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Could tech brands do more to combat phone addiction?

Opinion

Published by:

26 June 2018

Author: Kathryn Bishop

Image: Houseparty app

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A 2017 study comparing US and Japanese teens’ phone usage found that, in both countries, one out of every two felt addicted to their devices.

How many times a day do you check your phone? Thirty? Maybe 40? If recent statistics are anything to go by, our compulsion to tap, unlock and do a sweeping check through our favoured apps is bordering on obsessive.

Today, the average American checks their phone about 80 times a day, while 10% will check once every three minutes – even during vacations (Source: Asurion). Meanwhile, a Deloitte study finds one in three UK adults has argued with their partner about using their mobile phone too much, with rows most common among Millennial couples. And with teens’ daily lives played out on mobile devices, a 2017 study comparing US and Japanese teens’ phone usage found that, in both countries, one out of every two felt addicted to their devices.

With faces and thumbs constantly turned to tech, it’s little surprise that smartphone and device usage has been linked to anxiety, disrupted sleep and distraction disorders. Further, some apps have been accused of fuelling cyberbullying and even suicide among young people.

Ultimately, we’ve reached the point that global tech companies and app creators are having to address technology addiction. In the case of Apple, its iOS 12 update will feature Screen Time, an in-built app that tracks a person’s smartphone usage, processing it into a weekly report that reveals the time they devote to particular platforms. It’s anticipated that the results will push users into reducing their screentime. Yet the onus still lies on the user to actively change their behaviour. Couldn’t Apple go further, developing a program that actually powers down our devices at certain times of day to counteract constant phone usage, only allowing emergency communications? It would show, in the very least, the company taking a proactive level of responsibility.

"How about in-app notifications that encourage users to take a break after, for example, 10 minutes of activity? Or daily curfews for users under the age of 18?"

Instagram, meanwhile, hopes to stop users falling into scroll-holes with a new message alert stating ‘You’re All Caught Up’ once they have viewed their newsfeed from the past 48 hours. That’s two days of content, so hardly a light session. Platforms as visually enticing as Instagram and Snapchat, with vast power and resources behind them, could also take a more radical and moral stance to alleviate app addiction. How about in-app notifications that encourage users to take a break after, for example, 10 minutes of activity? If ignored for another five minutes, they could automatically suspend use for an hour. Or daily curfews for users under the age of 18? That would certainly demonstrate a level of awareness from these brands as to their lasting impact – something that feels particularly pertinent when Instagram has just announced IGTV, a platform tipped to promote hour-long video content.

Positively, some brands are taking a more active approach. Samsung has teamed with Thrive Global to launch the Thrive app, enabling users to switch their device to ‘Thrive Mode’, shielding them from incoming notifications for a specified period, providing a period of headspace each day. The app also encourages users to set limits on how long they can use certain apps.

While the more drastic of these solutions might feel improbable today – of course, there are company shareholders and advertisers to please – in our post-growth future it will be the brands that care about their customers’ wellbeing, more so than monetary gain, that will garner a lasting legacy by making a positive impact in the world.

To explore how tech's attention economy is leading to mental fatigue, read The Focus Filter macro trend.

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