Is it Time for Warning Labels on our Apps?

I was talking with a good friend about TikTok last week, discussing the  incredible creativity being unleashed. It’s an expression machine, and the fast growth of the tools and templates means anyone can pursue their creative curiousity. But, of course, the result is oceans of distractions at our fingertips, billions of creators dying for us to watch for more than 1 second, a direct assault on our id and attention. 

Semi-serious thought: Should we take more seriously the concept of labeling apps that are designed to keep you addicted? TikTok is not the the first app that should come with a warning label, like those aussie cigarette packs: “This might damage you.”

I’ve used TikTok enough to know it’s dangerous to those of us that are easily distracted, who are hungry enough for the serotonin hit that we’ll lock into the app so the juices flow at a higher rate. Based on where the algorithm took my feed after seeding it with “Trout fishing videos” and “Japanese Joinery” I didn’t want to see where it would have ended up. Hint: TikTok knows that trout fisherman and woodworkers are probably men, and after fishing and woodwork, what do a lot of men like? I deleted it before the algorithm figured me out.

But, I did download Artifact, the news app from Kevin Systrom (of Instagram). Its clear they’re trying to build a dynamic news app. I bet the pitch went like this: What if TikTok and Apple News had a baby? I’m a voracious news consumer, probably too much. So, I can’t imagine this is going to end well and I’ll have to delete it at some point because I’m compulsively tap tap tapping.

I feel like my phone screen has become downtown tokyo at midnight, and I’m trying to get out of town.

Warning labels could only help, even as a minimal reminder of what we’re doing to ourselves everytime we look at the screen. Labeling won’t solve the problems presented by the software and algorithms we’re now dealing with. But, the reminder (if we can see it) might be seen and it might start spark some reconsideration

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