In 2018, we finally began to take seriously the time spent behind the smartphone

I present to you the translation of the article by Catherine Shu (Catherine Shu) published on TechCrunch.

At the beginning of this year, I went to Amazon from my iPhone to see what's new there, and I saw the cover of the book “How To Part With Your Phone” from Catherine Price. I downloaded this book on the Kindle, because I really wanted to reduce the time I spend with my smartphone, but also because I thought it would be foolish to read a book about breaking up with my smartphone on my smartphone.After reading a few chapters, I was motivated enough to download Moment , an application for tracking screen activity recommended by Price, and buy a downloaded book in print.

At the very beginning of the book "How To Part With Your Phone," Price invites readers to take a smartphone dependency test , developed by David Greenfield, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut, who also founded the Center for Technological and Internet Addiction. The test consists of fifteen questions, but having answered only the first five, I already knew that something was wrong with me. Frustrated with my very high test result, which I am too shy to disclose, I decided that the time had come to seriously tackle the time spent at the smartphone.

One of the chapters in Price’s book that caused me the greatest response is called “Putting the Drug in Dopamine”. In this chapter, she writes that “phones and most applications are deliberately designed without so-called“ stop signals ”, which would warn us that it is necessary to stop using the device - that's why it’s so easy not to break away from the screen of a smartphone. At a certain level, we are aware that what we are doing makes us feel disgusting, but instead of stopping, our brain finds that the best solution would be to get even more dopamine. We check our phones again, again and again. ”

Disgust is what I felt. I bought my first iPhone in 2011 (I had an iPod Touch before). It was the first thing I looked at in the morning, and the last thing I saw at night. I would justify it by checking work cases, but in fact I did it on autopilot. Reflections on what I could have achieved in the last eight years, if I hadn’t been permanently attached to my smartphone, made me nauseous. I also wondered how this affected my brain. Just as sugar changes our taste buds, causing us to crave more and more sweets to get enough, I was worried that the extra doses of immediate satisfaction that my phone gave out reduce my ability to feel genuine joy and pleasure.

Price's book was published in February, at the beginning of the year, when it seemed that technology companies began to take excessive screen activity time more seriously (or at least do more than talk about it). In addition to the introduction of Screen Time options in iOS 12 and Digital well-being tools on Android (toolbars that track the time spent behind the smartphone as a whole, and in each application in particular), Facebook , Instagram and YouTube introduced new features that allow users to track the time spent on their sites and in applications.

At the beginning of this year, influential investor activists holding Apple shares also urged the company to focus on how their devices affect children . In a letter to Apple, hedge fund Jana Partners and the California State Pension System ( CalSTRS ) wrote: “Social networking sites and applications for which the iPhone and iPad are the main viewing tools are usually designed to be as addictive as possible. can be more time-consuming, as their own developers have recognized, adding that “asking parents to enter this battle alone is an unrealistic and weak business strategy in the long run.”

Growing mountain of research

Then, in November, researchers from the state of Pennsylvania published an important study that linked the use of social networks by adolescents with depression. During the pilot studyunder the guidance of a psychologist Melissa Hunt (Melissa Hunt) for three weeks at the university was monitored for 143 students with iPhones. The students were divided into two groups: one was instructed to limit their time on social networks, including Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram, only 10 minutes for each application per day (their use was confirmed by checking participants' smartphone battery use screens). Another group continued to use social networking apps as usual. At the beginning of the study, baseline values ​​were established with standard indicators of levels of depression, anxiety, social support, etc., and each group continued to be evaluated throughout the experiment.

The results, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, were astounding. The researchers wrote that "a group with a limited time of using devices showed a significant reduction in feelings of loneliness and depression for three weeks, compared with the control group."

Even the control group showed improvements, despite the fact that they did not limit the use of social networks. “Both groups showed a significant decrease in anxiety and fear of loss of profits compared with the baseline indicators, which indicates the benefits of strengthening self-control,” the study says. "Our findings strongly suggest that limiting the use of social networks to 30 minutes a day can lead to a significant improvement in health."

Other academic studies published this year have added to the growing list of evidence that smartphones and mobile apps can significantly damage your mental and physical health.

A group of researchers from Princeton, Dartmouth, University of Texas at Austin and Stanford published a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, in which it was found that using smartphones to photograph and record an event actually reduces the ability to shape memories of the event itself. Others warned against keeping a smartphone in your bedroom or even on your desktop while you work. Optical chemistry researchers at the University of Toledo have found that blue light emanating from digital device displays can cause molecular changes in the retina , potentially accelerating its dystrophy.

Thus, over the past 12 months, I had enough motivation to reduce the time spent at the smartphone. Every time I checked the news on my phone, it seemed to me that another headline appeared about the dangers of its excessive use. I started using the Moment application to track the total screen activity time and its distribution among applications. I took two courses in this app: Phone Bootcamp and Bored and Brilliant. I also used Moment to set a daily time limit, turn on so-called “tiny reminders” (push notifications that tell you how much time you spent on the phone during the day) and turn on the “Turn me off when I finish” function, which, to put it simply, it starts to annoy you when you use the phone beyond the established norm.

At first I managed to reduce the screen activity time by half. I thought that some of the benefits, such as the increased concentration mentioned in Price’s book, are too good to be true. But I found that my concentration really improved significantly after only a week of limiting the use of a smartphone. I read more long articles, browse more new series and finish knitting a sweater for my baby. And most importantly: the painful feeling of wasting time on trifles, which arose at the end of each day, decreased, and so I lived happily ever after, knowing that I did not spend my life on memes, clickback and make-up lessons (joke).

