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  • Kailash M

The World of Apps: Designing for Manipulation?

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In today's fast-changing tech landscape, mobile apps have become a crucial part of our daily routines. From social media to productivity tools, these apps are not just functional tools; they're designed to keep us hooked. The strategic design of many applications aims to create addictive user experiences, encouraging frequent and prolonged usage.

The Google Play Store boasts over 3.5 million mobile apps, with nearly 90% available for free download. The App Store, on the other hand, has more than 1.8 million apps.

This virtual world is now deeply embedded in our daily lives. We find ourselves addicted to our mobile devices, often picking up our phones out of habit rather than a conscious decision. As we scroll through our app drawer, our eyes are no longer searching for a specific app; they're drawn to the colors of the icons, with each one having a distinctive and often vibrant hue.

It's interesting to note that even when we aren't actively searching for a particular app, we might end up opening one. A recent investigative paper published on Jama Network Open reveals concerns about the manipulation of design features, also known as Dark Patterns, to entice children into using apps for extended periods.

Here's the finding:

In this cross-sectional study of apps used by 160 children aged 3 to 5 years, the majority of apps were associated with manipulative design features that included parasocial relationship pressure, fabricated time pressure, navigation constraints, and use of attractive lures to encourage longer gameplay or more purchases, in addition to advertisement-based pressure; only 20% of apps had no manipulative design features. Children from lower socioeconomic strata played apps with more manipulative design.

(JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(6):e2217641. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.17641)

Let's dig deep.

These days, a lot of apps use gamification to keep us hooked. They've thrown in game elements like rewards, badges, and challenges, making everyday tasks more enjoyable. This not only catches our interest but also gives us a sense of achievement, pushing us to use the app more often. Now, this trend has gone a step further with complex reward systems, giving us virtual scratch cards or gift boxes to keep us engaged. Some apps even reward us just for opening them regularly.

Have you ever felt that strong urge to grab your phone when you hear the push notification tone? Don't worry; many people feel the same way. The sound of these notifications triggers a rush of dopamine in our brains, making us eager to check our phones. Sometimes, we pick up the phone without even thinking – it's just a habit. But what happens next is quite interesting. Even if the notification isn't directly relevant, opening it often leads to extended scrolling through the feed. The feed shows content that resonates with us, keeping us engaged. Why does this happen? Because the apps know a lot about us. When we sign up, we willingly share our interests, and over time, apps learn more about us by watching what we click on.

In summary, apps are carefully crafted to make us use them more often. Developers use strategies like attractive design, fun features, and notifications to keep us engaged. As users, it's crucial for us to strike a balance and not let these apps negatively affect our daily lives. Unlike before when we actively searched for information, nowadays, information comes to us. It's like we're fish in the water, just waiting to get caught.


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