At first this year, I was using my iPhone to look for new titles on Amazon when I saw Catherine Price's "How to Break Up With Your Phone" cover. I downloaded it on Kindle because I really wanted to reduce the use of smartphones, but also because I thought it would be hilarious to read a book about ending up with your smartphone on my smartphone (stupid, I know). In some chapters, however, I was motivated enough to download Moment, a screen time tracking application recommended by Price, and re-buy the printed book.
At the beginning of "How to Break Your Phone," Price invites his readers to take the smartphone compulsion test, developed by David Greenfield, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut, who also founded the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. The test has 15 questions, but I knew I was having trouble after answering the first five. Humbled by my very high score, which I'm ashamed to reveal, I decided it was time to take the restraint of using the smartphone seriously.
From the chapters of Price's book, the one called "Doping the Dope" resonated more in me. She writes that "phones and most applications are designed deliberately without interrupting the suggestions" to alert us when we have enough – and that's why it's so easy to accidentally swallow. At a certain level, we know that what we're doing is making us feel disgusting. But instead of stopping, our brains decide that the solution is to look for more dopamine. We checked our phones again. And again. And again."
Gross was exactly how I felt. I bought my first iPhone in 2011 (and owned an iPod Touch before that). It was the first thing I looked at in the morning and the last thing I saw at night. I'd say it was because I wanted to check things out from work, but actually I was on autopilot. Thinking about what I might have achieved in the last eight years if I had not been constantly connected to my smartphone made me feel queasy. I also wondered what I had done in the feedback loop of my brain. Just as sugar changes your taste, making you want more and more sweet to feel satisfied, I was worried that the incremental doses of instant gratification my phone offered would diminish my ability to feel genuine joy and pleasure.
Price's book was published in February, the beginning of a year, when it seems that technology companies have finally begun to treat the excess screen time as a liability (or at least do more than talk about it). In addition to the introduction of Screen Time on iOS 12 and Android's digital wellness tools, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube have launched new features that allow users to keep track of the time spent on their sites and apps.
Earlier this year, influential Apple-based activist investors also urged the company to focus on how its devices impact children. In a letter to Apple, hedge fund Jana Partners and the California State Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) wrote that "social media sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are a primary gateway are generally designed to as addictive and time-consuming as possible. , as many of its original creators have publicly acknowledged, "adding that" it is unrealistic and a long-term business strategy to ask parents to fight alone in this battle. "
The growing amount of research
Then in November, Penn State researchers released a major new study linking teenage social media use to depression. Led by psychologist Melissa Hunt, the experimental study monitored 143 students with university iPhones for three weeks. Undergraduate students were divided into two groups: one was instructed to limit their time on social networks, including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, only 10 minutes each application per day (their use was confirmed by checking the iOS battery usage screens ). The other group continued to use social media applications as they used to. At the start of the study, a baseline was established with standard tests for depression, anxiety, social support and other issues, and each group continued to be assessed throughout the experiment.
The results, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, were impressive. The researchers wrote that "the limited use group showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression for three weeks compared to the control group."
Even the control group has benefited, though it has no limits on the use of social media. "Both groups showed significant reductions in anxiety and fear of losing benchmarks, suggesting a benefit of increased self-monitoring," the study said. "Our findings strongly suggest that limiting the use of social media to about 30 minutes per day can lead to a significant improvement in well-being."
Other academic studies published this year have contributed to the growing body of evidence that smartphones and mobile applications can significantly impair their mental and physical well-being.
A group of researchers from Princeton, Dartmouth, University of Texas at Austin, and Stanford published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology that found that using smartphones to take pictures and videos of an experiment reduces the ability to form memories of it. Others have warned against keeping smartphones in your room or even at your desk while you work. Optical chemistry researchers at the University of Toledo have discovered that the blue light of digital devices can cause molecular changes in their retina, potentially accelerating macular degeneration.
So in the last 12 months, I had a lot of motivation to reduce my screen time. In fact, every time I checked the news on my phone, there seemed to be another headline on the dangers of using smartphones. I started using Moment to keep track of the total time of my screen and how it was split between applications. I took two of the courses in the Moment app, "Phone Bootcamp" and "Bored and Brilliant." I also used the app to set a daily time limit, enabled "tiny reminders," or push notifications that tell you how much time you've spent on your phone so far throughout the day and turned on the "Force Me Off When I" feature Over ", which basically annoys you when you go through your daily placement.
At first I was able to cut my screen time in half. I felt that some of the benefits, such as the best attention time mentioned in Price's book, were too good to be true. But I found that my concentration really improved significantly after only a week limiting the use of the smartphone. I read more long format articles, watched some TV shows and finished knitting a sweater for my baby. Most importantly, the uncomfortable feeling I had at the end of each day about how to waste all my time away has diminished, and so I lived happily afterwards, comfortable knowing that I am not wasting my life with memes, clicks, and makeup tutorials .
