Why do the popular short videos on mobile phones nowadays cause addiction and discomfort?

Robert’s MetaMask

I didn't understand in the past, but I gradually realized it after playing for a while.

The design of these addictive mobile short videos, I think it should have started with Snapchat, and then live streaming apps learned from it, maybe starting from the app '17', and then it almost became the 'standard' UI design for Chinese mobile app live streaming rooms. Next, Musically incorporated it into their own videos, and then Douyin (TikTok) promoted it extensively. Now, Xiaohongshu (Little Red Book), WeChat, and many others also have this design.

The characteristics of this design:

  • Vertical full-frame display, immersive playback
  • Quick and smooth sliding switch, upward and downward swiping for quick video switch, left and right swipe for quick channel or category switch
  • Optimized for fast playback, switching to a new video can be played almost immediately
  • The position of video playback is generally remembered, and it automatically starts from where it left off when returning to the video
  • The videos are relatively short, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes
  • Unlimited AI recommendations, you can keep scrolling and it will continuously recommend based on the duration of what you watch and what type of content you like, and keep recommending.

The advantages of this design are:

  • The barrier to use is very low, compared to long videos on platforms like Youtube and Netflix, it is easier and quicker to watch. It feels like you can watch it anytime.
  • Low threshold for switching, good experience -- if you don't like it, switch immediately, switch quickly with no waiting, so switching videos feels effortless (compared to long videos where switching feels troublesome)
  • Automatically recommended content allows users to obtain more and more similar and related content without having to think too much within a certain period of time, continuing to increase user engagement.

Why does it become addictive?

But not all good things are addictive, what makes people addictive? Actually what makes people addictive is the feeling of 'unfulfilled desires' rather than being satisfied -- you really want to have some wonderful experiences, and you also taste the happiness of having these experiences, but it doesn't completely satisfy you, this creates a kind of feedback, making you want to gain more and repeat it continuously.

Watching excellent movies often does not make us addicted. We may go to watch them frequently, and even repeatedly watch good movies. But in a certain sense, every time we watch these excellent movies, we gain spiritual satisfaction. Junk food, tobacco, and drugs continually raise the threshold of satisfaction for us. On the one hand, it means that we are never satisfied enough each time, and on the other hand, it means that traditional things become less satisfying because the threshold of satisfaction has been elevated.

The experience of short videos is far from being as enjoyable as watching complete videos, so in a sense, this is also the reason why these types of things are addictive, as they cannot satisfy one's craving for it. On the contrary, watching higher-quality things may not only be more enjoyable, but also not addictive, and there will be no regrets afterwards.

The aspects of this design that make people uncomfortable afterwards are:

  • Waste of time, although each video is short and switches quickly, most of the videos are of low quality and have no value. Although a small number of videos are good, overall, most of the time is wasted on low-quality videos; therefore, looking back, I find it not so enjoyable and feel that I have wasted time.
  • Good content is not satisfying. Occasionally there is good content, but it feels too short and the picture quality is poor, which means the enjoyable experience of good things is insufficient.
  • Unpredictable, you don't know when you'll see good content. Although this brings novelty and can easily lead to addiction, it always feels unsatisfying (Note: It's by design to not satisfy you. Only when you're curious but not satisfied will you become addicted.)

This is similar to junk food, smoking and drinking, or more serious things like drugs, they all have similar characteristics. People who have the habit of eating junk food or taking drugs do not necessarily have a pleasant experience, but rather get trapped in it and find it difficult to stop, even though they know deep down that something is not right. The various regrets that arise at these times further cause more harm from addictive behaviors.

Some decentralized application design goals are to make users addicted.

It is easy to understand that the purpose of most centralized applications is to acquire more users and keep them engaged. Therefore, the most effective method is to carefully design addictive features for users.

Short video is popular now, it is a typical result of this kind of goal; There are many similar considerations, such as various gambling software and games.

AI recommendation system for central services is also designed to make users addictive, resulting in the so-called 'information cocoon' effect, where users become immersed in biased information and are unaware of the real world.

The design goal of decentralized applications is based on the users' own interests.

The only entity that should be fully responsible for decentralized applications is the users themselves. Therefore, a good decentralized application should be designed entirely from the perspective of users' interests. Hence, whether users become addicted or not is unnecessary. However, meeting users' requirements thoroughly is essential.

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