People are figuring out that the software we use may be using us more than the other way around. Mobile apps started by filling cracks in our schedules, but have now sunk roots, and expanded to displace other activities we used to perform, like making conversation and eye contact with dinner partners.

There’s no evil mastermind in a shadowy office who architected the whole situation. Just a lot of individuals at companies, narrowly optimizing their engagement metrics, with the emergent result that using a cell phone these days is like walking through a casino floor.

This happened with food a long time ago. And there have been some powerful recent trends in reaction, like paleo, carnivory, and the organic food movement. I’m predicting a similar trend in consumer software.

Organic Software

If you A/B test how much sugar to add to a soft drink, you’re going to keep upping the dosage. The response is linear up to a critical point. Then you get nailed with regulation or distributed consumer rejection, as the negative consequences are understood.


Apple will launch Screen Time in iOS 12. The current incarnation has coarse controls—time limits per-app or category, like Social Networking. But they have the data to do much more.

If you measure quantity of app launches per day, or time spent per day, in the aggregate, you can start to label apps in the App Store based on how addictive or time-costly they are. “Mature Audiences Only—This app averages over 1hr per day in time cost.”

Time is the currency of your life. How would consumer behavior change with an equivalent of Nutrition Facts on consumer software products?

And if this happens, will products survive, that are highly-optimized for engagement in the current regime? Using the food analogy, the answer would be “Yes” but it could open up a new product segment for time-conscious consumers.