Comms people are often glued to their phones. Here’s a review of an app that might help ease the addiction.
by Will Mapplebeck
The other day I spent one hour and 20 minutes on Twitter. That’s 80 minutes I could have spent doing something far more useful. To be fair, I was bored, it was yet another heavy news day and I was travelling but I could have used that time to meditate, read the economist or write the next great American Novel.
Instead I was scrolling through the usual tribal and trivial nonsense on an app that I’ve threatened to delete several times but still find hideously addictive.
So how do I know how much time I spent scrolling? My Google phone comes with an app called Digital Wellbeing which tracks my phone usage, encourages me to switch off at night and sets timers on my apps (note, other phones and apps that do similar jobs are also available).
It might strike you as little perverse that the companies that gave us these amazing inventions – you can easily argue that the smartphone is equivalent to the printing press or the steam engine in terms of history-changing importance – now seek to gain corporate PR kudos giving us apps that help us manage the addictions that their relentless marketing has helped to foster.
Anyway, Digital Wellbeing allows you to set a time limit (mine for Twitter is an hour) and then warns you when you reach that limit for the day. You get a five minute warning, then a one minute warning and then it shuts the app down. Kaput until tomorrow. If you want to feel like a future toddler, put on the naughty chair by a robot, this is the app for you.
The trouble is that it’s a bit too easy to override the robot because there’s a link straight from the notification telling you you’re out of time back to the Wellbeing app allowing you to extend your session. If I were Google I’d make this harder, maybe with a password, a quick quiz or maybe a small electric shock.
And while I understand the use of limiting access to certain apps, I wonder what the point of limiting access to all apps – for example the one I use to pay my parking – is.
Digital wellbeing also does other stuff. It can hide notifications, it provides you with a pie chart of your screen time and which apps you’ve the most – Twitter for me, always Twitter – and it’ll even tell you exactly how many times you’ve picked up the phone.
The only thing it doesn’t do is switch the phone off, put it in a drawer and refuse to give it back. For those of you under 15 this requires an invention called a parent.
But Digital Wellbeing and other apps like it do help you realise the sheer amount of minutes you waste staring at a screen. Time that could be better spent on other more meaningful activities, like writing this blog post. It is changing my behaviour, but Google’s app needs a few tweaks before it can match good old-fashioned self-control.
Will Mapplebeck is the strategic communications manager at Core Cities UK. Follow him on Twitter @wimapp
image via The Library of Congress