Will These New Features Help Relieve Your Smartphone Addiction?

STRINGENTLY STICKING to a juice might help you starve your way into those pants by the weekend, but come Monday, chances are you’ll gorge yourself and gain it all back, plus an extra pound or two. Same goes for so-called “digital detoxes:” Cutting yourself off from devices cold turkey can help you unplug in the short term, but with one notifying ding, your smartphone addiction could return in full force. There’s been a shift from being completely shut off to trying to limit online time,” said Michelle Evans, a consumer data analyst at Euromonitor, a London-based market research firm. Now Big Tech brands like Apple, Google and Facebook —heretofore devoted to feeding our device-based vices—are now suddenly attempting to help curb bad habits in a balanced manner dubbed “digital well-being.”

Last month Apple started rolling out its new operating system, iOS 12, with tools to limit screen time, or at least to create self-awareness. It’s Do Not Disturb function, a lifesaver for the perennially distracted, got a sleek upgrade that lets you hide push notifications for set periods—an hour here or there, or all night while you snooze. The Screen Time dash, in Settings under Control Center, summarises your daily and weekly activity, details how much time you’ve spent on social media and how many times you’ve checked your phone, ranks apps by the rate at which they’re inundating you with notifications and shares insights about ugly habits. Facebook dramatically revamped its Newsfeed algorithm earlier this year to personalise users’ experience—winnowing outposts from brands and news outlets, prioritising photos of, say, friends’ pups. Now the social network is introducing features to clock all usage under the Your Time on the Facebook tab in settings. Instagram, owned by Facebook, is also adding features that log time spent on the platform in a settings tab titled Your Activity and a new shaming but helpful “You’re All Caught Up” check mark that signals when you can stop manically scrolling. But many of these new features are buried in menus and won’t forcibly remove a phone from your hand, so they’re only good for people actively trying to disengage.

Google Wellbeing—now in beta for Android phones—is arguably the best addiction counsellor of the bunch: You receive a similar overview of daily habits including a tally of how many times you unlocked your smartphone. It also lets users disconnect when they want to (kicking you out of an app when you hit a set time limit); its Wind Down function reminds you it’s bedtime by scheduling the screen’s shift to greyscale and silencing all notifications. Gmail’s app lets you set High Priority notifications, so your phone only beeps for important messages. And Google Calendar users may have already been prompted to set Working Hours, a move designed to safeguard your free time and inbox by automatically declining meetings that don’t fall within hourly confines you’ve customised. For those addicted to YouTube, its app settings now let you toggle on Take a Break reminder and specify any 5-minute interval so you can occasionally enjoy some sun. Knowing is half the battle. What you do with the data is up to you. Just, please, don’t post about it on Facebook.

Credit: The Wall Street Journal, 16 August 2018.