During the beginning of the pandemic, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). ADHD is commonly misdiagnosed among young adults, and women especially are known to receive a much later diagnosis than their male counterparts. As I began noticing the ways in which my hyper-fixations and compulsions manifested, I immediately became aware of the unhealthy relationship I had with technology. My personal realizations were two-fold:
Noticing these gaps, I wanted to conduct research on addiction, dissociation, and ADHD management techniques to explore what a low dopamine interface would be within the context of tech addiction.
The interface does not track user responses or save any data. Rather, users can come and go as they please. This isn’t a space to optimize, just to exist and introspect.
Many people with neuro-divergent conditions need and thrive on repetition, predictability, and clear boundaries to feel safe and in control.
Environments need to make sense, but overly redundant spaces lack inspiration. Having an interface where there is more to it than meets the eye can make people feel more engaged and eager to move through the space, while still keeping it easy to navigate.
This interface does not intend to be a panacea or band-aid solution, but rather a supplement to one's mental health toolbox.
Neuro-behaviorist theory views distraction as a biological process. It centers around the idea that compulsive behavior and addiction occur due to a chemical imbalance in the brain and can be regulated through activities that regulate one’s dopamine/serotonin levels. Neuro-behaviorists often cite how the hyper-saturated, slot machine-like nature of various social platforms is an intentional design choice that lends itself to addiction.
Dual systems theory views distraction as a mental process. The theory states that human behavior is guided by two structurally different cognitive systems that operate largely independently of one another and constantly compete for behavioral control:
The dual systems approach is integrated in the interface through various mindfulness-based prompts which encourage the user to check in with their reflective system.
The phenomenological approach views distraction as an embodied entity. When it comes to addressing distraction, phenomenology employs a five-scale model of skill acquisition. The more a person becomes proficient in an activity, the less they have to rely on conscious deliberation. The goal with phenomenology is to eventually reach a state of “egoless agency.” In the case of the interface, this would mean the user no longer requires the prompting of the interface to sustain a healthier, more mindful relationship with their screen.
I conducted an environmental scan and competitive analysis of other mental health and screen time management tools on the market, such as iOS' Native Screen Time Management System and Headspace. Although these apps exist, they often employ an overly disciplinary tone that disempowers the user. Additionally, they lack the personalization that is needed for sustainable habit-forming to occur.
From my research in management approaches and creative precedents, I was then able to create the screen logic for the interface and what a long-term user timeline would look like, beyond the app.
I user tested this screen logic by having a few friends play around with the prototype on a mirroring app. I took note of how they navigate through the interface, as well as asked them to share any thoughts that came up while going through it.
I also polled my peers to understand which oblique strategies *they* would employ to boost their energy: aspirational activities, and other hobbies they engage in when not in the digital space.
The in-app experience begins with a brief onboarding questionnaire. Users can identify well-being goals and preferred strictness of app.
The app serves as a threshold, reminding users to check-in with themselves before and after mindlessly scrolling. Depending on the level of strictness, the app will cycle through various prompts to encourage users to pause and reflect before entering their digital space.
After submitting the questionnaire, the app serves various oblique strategies that match the users' inputed preferences. They’re able to add or delete to customize what options appear when they compulsively reach for their screen. This gives our users agency, rather than being automatically matched with alternative suggestions.
In the vein of phenomenology, I am interested in long-term analog testing this idea of "friction" between ourselves and our digital world. Similar to tech addiction, can tech mindfulness become an embodied habit? I plan on creating physical prototypes out of laser-cut acrylic that serve as an overlay for screens.
Moving forward, I am excited to continue to explore psychology, technology, and culture in a thesis project. I feel I have learned much about the unexplored terrain of technology’s impact on our psyche, and would be interested in pushing other variations of this project further.