Facebook Seeks to Stop Asking Users to Wish Dead Friends Happy Birthday

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While Facebook has emerged as a remarkable tool to preserve cherished memories of departed friends and family, it has also served up these and other troubling — and often unexpected — notifications.

On Tuesday, Facebook announced several changes aimed at easing users’ grief. The social media company is using artificial intelligence “to minimize experiences that might be painful,” Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said in a statement posted to the company’s website.

Why Apple’s Notification Bubbles Are so Stressful

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I have 130 unread messages, which my phone relentlessly reminds me about in the aggressive red badge on my iMessage app. I have 15 missed calls, 99 percent of which are spam; I get to think about that robot voice berating me about my nonexistent car loan every time I see the red badge over my phone app. You don’t even want to know the number screaming at me every time I glance at my email.

These ugly red badges are a reminder of how I’m either a failure (Call your grandparents! Answer that nice text!) or a target (as is the case with the robot spammer hawking auto loans). And because of their hue, they’re difficult to ignore. I am assaulted by my phone every time I unlock it. And I’m not alone.

“They drive me insane,” Paul Sherman, an assistant professor and the program coordinator of the user experience design master’s program at Kent State University, tells me. The red, as he put it, “causes more stress and distress.”

How Tiny Red Dots Took Over Your Life

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What’s so powerful about the dots is that until we investigate them, they could signify anything: a career-altering email; a reminder that Winter Sales End Soon; a match, a date, a “we need to talk.” The same badge might lead to word that Grandma’s in the hospital or that, according to a prerecorded voice, the home-security system you don’t own is in urgent need of attention or that, for the 51st time today, someone has posted in the group chat.

Living Better In The Age Of Notifications

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So, I am not going to make a list 10 things you CAN do. It almost never works for me. Instead, I will walk you through the process that I recommend that you follow step-by-step. I leave it upto you to customise it according to your needs. It involves the following steps.

  1. Becoming aware of your phone usage habits

2. Turning off triggers

3. Setting up response time for each channel

4. Exercising your brain muscles for longer attention spans

5. Replacing old habit loops with healthier and better ones

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist

This article has been making the rounds on social media, because it’s a really good read. Check out the whole thing, but here are some interesting excerpts:

I’m an expert on how technology hijacks our psychological vulnerabilities. That’s why I spent the last three years as Google’s Design Ethicist caring about how to design things in a way that defends a billion people’s minds from getting hijacked.

Hijack #1: If You Control the Menu, You Control the Choices
…The more choices technology gives us in nearly every domain of our lives (information, events, places to go, friends, dating, jobs) — the more we assume that our phone is always the most empowering and useful menu to pick from. Is it?…

Hijack #2: Put a Slot Machine In a Billion Pockets
…If you want to maximize addictiveness, all tech designers need to do is link a user’s action (like pulling a lever) with a variable reward. You pull a lever and immediately receive either an enticing reward (a match, a prize!) or nothing. Addictiveness is maximized when the rate of reward is most variable…

Hijack #3: Fear of Missing Something Important (FOMSI)
Another way apps and websites hijack people’s minds is by inducing a “1% chance you could be missing something important.”…

Hijack #4: Social Approval
Easily one of the most persuasive things a human being can receive.  We’re all vulnerable to social approval. The need to belong, to be approved or appreciated by our peers is among the highest human motivations. But now our social approval is in the hands of tech companies.

When I get tagged by my friend Marc, I imagine him making a conscious choice to tag me. But I don’t see how a company like Facebook orchestrated his doing that in the first place…

Hijack #5: Social Reciprocity (Tit-for-tat)
…We are vulnerable to needing to reciprocate others’ gestures. But as with Social Approval, tech companies now manipulate how often we experience it.  In some cases, it’s by accident. Email, texting and messaging apps are social reciprocity factories. But in other cases, companies exploit this vulnerability on purpose…

Hijack #6: Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay
Another way to hijack people is to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore. How? Easy. Take an experience that was bounded and finite, and turn it into a bottomless flow that keeps going…

and many more Hijacks, be sure to check them all out.


Put your life into flight mode

Illustration by Thomas Pullin

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It wasn’t overly surprising, really, to learn from two recent psychology studies that being “on call” is stressful, exhausting and dampens your mood… And these days, whatever it says in your contract, aren’t most of us with jobs increasingly on call, all the time? …As many a glum cultural critic has noted – even if recently it seems as if the critic’s name is usually Jonathan Franzen – technology has eroded the boundaries that used to segment our lives… What this new research underlines is that the mere possibility of interruption is sufficient to cause trouble, even if that interruption never comes.

…Nonetheless, it’s worth asking if there are ways you’re effectively putting yourself on call when you needn’t be. For example, I now habitually switch my mobile phone to flight mode for an hour or two each morning; sometimes I do it overnight, too, and I’m convinced I sleep better, even though nobody calls at 3am when I don’t. Other possibilities suggest themselves: if you don’t need to answer work emails at the weekend, don’t check them. (Use a separate address for non-work messages, or set up a Gmail filter so you see only those you want to see.) Use a different device if you can, too: using work technology at home, it’s been shown, makes it harder to detach.

The Psychology Of Notifications

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What makes an effective trigger? How can you be sure that the notifications you’re sending are welcome and lead to higher engagement instead of driving users away? Below are a few tenets of notifications that engage users, instead of alienating them.

Good Triggers Are Well-Timed

…For instance, imagine you have a connecting flight and only 40 minutes to spare. As soon as you land, you’re worried about which gate to go to next and how long it will take you to get there. You turn your phone off airplane mode and, voilà, there’s a notification from your airline with all the right information. Your boarding time, gate number, and whether your departure is on time are presented at the moment you’re most likely to feel anxious. Now you can get to your next connection without having to frantically scan one of the terminal’s crowded departure screens. By providing information at the moment the user is likely to need it, the app builds credibility, trust and loyalty.

Good Triggers Are Actionable

Good triggers prompt action while vague or irrelevant messages annoy users. It’s important that a trigger cue a specific, simple behavior.

…The intended action prompted by the notification can also occur outside the app. Google Now tells users when to leave for an appointment based on what it knows about their location, traffic conditions and mode of transport: “Leave by 11:25 am to arrive on time.”

Good Triggers Spark Intrigue

…Timehop, for instance, sends a cheeky notification reading, “No way, was that really you?,” and prompting the users to open the app. To see the photo, users need to simply swipe. It helps that Timehop’s messaging is lightweight and humorous enough to be out of the ordinary.

Why everybody wants a piece of your smartphone’s lock screen


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It seems like every new app you download these days practically begs you to turn on notifications, or the ability to send you alerts when the app isn’t running. Sometimes these alerts are useful, as in the case of apps that tell you when a taxi has arrived or a message has been received. But there are many more apps—music, travel, games—that simply want your attention for their own benefit. A new report from Localytics, an analytics firm, explains why.