After a few weeks, my screen activity time began to decrease again. At first, I turned off the Force Me Off feature in Moment, because there is no landline phone in my apartment, and I needed to check texts from my husband. I left “tiny reminders,” but it became easier and easier to ignore. But even when I thoughtlessly flipped through Instagram or Reddit, I felt an existential fear of realizing that I was abusing the best years of my life. Considering all this, why is the screen activity time limit so difficult?

I wish I knew how to part with you, small device.

I decided to talk to Moment's CEO, Tim Kendall, to clarify some details. Founded in 2014 by UI designer and iOS developer Kevin Holesh, Moment recently released an Android version. This is one of the most famous application genres, which includes programs such as Forest , Freedom , Space , Off the Grid , AntiSocial and App Detox . All of them are dedicated to reducing display activity time (or, at least, encouraging more informed use of the smartphone).

Kendall told me that I am not alone. Moment has 7 million users, and “over the past four years, it can be observed that the average usage time of a device is only growing,” he says. After analyzing the data, the Moment team can say that their tools and courses really help people reduce the time it takes to use a smartphone, but often this time of use increases again. The introduction of new functions to combat this trend is one of the main goals of the company for the next year.

“We spend a lot of time on R & D to figure out how to help people who fall into this category. Moment regularly releases new courses (the latter of which affected sleep, attention span and time spent with the family) and recently began offering them on a subscription system.

“Forming habits and constantly changing behaviors are hard enough to achieve,” says Kendall, who previously served as president of Pinterest and director of monetization on Facebook. But he is optimistic. “This is fixable. People can do it. I think the benefits of using such applications are really significant. We do not stop at the courses and explore many different ways to help people. ”

As Jana Partners and CalSTRS noted in their letter, a particularly important issue is the impact of excessive use of smartphones on adolescents and young people who have constant access to devices. Kendall points out that the teen suicide rate has increased dramatically over the past two decades . Although research does not link the time spent on the Internet to the number of suicides, the relationship between the time of display activity and the level of depression has already been noted many times, including in the Penn State study.

But there is still hope. Kendall says that the Moment Coach option, which offers short daily exercises to reduce smartphone use time, is especially effective among millennials — the generation most stereotypically associated with pathological attachment to their phones. “It seems that 20 and 30-year-olds find it easier for people to assimilate this option and, consequently, reduce the time of use than 40-and 50-year-olds,” he says.

Kendall stresses that Moment does not consider using the smartphone in the “all or nothing” category. Instead, he believes that people should replace unhealthy brain foods, such as social networking applications, with things like online foreign language courses or meditation applications. “I really think that a smartphone used deliberately is one of the most wonderful things you have,” he says.

I tried to limit most of the time using a smartphone with apps like Kindle, but the best solution was to find offline alternatives to distract myself. For example, I learned new knitting and crochet techniques because I can't do it when I hold my phone in my hands (although I continue to listen to podcasts and audiobooks while knitting). It also gives me a tactile way of measuring the time that I would spend my phone, because the time I spend on a smartphone correlates with the number of stitches that I finish knitting. To limit my use to specific applications, I rely on the screen activity time in iOS. It is very easy to press the "Ignore limit" button, so I still continue to use some Moment functions.

While some third-party applications for tracking screen time activity have recently come under the scrutiny of Apple , Kendall says that the launch of Screen Time did not have a significant impact on the business or the registration of new users in Moment. The release of the Android version opens up a completely new market (Android also allows Moment to add new features that are not possible on iOS, including access only to certain applications at a set time).

“The short-term impact of the Screen Time feature on iOS was neutral, but I think it will really help in the long run,” Kendall says. “I think that in the long run this will help with the realization of the very fact of excessive use of the device. If you compare the use of devices with a diet, then I think that Apple has created a terrific calorie counter and scale, but, unfortunately, they did not give people recommendations on nutrition or regimen. If you talk to any behavioral economist, in spite of everything that has been said about quantitative self-measurement, the numbers will not motivate people. ”

“The sense of guilt also does not work, at least in the long term. This is part of our brand, company and spirit. We do not think that we will be very helpful if people feel that they are appreciated when using our product. They need to feel caring and supportive and know that the goal is not to achieve perfection, but to gradually change, ”adds Kendall.

Many smartphone users are probably in my situation: alarmed by the statistics of screen activity time, dissatisfied with the amount of time spent on it, but also having difficulty parting with their devices. We do not just use our devices to get distracted or get a fast flow of dopamine thanks to likes on social networks. We use a smartphone to manage our workload, keep in touch with friends, plan our days, read books, look for recipes and find places to visit. I often thought about buying a Yondr bag or asking my husband to hide my phone from me, but I know that in the end it will not help.

No matter how obvious it may sound, the incentive to change must come from within. No amount of academic research, applications for tracking display activity time or analytics can compensate for this.

One thing I keep saying to myself: if the developers don’t find more ways to make us change our behavior or if there is another significant paradigm shift in the mobile communication, my relationship with the smartphone will change. Sometimes I will be happy with my time using the device, then I’ll stick to my phone again, then I will start another Moment course or try another application to monitor the screen activity time, and hopefully get back on the right path. However, in 2018, the conversation about the time spent behind the smartphone screen finally attracted more attention (and at the same time I completed some knitting projects, instead of just browsing through the knitting posts on Instagram).

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