As social creatures, we derive a great deal of self-worth from the feeling of belonging to a community or social system. FOMO is the most commonly talked about example of how technology platforms encourage social anxiety, but the feeling that everyone is better than us and that our lives are of relatively little value is just as significant. When technology is designed to alleviate this, it can grow our sense of self-worth. At the very least, product designers should aspire to not reduce self-worth with their products.
Example of this Principle in Action
Basis of this Principle
Social anxiety and psychological vulnerability are exploited and sometimes even created by designers to boost engagement and dependency on a product. Social hierarchy is one of the most common ways of creating pressure and anxiety, as it forces people to live and communicate in ways that are unnatural to their sense of self. This is done by curating the online presence of users and basing social interactions around superficial quantification (e.g., ‘how many likes will this post get’). Platforms, especially social ones, create hierarchies by boosting certain users to fame, celebrity status, objects of aspiration, and suggesting that these individuals represent the life you should be living, the pictures you should be taking, the topics you should be interested in and the brands you should be buying. By removing the emphasis on quantifying someone’s social status (likes, followers, friends), this can be mitigated. Medium, as previously mentioned, promotes content independent of the number of followers, thus reducing the celebrity effect. A classic example of psychological vulnerability occurs on Facebook, where changing the profile photo makes the user more vulnerable to social approval. Facebook ranks new profile photos higher in the news feed to increase the user’s probability of gaining more likes and thus, brings the user to the platform at an increased frequency to see who liked their photo. FOMO, or a fear of missing out, is another example of how social technologies support social anxiety. If your product does evoke FOMO, then it is worthwhile exploring how it can support security and gratitude for what is already here.