My take? Life is short. If we’re lucky, we get three score years and ten—maybe more, thanks to modern medicine. Once we figure out what we want to do with our lives, we should take the time to reflect on how to achieve our goals, then get on with it. I have friends, a family, and work commitments. So, after some reflection, I ultimately decided that the time I was spending on Facebook was time that I would rather be spending elsewhere. Looking at the time I spent on Facebook objectively, it was probably not a huge amount of time. But subjectively, it felt like I was spending too much time and mental energy on something that wasn’t worth the price—particularly if I got drawn into an argument with strangers or possibly bots. Worse, the emotions I felt while I was engaged with Facebook bled into the rest of my day, affecting how I was feeling.
The Cynicism of Designing Addictive User Experiences
So why am I sharing this decision and baring my soul to you? At some point—at the requirements stage or during design—a group of people cynically decided to create a user experience that delivers the type of habit‑forming behaviors that Facebook stimulates. I’d been willing to entertain the unlikely possibility that the habit-forming elements of Facebook may have come about as unintended consequences. But they didn’t.
Earlier this month in an Axios interview, Sean Parker, Facebook’s first President, admitted:
“The thought process that went into building these applications—Facebook being the first of them to really understand it—that thought process was all about: How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible. And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while—because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content. And that’s going to get you more likes and comments. It’s a social-validation feedback loop. … You’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. The inventors / creators understood this consciously, and we did it anyway.”