Science Friction

I've been thinking a lot about the role of friction lately -- or perhaps more importantly, the lack thereof -- in media design.

Generally speaking, the user experience design of our most successful media -- from hardware like Apple products to apps, gaming and social media platforms -- focuses on removing as much friction as possible in order to get people to use it more and more and more.

The unintended consequence of this, in more cases than not, can be new forms of media addiction.

I've been thinking about this for a while, because I've recently been bumping into examples of the opposite -- reengineering friction back into media in order to get people to stop using it as much, or perhaps, not at all.

Just a few weeks ago, I came across an article about a spate of new apps designed to help people -- especially children and their parents -- control their use of especially addictive media like social platforms, gaming apps, etc., by introducing features that make it harder for them to use them, including logging in, or timing out.

While this might seem counterintuitive to most media design, it actually makes a great deal of sense when people can't control how, when, where and why they use media in ways that leads to negative social consequences.

I can understand why hardware marketers and platforms don't do this themselves, because it is antithetical to their overt business interests, at least until there are laws put in place -- or in the case of Section 230, taken away -- requiring them to do it.

But until they do, there will increasingly be negative outcomes for society.

Recently, someone close to me pitched me on an idea for introducing friction into mobile phone interface design in order to get people to stop using their phones while driving. I can't divulge the idea, because the person hopes to bring it to market, but I can tell you the reason he believes it's necessary: because his day job is driving a truck and he personally observes incessant reckless behavior by drivers using their phones while driving, not just talking, or even texting, but interacting with social media, watching YouTube or TikTok videos, etc.

And while there theoretically are laws prohibiting that sort of behavior, the reality is some people are so addicted to the technology that they cannot help themselves. They are no different than drug addicts, who without some kind of intervention, cannot control their irrational behavior, even if it threatens themselves or others.

I applauded the inventor for coming up with a solution, but said I thought he'd have problems coming up with a product/market fit that would make it successful, because most of the business models underlying the mobile marketplace -- both phones and cars -- are premised on as much frictionless design as possible.

I was thinking about the science of friction over the weekend for another reason: Because of the latest form of friction Elon Musk is introducing into Twitter's platform. Musk says he's implementing caps on the number of tweets a user can see. Musk's last tweet on the subject will currently set "view limits" of 10,000 tweets per day for verified (ie. paid) users, 1,000 per day for established unverified accounts, and 500 per day for new unverified accounts.

Never mind that throttling the amount of time and content users spend on Twitter is antithetical to its core business model -- advertising -- I also think Musk's reason for setting the caps is wrong: to get control of what he asserts is "extreme data levels of data scraping and system manipulation" of Twitter's platform.

If that's true, it's another indication that Twitter's engineering team are overtaxed or under-resourced if they cannot come up with a better way to solve that problem without getting people-- and presumably bots -- to use the platform less.

An even better reason for doing so was one retweeted by @elonmusk from the @ElongMuskAOC parody account:

"Because we are all Twitter addicts and need to go outside. I’m doing a good deed for the world here."


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