(No Longer) Amusing Ourselves to Death

tl;dr: Through apps that are easy and addictive, we are unconsciously being pushed to waste our free time passively. Given that time is a zero sum game for all of us, we must make a choice between having fun or spending time growing in any aspect of life. Tech can leverage its strengths in making growth fun. This article highlights the root of the problem and the big opportunity that tech is missing.


We all evolved into the people we are today because we have grown into it. Most of the time, that growth is hard earned. It’s an objective you set for yourself that requires pushing your limits. It’s a process that’s full of friction and kicks you in the butt. However, it’s at the heart of life’s UX: hard work in; new skill out.


Technology should leverage its strengths to make that growth friction addictive and enjoyable.


From Pull to Push: Tech That Keeps You Hooked

Let me be clear: I don’t want to make every millisecond of the day productive. I understand the importance of fun & rest. The problem is dose: it’s great that some apps give you immediate pleasure, but it becomes a problem when they try to keep you on the platform after you’ve found what you came for. That’s when they overstay their welcome.


As an example, I often want to check hockey highlights on YouTube — only 5 minutes and then I’ll do something useful. Spend time with my kids, fix something in the house, read a book, whatever. You know exactly what happens next: I sit down, watch my video and then YouTube suggests a great video that auto-plays for me. When I realize that my 5-minute session has turned into a 30 minute one, I get mad at myself for having poor self-control. All this because YouTube’s designed its product to maximize my time spent on that platform. Because of well-meaning tech giving me cool videos to look at, I lost time to do productive things. Too much of a good thing has led to a bad one.


Growth Friction: Seek It Rather Than Avoid It

Growth friction is the inherent discomfort present in pushing past your limits. It’s the act of working on something that’s difficult, because you know it will help you in the long run. It’s the friction necessary to grow!


Lots of technologies out there leverages that: Peloton requires you to move in order to take part in its experience and DuoLingo exercises your focus and memory to learn a new language. That’s the friction I’m talking about. The experience pushes your brain or your body to grow and get better.


It’s fundamentally different than the experience provided by most popular consumer apps which require nothing more from you than a tap of the screen. The result isn’t surprising: nothing useful in, nothing useful out.


This puts the challenge front and center: how can we make growth friction, which is inherently more difficult, an interesting user experience?


Using Tech’s Strengths: Triggers & Motivation For Good

I’ll let you in on a core belief on mine: if someone has the opportunity to make growth friction fun, they will take it. The Fogg Behavior Model states a behavior will only happen if the motivation, the ability and the trigger are present. Together, they create the behavior:


Behavior = Motivation x Ability x Trigger

This graph’s message is that there is a sweet spot where triggers and motivation help you sustain a behavior. For example, imagine I want to run a marathon but I never have trained before. I can set my alarm at 0500 to train every morning, but it will fail if I’m not highly motivated to achieved this behavior.


Technology has a long track record of affecting the motivation and triggers of users. IG has created the behavior of posting pics/stories. You’re motivated to do it because you get likes and views. You get triggers when people like, post or view some of your stuff. The platform creates the triggers, self-generates the motivation and makes you behave differently. The problem is that the behavior this creates is useless from a growth standpoint. This is where technology that’s good for you can make the biggest impact. By using the motivation and triggering tools that tech excels at to leverage healthy behaviors.


It’s possible to incentivize growth using the same digital addiction techniques used by feel-good consumer tech (social networks, games, etc…) with a core behavior that allows a net positive impact in our lives.


That’s what we’re building with PlayFitt. You obviously don’t need an app to move, but you DO need an app to provide motivation and triggers for that movement. With 4M repetitions done in the app (as of February 2020), we’re happy to see that users are taking advantage of the motivational structure and the triggers to sustain a positive habit like exercising everyday. We couldn’t be prouder to have that kind of impact on our users!


More about the process behind PlayFitt in the next one…