What’s wrong with trying to be Indistractable?
In his 2014 book Hooked, behavioral designer Nir Eyal provided a design model for “habit-forming products”. In the 6 years since its publication, many of us have indeed become (painfully) aware of the power of habit-forming technologies. Now, with the war for our attention raging, Eyal is back, this time with a model not for how to design addictive products, but how to resist them.
How to become what he calls “indistractable.” Does this mean Eyal regrets being one of the fathers of addictive tech design? Does he wish he could take Hooked out of circulation? Not even a little bit. Instead, Eyal says tech can’t be held accountable: it’s the user’s fault for being “distractable.”
In a biting review of the book, fellow author and leading thinker on attention economics James Williams points out the seriously flawed logic at work here. He compares Eyal’s position to American gun advocates, who say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. (Of course, neither side of that false dichotomy is correct; it is clearly the gun-person interface which is at issue)”.
Eyal’s bid for people “to demand ‘superpowers’ of themselves that their all-too-human limitations render them unable to meet” is irresponsible. And it goes against what we now know about the arguably pathetic limits of self-control in human beings, as Wendy Wood explains in her new book Good Habits, Bad Habits – another book on how to resist distraction, which doesn’t suffer from Eyal’s problematic defensiveness about the ethics of persuasive design!
To go further :
“Letting tech off the hook” by James Williams (The Guardian, 18 October 2019)