Safety = SalesConsider why you wear a seat belt. In 1968, the Federal Government mandated that seat belts come equipped in all cars. However, nineteen years before any such regulation, American car makers started offering seat belts as a feature. The laws came well after car makers started offering seat belts because that’s what consumers wanted. Car makers who sold safer cars sold more.Similarly, thousands of third-party apps have given smartphone owners ways to moderate tech use with tools to help them monitor how much time they spend online, turn off access to certain sites, and reduce digital distraction—tools very similar to what Apple and Google recently announced. I started writing about this burgeoning trend, in what I called “attention retention” devices, back in early 2015 and today there are more digital wellness products than ever.As they often do with successful apps built on their platforms, Apple and Google took note of what consumers wanted and decided to incorporate these features as standard—just as car makers did with seat belts in the 1950s. They also went beyond what app makers can do by adding features only the operating system makers can offer, like batch notifications to reduce the frequency of intraday interruptions and the ability to put the phone in “shush” mode by flipping it over.
Safer ShipsThe history of innovation is littered with examples of new technologies causing unintended harm. As cultural theorist Paul Virilio said, “When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck.” Although the devices these modern shipbuilders make certainly have potential negative consequences, like overuse, it’s also in their interests to make their products less harmful. With few exceptions, when a product harms people, consumers tend to use it less often or find better alternatives. The feature fight between these two tech rivals benefits everyone. The move to help users create healthy habits with their devices is an example of competition making products better. Although they are certainly designed to be persuasive and user-friendly, we aren’t slaves to our technologies and it behooves us to stop thinking we’re powerless. The tech companies are taking steps to help users rein in device overuse. Now it’s our turn to put these features to use, buckle down, and buckle up.
Here’s the gist:
- Although it may seem against their interests, Apple and Google know helping people use their phone less is good for their businesses.
- With very few exceptions, when a product harms people, they use it less or look for alternatives.
- Apple and Google have an incentive to fix harmful aspects of their just like car makers have an incentive to make cars safer.