After a few weeks, my screen time began to rise again. First, I turned off Moment's "Force Me Off" feature because my apartment did not have a landline phone and I needed to check my husband's texts. I kept the tiny reminders, but they were easier to ignore. But even as I walked Instagram or Reddit without thinking, I felt the existentialism of fearing that I was abusing the best years of my life. With all of this at stake, why is limiting screen time so difficult?
I would like to know how to get out of you, small device
I decided to speak to Moment CEO Tim Kendall by some insight. Founded in 2014 by UI designer and iOS developer Kevin Holesh, Moment recently launched an Android version as well. It is one of the best known of a genre that includes Forest, Freedom, Space, Out of the Grid, AntiSocial and App Detox, all dedicated to reducing screen time (or at least encourage more conscious use of smartphone).
Kendall told me I'm not alone. The timing has 7 million users and "in the last four years, you can see that the average usage goes up every year," he says. By analyzing the overall data, the Moment team can say that their tools and courses help people reduce screen time, but that often they start to increase again. Combating this with new features is one of the company's primary goals for next year.
"We are spending a lot of time investing in research and development to find out how to help people who fall into this category." They did Phone Bootcamp, saw good results, saw benefits, but could not figure out how to do it sustainably, "says Kendall Moment has regularly launched new courses (recent topics include sleep, attention and time for the family) and has recently started offering them on a subscription basis.
"It's habit forming and sustained behavior change that's really difficult," says Kendall, who previously held positions as Pinterest's chairman and director of monetization for Facebook. But he's optimistic. "It's treatable. People can do that. I think the rewards are really significant. We did not stop with the courses. We are exploring many different ways of helping people. "
As Jana Partners and CalSTRS noted in their letter, a particularly important issue is the impact of the overuse of smartphones on the first generation of teenagers and young adults to have constant access to devices. Kendall notes that teen suicide rates have risen dramatically in the past two decades. Although the survey did not explicitly link time spent online to suicide, the link between screen time and depression has been observed many times, as in the Penn State study.
But there is hope. Kendall says the Moment Coach feature, which offers short daily workouts to reduce smartphone usage, appears to be particularly effective among millennials, the more stereotypical generation associated with being pathologically attached to their phones. "It seems that 20 and 30-year-olds have an easier time internalizing the coach and therefore reducing their use in their 40s and 50s," he says.
Kendall points out that Moment does not see the use of the smartphone as an all-or-nothing proposition. Instead, he believes that people should replace junk food in the brain, such as social media applications, for things like online language courses or meditation applications. "I really think the phone used deliberately is one of the most wonderful things you have," he says.
I tried to limit most of the use of smartphones to applications like the Kindle, but the best solution was to find offline alternatives to keep me distracted. For example, I've been teaching myself new knitting and crochet techniques because I can not hold my phone (even though I listen to podcasts and audiobooks). It also gives me a tactile way of measuring the time I spend with my phone because the hours I cut my screen time correlate with the number of lines I complete in a project. To limit my use to specific apps, I rely on iOS Screen Time. It's very easy to tap "Skip limit", however, I also continue to depend on various Moment features.
Although several third-party screen-time tracking application developers have recently met under Apple's more scrutiny, Kendall says that the launch of Screen Time did not significantly affect Moment's businesses or registrations. The release of its Android version also opens up a significant new market (Android also allows Moment to add new features that are not possible on iOS, allowing only access to certain apps at set times).
The short-term impact of iOS Screen Time "has been neutral, but I think in the long run this will really help," says Kendall. "I think in the long run this will help with awareness. If I were to use a diet metaphor, I think Apple built a great calorie counter and scale, but unfortunately they did not give people dietary guidelines or a regimen. If you talk to any behavioral economist, regardless of what has been said about the quantified self, the numbers really do not motivate people. "
Guilting also does not work, at least not in the long run, so Moment tries to take "a compassionate voice," he adds. "This is part of our brand and company and ethos. We do not think we will be very useful if people feel judged when we use our product. They need to feel cared for and supported and know that the goal is not perfection, it's a gradual change. "
Many smartphone users are probably in my situation: alarmed by the weather statistics on the screen, dissatisfied with the time they spend, but also find it difficult to get out of their devices. We do not just use our smartphones to distract us or have a quick dopamine run with the likes of social media. We use it to manage our workload, keep in touch with friends, plan our days, read books, look for recipes, and find fun places to go. I always thought about buying a Yondr purse or asking my husband to hide my phone, but I know this will not help.
Strange as it may seem, the drive for change must come from within. No amount of academic research, screen time applications or reviews can make up for this.
One thing I say to myself is that unless developers find more ways to force us to change our behavior or another major paradigm shift to occur in mobile communications, my relationship with my smartphone will move in cycles. Sometimes I'll be happy with my use, then I'll lose, then I'll take another Moment course or try another screen application, and I hope to get back on track. In 2018, however, the talk around the screen time finally gained a desperately needed urgency (and meanwhile, I actually completed some knitting projects instead of just browsing the #knittersofinstagram).