slaves to the Smartphone

o-TEXTING-facebookThe smartphone is ubiquitous, addictive and transformative. Two billion phones are in use worldwide today, and this number is expected to double by the end of the decade when nearly 80% of adults will have a device in their pocket. Smartphones have become the fastest-selling gadgets in history, and have penetrated every aspect of daily life. We spend more time staring at them than TVs.

How much? How often do you look at your phone?

  • The average user reaches for their phone at 7:31am in the morning
  • The average user check emails and Facebook before getting out of bed
  • The average user use their phone for 3 hours and 16 minutes a day
  • Many of us pick up our phones more than 1,500 times each week
  • And almost 4 in 10 users admitted to feeling lost without their device

Over the past half-decade, the proliferation of mobile devices has transformed us into an app-driven society. Every year, we spend more time on apps. And the younger you are, the more time you spend. Smartphone owners ages 25-44 use the greatest number of apps per month (29 apps, on average), but 18-24 year-olds spend the most time on them (37 hours, 6 minutes).

According to Golden Krishna (@goldenkrishna), our love for the digital interface has gotten out-of-control. It’s become the answer to every design problem. He explained it in a compelling way 3 years ago (here) and now in a book, “The Best Interface Is No Interface”:

  • How do you make a better car? Slap an interface in it.
  • How do you make a better refrigerator? Slap an interface on it.
  • How do you make a better hotel lobby? Slap an interface in it.

How do you make a better…you name it? Slap an interface in it.

All that means that we are taking more and more time away from other people to dive deeper and deeper into interfaces. Some have theorized that recent technological changes have created a group of people that thrive at this media multitasking. But it is not true: The heaviest media multitaskers perform worse. if we’re designing interfaces to encourage multitasking, or to support multitasking, we’re actually creating a worse, poorer thinking.

What can we do about it? It’s time for us to move beyond screen-based thinking. Because when we think in screens, we design based upon a model that is inherently unnatural, inhumane, and has diminishing returns.

How shall we do it? Following three simple principles, we can design smarter, more useful systems that make our lives better.

  • Principle 1: Eliminate interfaces to embrace natural processes.
  • Principle 2: Leverage computers instead of catering to them
  • Principle 3: Create a system that adapts for people

All this is not new. Mark Weiser’s “Ubiquitous computing,” Donald Norman’s “Invisible Computer” or the Kevin Ashton’s “Internet of Things,” were all about creating these enhanced experiences that technology can bring to our everyday lives if properly and invisibly embedded in physical objects.

More recently, Paul Brody and Veena Pureswaran in “Device Democracy”, also emphasize that what consumers value is real utility:

Consumers care most about the primary functional value and user experience. Tomorrow’s smart devices should create value by applying connectivity and intelligence to improve the core value proposition of the device (…) Consumers will embrace such solutions because they provide better cooking, less mess, cleaner clothes, increased safety or greater fitness, not because they are part of complex networks or ecosystems. (IBM, “Device Democracy – Saving the future of the Internet of Things”)

and not the current hype about what we might well call the internet of stupid things.

Let’s face it. We’ve become slaves to the smartphone, and the future looks even worse:

Boy_wearing_Oculus_Rift_HMDIt’s time to do something about it.


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