Personalization & Accountability Driven Anti-Smartphone Addiction Application Features; Exploiting the Most Influential Actor Contributing to the Instability Existing within the Network of Smartphone Addiction

Bharani, Nikhil, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Bloomfield, Aaron, Computer Science, University of Virginia
Laugelli, Benjamin, Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

In this socio-technical synthesis, I will reflect upon my work this semester on writing my Research Paper on a socio-technical issue that I feel is very prevalent and growing in today’s society. Within my Research Paper, I focus on pure research oriented towards the problem of smartphone addiction, specifically on the case of Apple and their iPhone. I analyze this case and draw attention to various important supported pieces of evidence while utilizing Actor-Network Theory to decipher which actor is the biggest contributor to the overall instability in the actor-network. By simultaneously working on the technical project that proposes a way to better combat this issue alongside the STS project which provides a better understanding of the issue and what needs to be done to solve it, I was able to formulate proposals that I believe are steps in the right direction. In what follows, I will summarize my technical and STS projects and conclude with a reflection on the process of completing the Research Paper.
My technical project proposes a solution to the problem of smartphone addiction that focuses on enhancing current addiction-combatting applications with features specific to personalization and accountability. In researching and analyzing already existing solutions to this socio-technical problem, the negligence by engineers towards providing a platform for users to stay responsible and motivated in their journey to overcome this addiction became overwhelmingly apparent. I propose the addition of features such as an app validation tool for users to explain to themselves why they have spent X amount of time on particular apps, while allowing them to also set time limitations on these apps. In addition to this, I propose a centralized notification controller feature alongside a useful tips feature to help promote positive attitudes and motivation in telling users to stay off of their phones. Finally, I outline the use of the SCRUM methodology to properly timeline and organize the completion of these features in the design and development stages.
Coupled with this technical project, my Research Paper delved into a case study about Apple and their iPhone which was analyzed using Actor-Network Theory. Defining the network-builder as Apple in this case and the smartphone provider in general cases, I investigated the question of which actor within the actor-network was most responsible for the overall instability in the network, thus causing the growth of iPhone addiction. By investigating Apple’s goal as a network-builder in this case, I concluded that while they provided a functionality filled and very useful tool for smartphone addicts, they left the feature purposely incomplete. To be specific, Apple seemed to have not provided full functionality and help in terms of giving users the chance to fully curb their addictions. Rather, they left it more so “up to the user” to stop their addiction. Apple seemed to have beat around the bush in terms of not explicitly helping, and in turn, losing business value on their product, but in doing so indirectly neglected the importance of this socio-technical issue. Alongside this, I explored supporting case studies regarding the definition of addiction and current existing solutions in the forms of FlipD and AppDetox. In conducting this investigation, I looked to explain the value of understanding the social aspects of this problem via an in-depth analysis of the actor-network surrounding Apple and society as the first steps in designing and developing a strong standing solution to combat smartphone addiction.
Finally, in reflection of working on the technical project and the Research Paper together, I can confirm it was extremely valuable. Through the various discussions and studies we went over in this course this semester, I came to realize that with any given innovation that exists or is to be created, there are two important factors to be considered: the technical alongside the social. Focusing more on one over the other is what gives way to indirect or direct socio-technical problems. With that being said, by analyzing the problem of smartphone addiction solutions in a technical viewpoint, I saw how what I have learned in Computer Science helped me to identify issues in the lack of features in existing solutions’ designs. By analyzing the problem from an STS viewpoint, I was able to put myself in the shoes of current developers and engineers to see why the problem exists if the current solutions are socially pragmatic, effective, and accommodating. My analysis of the technical end helped to understand what was missing socially from the STS end, and vice versa. This prompted me to validate my proposals for both projects with the other side, and ultimately gave me a clearer understanding of the problem itself and how I wanted to tackle a solution to the overall problem of smartphone addiction. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed writing about such a prevalent socio-technical problem that even I am a victim to, while understanding it from a technical and STS standpoint.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Smartphone Addiction, Addiction, Smartphone, Apps, iPhone, Apple

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Science
Technical Advisor: Aaron Bloomfield
STS Advisor: Ben Laugelli
Technical Team Members: Nikhil Bharani, Christian Ventura

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