Is it already here?!
Okay, so there aren’t zombies running rampant on the streets but are you slowly becoming one? An infographic was published by Mashable called: The Internet Is Ruining Your Brain [INFOGRAPHIC] (I’ve attached a little screenshot below). The infographic not only explains our huge reliance on the internet, but also surfaces an interesting statistic that I hadn’t heard: “Heavy Internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed. They also suffer from a reduction in white matter.” This really hits home for me being in the Product Development profession. Many of the products out there, although great at getting our attention, are simply decreasing our the quality of life and turning our brains to mush.
“Heavy Internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed.”
“They also suffer from a reduction in white matter”
It isn’t a secret that many of the most recent Internet startups have been built and thrive on something called User Generated Content (UGC). It is defined as “any form of content such as blogs, wikis, discussion forums, posts, chats, tweets, podcasting, pins, digital images, video, audio files, and other forms of media that was created by users of an online system or service, often made available via social media Web sites”1. UGC is the backbone of sites like Reddit, Quora, Youtube, and a plethora of others and it keeps sites rich and fresh. Layer on some intelligent algorithmic magic and the best content frequently bubbles to the surface.
Great right? Well, there is one common pattern that I find quite interesting, and that is the premise that these platforms are primarily meant for content consumption and open exploration. They are meant to get the most eyeballs, provide the freshest and more popular content, put the work of content creation on the users (a true stroke of genius for the creators). These things are great if you’re looking for entertainment, but these platforms leave something to be desired in terms of changing the world or even your life for the better. There is something that I believe the best companies in the world will solve in the near future, or run the risk of irrelevance. What is that? More cat memes?
Probably not. The companies of the future that will have the largest impact on the world are those that fully integrate into user’s lives AND help them achieve their goals AND have a positive impact on the world. Product design and development shouldn’t be about thinking of the next growth hack that can psychologically trick people into consuming more useless content. It should be about helping people determine the best possible lives they could lead and then giving them the tools, insights, and content to get there. I’m not saying content consumption for entertainment is a bad thing. I’m not even saying that Youtube, Reddit, and Quora are bad products (they are packed with useful information, if you know where to look). But if we want to continue innovating as human race and improving the standards of living across the world, I argue we need less noise and more action in product design and development.
What does this mean exactly? Well, instead of building the next Youtube, where the majority of the time being spent on it is watching Charlie bite his older brother’s finger, or a cute baby Panda sneezing, we need to build IMPACTFUL products. We need products that are centered around setting and achieving valuable goals that help push humanity forward. We need less mindless consumption, and more products that give users the tools and insights to achieve their goals and increase their overall standard of living.
We need less depression, less obesity, less consumption, less polution and we can build the products that solve these problems. If we as product designers and developers continue to look for the next growth hack or platform that keeps users stuck reading cat memes and useless content (although entertaining), we are doing the world a MAJOR disservice and only have ourselves to blame for the mindless zombies we are creating to roam among us.