“You become responsible forever for what you’ve tamed.”
Antione de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
The routine scenario plays out without a twitch: I am unlocking the door, tumbling in with my pre-schooler and toddler, their scarves, caps, toys, drawings, my laptop bag, our groceries for the day. The usual mess, the usual workday rush.
And, so the evening begins.
My day was long. In their small eyes, even longer probably. We are all tired. I need to get the dinner ready. They start bickering. The box of cereals left on the dining table from this morning flies across the room, covering the floor in Cheerios.
I sit them in front of TV and play Netflix.
I’ve long stopped hushing down the voices in my head of everything I ever read on positive parenting and benefits of unstructured play. Without guilt, I opt for a cartoon.
There are millions of parents out there doing just the same.
It allows the kids to stop and switch gears, it allows me to get on with the dinner. Win-win.
Both my husband and I happen to work in tech and, soon after our first child was born, we agreed to deliberately parent with technology.
It does not mean maxing out on screen time, though.
We embrace it arguably more than most parents, consciously making it an integral part of the way our children learn about the world and themselves. But, at least judging by examples around us, we are also much stricter when it comes to controlling it.
It takes some effort, know-how and awareness.
What makes my blood boil is that, in order to manage digital consumption for ourselves, and especially for our children, we need to be geeky enough to play the system and its default design.
It should not be that way.
These are mass market products that we all so naively welcomed into our lives without much judgement. We need to start reclaiming some control back.
The content consumer floats in the Bermuda triangle of the attention economy: little regulation, consumer protection that needs to seriously savvy up and big tech that could not care less about their social responsibility.
Getting lost in the process is the consumer’s mind.
In technology, social responsibility should start at fundamentals such as design.
There should be regulation that sets explicit limits to interface design meddling with mental health. Consumer protection needs to up their game by — gulp — understanding what’s going on, to begin with.
A lot of it derives from the fact that human brain is wired to act by default. We all run on autopilot for most of the time.
This common cognitive bias extends from daily life into our relationship with technology: without a strong reason, people usually do not change – or even bring into question – the factory settings on their devices and digital platforms.
As default settings rule the world, we need to open a debate about the principles of interface default in order to ensure that digital fits our lives in a much healthier and more balanced way.
In 2017, big tech started waking up to their lack of conscience, with important individuals coming out about the addictive technology design, such as drag-to-refresh, the Like button or auto-play, that can “hijack our brains”.
With the cat out of the bag now, it is also up to us, the citizens, parents, “users” as they call us, to take responsibility, speak up and start putting some serious pressure in order for this to change.
My small step in that direction is an open letter to Netflix.
FROM: a parent
Our family does not binge, but we do like you.
We like the choice, variety, recommendations, multiple device and profile availability, possibility to download episodes and change languages.
And, because I want you to continue being a part of out dynamic family life, I — as a customer — want to help you improve.
It is about two fundamental things: attitude and responsibility.
It took you years before even giving the possibility to turn off next episode auto-play manually on children’s accounts.
Absurdly, over that long period, the only way of doing so was switching it to adult account, turning off auto-play and switching back a kids’ account, as described in detail here.
Anyone who has ever built a piece of user interface knows that something like that does not happen by chance.
Even if it did, fixing it should have been quite straightforward. But you casually waited until 2017 to make it possible.
That is preposterous. It shouts carelessness and arrogance.
I could bet that customers had been demanding it all along. I am also sure that many of them had just stuck with auto-play, taking it as the only option. Worse of all, although you have made the option available, I know you did zero to inform the parents.
And let me also tell you how user-friendly the feature is now, that it finally came to being: it cannot be done in-app, only from the browser. You would be familiar, though, with the fact that any basic Internet safety setting for children blocks them from browsing. So, I cannot even do it from their tablet and need to use another device.
Where is your usual sleek UX when it comes to the things that matter?
I will not lecture you about effects of binge-watching, you’ve been getting lots of those.
Here is, though, a rule of thumb from a parent’s perspective: as immediate effect, more than two cartoons at a time, and one needs to deal with the kid’s scrambled brains. Their behaviour changes. As simple as that.
We allowed you into our home, so this conversation needs to happen.
This is about mental well-being of children and teenagers, which is their indisputable right.
No margin-increasing habit-forming ploy should mess around with that.
We have seen you evolve from your start-up identity and irresponsible statements some years back. Good for you. Good for us.
Your expanding international presence and subscriber growth are remarkable. You are a listed company that employs thousands.
That just makes you more accountable and obliged: not only to do things just by the book unless pushed otherwise, but to do what is right. By default.
It is not only about the customer. Acting more responsibly is essential to your growth. Tech is fast, customers are getting smarter and their costs of switching to another provider are often negligible. Look what happened to Uber.
In the content consumption industry, corporate responsibility starts with design. The way you design your interface and what you choose to serve as default affects people’s lives. And your designers know it.
You need to up your game on this one.
Could you please start by:
(a) removing next episode auto-play from default setting on Kids’ profile; and
(b) when auto-play is active on Kids’ profile, providing an immediate one-tap solution for switching it back off easily: a visible in-app button on the main screen (not bogged down in the menu)?
We’ll be watching.
A grateful parent”
Thank you for reading.
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Hello there! My name is Jelena. I explore how tech, marketing and customer experience come together. We can connect here.
Originally published at medium.com