Do you feel like your phone is slowly taking over your life? Do you find yourself crouching further and further down while you scroll mindlessly across content that you couldn’t care less about? It’s not entirely your fault; phones are bright shiny objects that are constantly buzzing with notifications that demand your attention. Plus, certain apps were built in such as way as to trigger an addiction inside of your brain.
As someone who also works on the platforms that suck time from our lives, it’s an even more difficult challenge to put the phone down. While I keep most notifications off on my phone, I still have to open up to check performance, messages, and other parts of my digital management responsibilities.
Thankfully, phonekeepers are finally doing something to help. Android has had a built-in screen time control option since May, and Apple rolled out a screen time app in its latest upgrade. I started using it one week ago and it’s nothing short of a statistical miracle. The analyst in me has been having a field day understanding this part of my life that has so far never been quantified.
There are two main functions to using screen time: understanding and controlling.
Understanding Your Relationship With Your Phone
Once you activate screen time it starts to record all of your phone activity. It doesn’t just record how much time you spend on your phone, it breaks it up into different categories so you can see which types of apps you are using the most. And it doesn’t just track usage, it also shows you the number of notifications you receive, how many times you pick up your phone, and exactly which app you use the most.
I am both fascinated and a little frightened by how much I’m actually using my phone, I mean look at these stats!
I’m averaging almost 2 hours per day in screen time. This is actually much lower than the total amount of time that I actually use my phone, since screen time seems to only cover when you are looking at your phone. For example it doesn’t include Spotify (it only averages 52 seconds per day, the time to launch a playlist or change a track) or Runkeeper, which would add at least an hour per day to the total. It also only includes Netflix when the app is open on the phone. It doesn’t count the time when Netflix is streaming from my phone to my Chromecast, which could also add an average of an hour a day to that total.
Social networks are pretty easily defined as the apps that we all know. Productivity is a category that includes things like Outlook and Inbox, as well as banking apps.
When you look at my top apps in terms to usage, there is one clear winner (if you can put it that way):
As an ex-pat living far from home, Whatsapp is a big part of my life, but Instagram is king. I was surprised to see that Facebook is very far down my list, but considering the decline in use and all of their recent problems, I suppose I’m not alone. And Desert Golfing is actually pretty addictive (in a good way, I just downloaded it this week).
I’ve been writing a lot recently about phone notifications, and like a god-send, screen time has quantified all of the notifications I receive:
I am happy to see that my disabling of notifications has resulted in an average of only 48 notifications per day. As I try to sleep 8 hours per night, that means only 3 notifications per hour, which doesn’t seem to me to be too abusive.
But the notifications actually do not corrolate with the number of times that I pick up my phone, and for that screen time will tell you the number of times that you reach for your phone.
Surprisingly, I actually pick up my phone more often than the number of times I’m interrupted by a notification. I’m assuming that this is not the case with many of you out there as I’ve severely reduced the number of notifications I receive. But is it better? I might actually be checking my phone more because I want to see if I have any notifications…
[slips into depressive slouch]
So there is no way to win. I’m completely caught up by my phone and all of the things that it does for me.
[slips onto the floor in depressive prostration]
Luckily, screen time is here to help. Instead of letting my stats get worse and worse, screen time will let me set limits for exactly the amount of time I can spend in each category of app. Logically, I started with limiting my social media time.
Control How You Use Your Phone
The cool thing is how you can control yourself. You can set a limit that you can offset by clicking a button if you absolutely need (or want) to keep using an app. But you can also get trickier by setting dedicated passcodes that you have to enter when you cross over the threshold of a day’s use.
First, when you go over your limits, the category of apps looks like this:
It’s pretty clear to see that you’ve passed your limit. Just having the apps in this mode has already helped me to break the habit of opening Instagram anytime that I have a second to spare. You can overturn the disabling option by adding 15 minutes, or by ignoring the limit on an app by app basis each day. But the psychological basis of knowing that I’m “over my limit” has helped me to put my phone directly back in my pocket.
This is the start of the recovery of our lives in tech addiction. Sure, you could always just disable the limit each and every day, but it’s still a point of friction that should have a positive level on your relationship with technology.
If you are really concerned about your (ab)usage of technology, instead of setting a passcode yourself, give it to a friend and have them create your passcode. This way you can’t access your apps whatever you try to do until tomorrow has come.
Personally, I think this is the best thing to happen to the phone since, well, the phone itself. Using our phones less will in no way diminish our need to have a phone, in fact using our phones less can leave us with a healthy feeling of wanting more. Plus do you really need to see yet another story from that minor celebrity who is still at that event?
No, you don’t.