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Making Things Worse on Purpose

Lately I’ve enjoyed breaking bad habits and resolving little frictions in my life by tweaking apps that cause and enable them.

news-feed-eradicator specifically eliminates Facebook’s news feed, that erstwhile attention-trap. More generically, you can customize an ad blocker to block arbitrary content on a website; I use this to hide comment sections which would otherwise waste my time. These social features make products “better” inasmuch as they make them more profitable (via user engagement), but the psychology of a bottomless social feed is such that my engagement doesn’t necessarily correspond to it providing me any value at all.

YouTube’s default video quality throttling mismanages my computer’s resources rather than my attention: their playback quality throttling considers bandwidth, but not the client’s graphics hardware or playback speed. The fan on my 2013 laptop is screaming after a minute of streaming 1440p video at 60 frames per second and 2.5x normal speed.

Because YouTube’s player controls store a manually-set quality limit in Chrome’s Local Storage (as yt-player-quality), a Chrome extension can simulate manually correcting the defaults. I don’t need to abide by YouTube’s expectation that I prefer higher-quality video.

Unfortunately, we don’t have this degree of flexibility in mobile browsers (which lack the extensibility of desktop browsers) or closed-source native apps (which don’t share a single customizable client). This is the same product-user dynamic that makes syndication feeds important: allowing end-users to tinker with an interface alleviates some pressure to predict what they need.

Tinkering is a gratifyingly active kind of usership, one that — at its extreme — cuts against applications’ commercial drive to be desirable, to induce dependency.