In our last post we introduced you to iUse™, our easy to remember mnemonic designed to remind you of key features of the Digital World that can wisely inform decisions about device use.  iUse™, together with the 5Rs, can help you and your family make choices in a tech saturated world that lead to better health and well-being.  In this post, we take a deeper dive into the impact of the first i Intuitive by Design. In the next post we will explore the impact of i— Irresistible by Design. And, in the following post we will share our thoughts about implications of both i’s for personal, family and parenting decisions about device use.

i – digital devices are intuitive by design

Impacts on use

The intuitive design of devices contributes to mindless, automatic clicking that is heavily influenced by programmers and app developers, rather than the conscious decisions of users. 

Have you noticed that smartphones and tablets, devices with computing power greater than the systems that first sent men to the moon, come with very few instructions? Instructions are not necessary because the only skill required for basic device operation is the ability to swipe or click. Even small children can do it without much assistance. This ease is quite intentional. The creators of these devices make them appealing and easy to operate so more people will buy and use them. On the one hand, it’s super cool that all that computing power, as well as the wonders of the Digital World, are so easy to access. On the other hand, the built-in ease and attraction doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful clicking. When you click before you think, your choices are more heavily influenced by the app and device designers than by conscious decisions made by you. This can increase the risk of the adverse consequences associated with device use.

Be curious!

 Conversation and thought starters

  • Look at your phone and note how easy it is for you (or anyone) to use. What features make it easy? Name them so that you are more aware of them.
  • How has the intuitive design of devices shaped your behaviors and decisions about your own use? Your children’s use? 
  • Think of examples of your own thoughtless clicking and the unforeseen consequences that may have resulted. Ask your family members to do the same (i.e. “I downloaded a free, new game that popped up last night and then spent an hour playing it instead of sleeping”).
  • How does the easy access to your device make your life better or worse? Name three examples of each.
  • Do you have strategies that help you “think before you click?” If so, have you shared them with your children? What strategies do your children use? (If you don’t know, be curious and ask!) Brainstorm more ways to think before you click.

The intuitive design of devices contributes to false confidence and a false sense of security.

The risks (potential and actual) associated with device use are not readily apparent or easy to anticipate while using a device or when observing someone else’s use from a distance. Devices are so easy to use that they give the impression that little or no instruction, guidance or skill is required. Yet that impression can be misleading, particularly in relation to our children’s use. When you observe a child using a device, what you see is a child in the Physical World manipulating a familiar, pleasing, smooth and shiny object. To our Physical World senses, this registers as low risk behavior. However, the child is not just sitting in the Physical World with a familiar object— the child is also actively engaged with dynamic events in the Digital World. The child may or may not be equipped to handle these events on her own but it can be hard to know that from an an outside vantage point that provides few cues about those events.

Our species has evolved to interact and survive in the Physical World by attending to cues that are either absent or appear very differently in the Digital World. The Digital World is very new. We are still learning about the cues that are important for survival there. In the Physical World, where we have a lot of collective experience, recognizing when a child needs support, guidance, and more skill is far easier and more automatic. For example: it is quite obvious that a young child does not have the strength and/or maturity to safely handle or be near a chainsaw without instruction and supervision. The power, size and potential danger of the chainsaw are readily apparent, especially when you see and hear it in action. Likewise, the struggle, and associated need for assistance, that a young child has when trying to lift and hold a chainsaw steady is also immediately evident.

In contrast, the intuitive design of devices very intentionally erases any evidence that assistance or guidance may be needed – even to the children! What we “see” is a child using a familiar object in the comfort of our home, happily occupied and not demanding or needing anything. Phew – now maybe we can get something done! Yet the actual environments children may be encountering while swiping and clicking away may be far different than the comfy chair and home in which you see them. Although most of these environments pose little threat to children, some present scenarios that many children are ill-equipped to manage well, avoid or exit without help from you. When you are not with your children in the Digital World, knowing when they have entered one of these environments and need your guidance can be hard to assess. Plus, children are unlikely to know and/or to tell you that they need help as the intuitive design gives them very few cues about the skills required for some environments – like critical thinking and emotion regulation skills. 

Be curious!

 Conversation and thought starters

  • How are you feeling right now? If your alarm bells are ringing, take some time to walk yourself through the four steps of emotion regulation before moving on to the following questions.
  • What are your thoughts and feelings when you see your child using a device? How do you manage them and how do they inform your decisions about device use?
  • Above you thought about how the ease of device use made your life better or worse. Now explore how those benefits and pitfalls are either in alliance or in conflict with your family values. How does device use contribute to or take away from your family goals? 
  • Think like your child. What do they see when you are engaged with your device? What might that be teaching them?
  • What are the cues that help you anticipate, avoid and/or exit an undesirable environment in the Digital World? How confident are you that you can use these cues to make decisions about your clicks? 
  • What, if any, challenging or unsavory environments have you encountered online? What were the cues that you were getting close or were somewhere you did not want to be? What have you taught your child about such cues? How do you define a “safe” site?
  • Ask your children how they define and determine if a site is “safe.” How do they decide whether to click or not? Don’t forget to be curious, not furious when exploring their thoughts on this topic!
  • How has all of the above influenced both your family’s device use and the rules you have in place about device use? 

As you can see, the fact that devices are intuitive by design (the first i in iUse™) gives us a lot to ponder! We encourage you to be curious this week about how the intuitive design of devices shapes device use for you and your family. We’d love to hear from you about what that curiosity brings to your attention. We invite you to send us any comments, questions, thoughts, or concerns. And, as always, we encourage you to strive to Be Curious, Not Furious about devices and their use so you can develop a healthier, more balanced relationship with them and with your family.