Ethically Designed Apps May Be Our Saviour From The Negative Effects Of Social Media

Words: Joshua Greenwood
Feature Image: Alexandru Acea

Social media have been designed to draw in the consumer’s attention and keep them occupied whilst forever wanting more. Instagram is currently one of the most successful examples with over 1 billion users worldwide. However, the concept of the app entices users into a world different from reality, leading to both positive and negative implications. As we’re now at a cross-roads to move forward whilst reversing the damage, will ethically designed apps be our solution?

On the need to focus our efforts on the effect of apps on our health, Tim Wu (Columbia Law School Technology Scholar) told Fast Company: “Very few things are more important now to the future of humanity than ethics. Design is the determinant, along with your will. But design creates the way you exercise choices.”

One of the initial ways to tackle negative effects of apps is monitoring and controlling the amount of time users spend on them. According to a study by Mediakix, the average person will spend more than five years of their lives on social media. Combatting this, Apple released a new functionality called ‘Screen Time’ with their iOS 12 update. It tracks the amount of time you spend on your phone, and more specifically, how long on each app. It then gives you the option to set limits for the apps on your phone which you spend the most excess time on. Once you have hit the self-imposed limit, you will essentially be blocked from the app until the allocated time is up. 

Moreover, Instagram and Facebook have recently released a new feature that, like the Screen Time functionality, allows you to see a dashboard that shows you how much time you have spent on the app. It also allows you to set daily limits for yourself which will send you an alert once you’ve reached it. Another feature enables users to mute notifications for up to 8 hours.

Ameet Ranadive, product managing director at Instagram, and David Ginsberg, director of research at Facebook stated, “We want the time people spend on Facebook and Instagram to be intentional, positive and inspiring. Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”

These precautions being put into place by some of the most influential companies is clearly a move in the right direction. But, maybe there is a new space being carved out for ethically designed apps to be used in tandem with – or in replacement of – the addictive social platforms?