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I was reading an article about the ways that children are getting around Apple's Screen Time to continue feeding their screen addiction habits. It seems to indicate that trying to make apps engaging/addictive will always counter any efforts to reduce device usage time as it is not really getting to the root cause of the problem, which is the lack of design ethics and consideration for the impact of designing to keep users on the app.

Maybe there's some research that indicates the different behaviours between adult and children when it comes to Screen Time, and that adults see it as a way to modify their behaviours while children see it as a challenge that they have to overcome.

Should we be getting back to the basics and applying design principles like Calm Technology which encourages us to design applications in a different way? Or has anyone seen some examples of either device related or app related solutions that has been able to create positive screen usage and attitude towards screen addiction.

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  • I will only write a comment since I don't feel like this is an actual answer, but maybe trying to fix too much screen time with things inside the screen is like the old saying "only treating the symptoms instead of the root". I, personally, feel like it has to come from behavioral change way before that. Otherwise children will simply find a way around it or just get angry abut it (such as when parents would disconnect the router or take away the GameBoy).
    – Big_Chair
    Nov 21 '20 at 23:05
  • One reference I have is a bit esoteric, so bear with me, but in the book Levels of Energy by Dodson the author speaks about a case where a teenager would constantly play a violent video game and the parents' attempts were only met with more anger. What helped in the end was not directly trying to control the kid's behavior, but by changing his surroundings so that he would be met with more intellectual things daily (such as high class paintings, musical instruments, etc.). I just felt like that might be a useful perspective.
    – Big_Chair
    Nov 21 '20 at 23:09
  • @Big_Chair I couldn't agree with you more, which is why I brought up Calm Technology as a reference for fundamental changes to our design approach. Although I think it will be quite a challenge for any designer to be able to align with those philosophies while working within their own current design ecosystem. So I am thinking about a more gentle transition (if at all possible).
    – Michael Lai
    Nov 22 '20 at 20:17
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Some device-/ software-related examples:

Not a scientific experiment, but I've heard from people who switched their phone to greyscale mode and it made them use social media less and less.

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  • +1 I am definitely curious about the effect of switching their phone to greyscale mode. I am aware of Light phone and some of the measures taken to reduce screen time, but I wonder if it is really addressing the root cause of the problem :p
    – Michael Lai
    Jan 7 at 23:02
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A really interesting question. I read it a few times and had a think, one area which I felt worth raising is the assumption in the question that screen time is bad.

The reason I phrase it that way is that whether or not screen time is bad, and what usage patterns are classified as addictive is highly subjective.

A few examples to illustrate my point. Some apps which focus on mental well-being, such as Headspace, Calm, yu-life etc have design patterns you might classify as pushing engagement through repetitive habit-forming use which could be construed as addictive. Is forming a habit of daily meditation a negative addictive behaviour? or a positive step in mental wellbeing?

Another example would be a learning tool like DuoLingo, where people boast about their "streak" which again might encourage compulsive usage, but the net result is learning a language which most people would view as a positive skill.

A final example regarding screen time itself as a negative. Consider a user who isn't physically able to engage in the types of activities that most would consider more positive than sitting in front of a screen.

The assertation that screen time is negative is highly dependant on what the alternatives are. Perhaps you are a student remote learning, perhaps you have mental health issues and playing an online role-playing game gives you mental escapism and social connection which is preventing you from self harm.

I do understand your core point, but thought it's worth giving some alternative context to counter the more screen time == bad viewpoint, which I feel is a very generalised way to look at the problem.

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  • +1 I am of the opinion that there are no such things as 'dark' patterns because it is the intention of the designer that makes it so. Of course, many designers are often unaware or ignorant of the design decisions that they are making, or defer it to the upper management that assign them the work. I don't think screen time is bad, but as with the difference between poison and medicine, the dosage that you take makes all the difference! Thanks for the thought-provoking answer :)
    – Michael Lai
    Jan 7 at 23:00

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