How apps are affecting our lives (now that we touch our smartphones 5,427 times a day)

Some 43 per cent of people admit to walking into things while glued to their screen

Ahead of addressing this week's BelTech 2017, Damian Cranney, chief executive of Big Motive, looks at the ethics of design and how apps are impacting our lives . . .

TECHNOLOGY is continuously uncovering ways to alert us to inbound information. Whether it's a colourful display that glows with a subtle pulse when notifications sit unread, or your smartwatch delivering a little haptic ‘poke' ensuring you never miss an update – notifications are integrating into our brain's dopamine cycle.

Indeed in a 2016 study, research group DScout reported that ‘heavy users' touch their smartphones 5,427 times a day.

It is a trend that is contributing to actual bodily harm with recent reports of busy A&E wards as a result of 43 per cent of people in the UK admitting to ‘walking into things while glued to their screen'. And it gets worse . . . apparently 60 per cent of people drop their phone on to their face while reading.

In an article in the Guardian, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic described the state of the nation when he coined the phrase the ‘Distraction Economy'. Clearly we're all affected and our ever-decreasing attention is big business.

When information is bountiful, attention is limited and precious. Indeed, in times of information overload and non-stop media bombardment, distraction is destruction and perhaps the only recipe for focus is discipline and self-control.

While we can blame our collective addiction to technology on a pathetic lack of willpower and personal failings, perhaps the software itself should be held in some way accountable. That itch to glance at our phone is a natural reaction to apps and websites designed to get us scrolling as frequently as possible. Indeed some apps tell us when the other person is typing a response when in reality this is just a trick to keep us watching our phones.

The world of product design and engineering is well versed in user-centred methodologies - practices that have evolved to maximise success by creating products that are inherently ‘human-centred'.

'Design Thinking' is one such approach we practice at Big Motive. However there's a fine line it seems between designing products that solve the world's wicked problems and creating new services that address purely emotional, often previously unknown needs.

Smart people will keep building new technology. But somewhere in the midst of technological advancement, we need a filter… a speed-bump that gives us pause for thought to ensure our moral compass is calibrated.

Users, engagement and interaction with both content and technology represent the ultimate metric that defines business success in the new economy.

Let's join the conversation to define the line between solving problems that fulfil needs and contriving experiences designed to distract.

Great teams will continue to innovate as we get better and better at building things right. But the conversation will involve questions that ensure we 'build the right thing'.

And in this story about attention, if you made it this far, thanks for yours.

:: Damian will be speaking at this year's BelTech 2017 ( event which takes place on Thursday and Friday April 6 & 7. Find BelTech on Twitter @Beltech2017 or #Beltech2017.

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