The Design Tricks That Make Smartphones Addictive—And How to Fight Them

iStock
iStock

Two and a half billion people worldwide—and 77 percent of Americans—have smartphones, which means you probably have plenty of company in your inability to go five minutes without checking your device. But as a new video from Vox points out, it's not that we all lack self-control: Your phone is designed down to the tiniest details to keep you as engaged as possible. Vox spoke to Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, who explains how your push notifications, the "pull to refresh" feature of certain apps (inspired by slot machines), and the warm, bright colors on your phone are all meant to hook you. Fortunately, he also notes there's things you can do to lessen the hold, from the common sense (limit your notifications) to the drastic (go grayscale). Watch the whole thing to learn all the dirty details—and then see how long you can spend without looking at your phone.

The Reason Why Your Car’s Turn Signal Makes a Clicking Sound

Zmaj88, iStock / Getty Images Plus
Zmaj88, iStock / Getty Images Plus

The clicking of a turn signal ranks among the least-annoying sounds a car can make. Along with the flashing bulb behind the arrow in your car's dashboard, the gentle, rhythmic tick tick tick-ing tones are a sign that your blinker is working properly when you switch it on. Even as technology has progressed, this feature has remained a constant throughout generations of vehicles—or at least that's how it appears to drivers. According to Jalopnik, there's one thing that has changed, though: the actual source of that familiar sound.

The flashing turn signals began appearing in automobiles in the late 1930s when Buick made them standard in some models. Traditionally, the clicking sound is made via heat. Drivers would switch on their blinker, and the electricity would heat up a bimetallic spring in the car, causing it to bend until it made contact with a small strip of metal. When these two components connected, a current would pass through them and power the electric turn signal lights. The bimetallic spring quickly cooled down and returned to its original form, turning off the light, before the whole process started again to create a new flash. As the spring bent back and forth, it created a clicking sound.

The next evolution of turn signals used a similar trick, but instead of moving a spring due to heat, it sent the electronic pulse to an electromagnet via a chip. When activated, the electromagnet pulled up a metal armature and disconnected the current powering the light (or the opposite, depending on the relay setup). Without the pulse from the chip, the electromagnet turned off and the armature returned to old position and bridged the circuit providing power to the bulbs. As was the case with the thermal spring, the relay clicked every time it moved.

Up until recently, this was how most car turn signals functioned, but things have changed as cars have become more computerized. Many car manufactured today rely on computer commands to activate their turn signals, skipping processes that once produced the distinctive clicks. But the clicking sounds are something people grew up with, and drivers might be unsettled if they heard nothing after activating their blinkers. That's why the mechanical sound still exists in the computer era—even though in many modern cars, it's actually just being broadcast through the vehicle's audio system.

For a visual of how electronic flasher signal systems work in cars, check out the video below.

[h/t Jalopnik]

Sony Is Celebrating the Walkman’s 40th Birthday With a Retrospective Exhibition in Tokyo

Joost J. Bakker, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Joost J. Bakker, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Before the dawn of CD players, mp3 players, and iTunes, cassette tape players dominated the music scene. The Walkman was the most prolific among them, and as designboom reports, Sony is hosting a retrospective to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the gadget's debut.

The Walkman first appeared in stores in Japan on July 1, 1979—just a few months after Sony cofounder Masaru Ibuka (who had already retired at that point) asked Sony executives to create a lightweight cassette player that would allow him to listen to music on long flights. The product was an instant hit, helping make cassette tapes more popular than vinyl and introducing many consumers to portable, personal devices for the first time.

Four decades later, the Walkman is no longer the hottest music technology on the market, but its impact on the industry is undeniable. Sony's new exhibit, titled "#009 WALKMAN IN THE PARK 40 Years Since the Day the Music Walked," explores that legacy. At Ginza Sony Park in Tokyo's Ginza district, visitors can experience the exhibit in two parts. The first is "My Story, My Walkman," which features the stories of 40 celebrities whose lives were changed by the Walkman. The second section is a "Walkman Wall" where about 230 models of the Walkman, from the original cassette players to CD and MP3 players, are on display.

The exhibit opened on July 1, the Walkman's anniversary, and will continue through September 1. Anyone can explore the Tokyo retrospective for free from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.

[h/t designboom]

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