A 24/7 media environment means we’re consistently exposed to content. 

We’re hit with ideas, news, opinions, products and enticed to like it, follow it, retweet it, blog it, buy it, email it via a plethora of devices and platforms, all designed to demand our attention. We become captive to a parade of distractions and it’s addictive. And once engaged, the dilemma of deciphering what’s real or fake begins! So how do we tune out the noise, to get to the stuff that matters? Let’s take a look at the science.  

There is a new narrative beginning to make its way into mainstream as a result of our technology consumption, ‘the digital revolution has gone from expanding our minds, to hijacking them’. Heralded as a spokesperson for the ‘conscience of Silicon Valley’, Tristan Harris, previously a product design engineer/ ethicist (study of ethics and human persuasion) for Google, talks about the ability of technology to manipulate our basic instincts.   

The human brain, a complex machine, processes information by tagging the bits that trigger emotional connection for long-term storage. What’s stored in our memory, is most likely to influence our future behaviour. Technology devices and platforms are designed to understand the neuroscience and seek to capture the key ingredients of engagement: attention, emotion and memory activation.   

To easily illustrate, when opening an app, such as Instagram or Twitter, there is a millisecond delay between opening and when the number of notifications since the last update displays. That delay builds anxiety or anticipation, releasing much wanted dopamine into the body, once results are shown. Known as intermittent responsive design, it is not unlike the type of strategies that go into designing slot machines, and it’s part of what makes it hard to walk away from.    

Whilst the strategy for engagement is questionable, the ultimate aim of getting your attention is the outcome and whilst there is a growing voice advocating to ensure products are designed to make the best use of our time, not just grabbing our attention – the solutions are a long way off. Tech companies such as Android, Apple, Facebook and Google are starting to make concessions, installing activity dashboards to highlight awareness of screen time or ‘time well spent’, daily and a way to tune out notifications.   

So, is it time to reimagine the customer journey? Rather than manipulating people, do we use tech such as AI and machine learning, to tailor and scale messaging to meet people where they are on their journeys. People want to see immediately what’s best for them, what’s most useful for them. Adopting human centred design principles will cut through all the noise and distractions, creating experiences that emotionally resonate and solve an immediate need without the clutter of distractions.