Chances are that you more than likely reading this story through the screen of your mobile smartphone. It’s okay, I actually began writing it from mine. Although hesitant to admit, we are all guilty of over-utilizing our third appendage from everything to mapping our journeys, to connecting with friends and loved ones, to online shopping from the comforts of our own home, and beyond.
The smartphone has made our lives significantly easier in many ways. While on the go, we can search and find a suitable restaurant within a 5 block radius of our location, read the reviews, call to secure a reservation, map our way there and back home again. For many, this is the norm. There is a whole generation of youth who were born into a world where screen and display technologies are virtually (no pun intended) commonplace.
I, however, am not here to tell you what you already know. For those in my generation who remember a life before smartphones, we often reminisce about a time where simply finding the answer to a burning question required more than a just quick search on Google. A conversation with a loved one would often yield similar results. A time where, to speak to a friend, one would call their family landline, politely ask to speak to him or her, and make sure not to occupy the line for an extended period of time.
Back in my day, there was the Walkman and the Discman, car phones and pay phones, Atari and Nintendo, telegrams and fax machines, and many other devices which are effectively extinct nowadays. Mobile phones and the internet, let alone mobile internet, were revolutionary and progressive, and we seemed to manage just fine without them.
Point being is that I have found my 28-year old self negatively referring to “kids these days” followed by a “they don’t know what it was like” more often than I would like to admit. When, in reality, I am just as guilty of allowing my smartphone to monopolize my time, seemingly forgetful of an era where they were non-existent. Real-time interpersonal communication and inquiry- based learning have become less of a reflex in an era of mobile smartphones.
I finally decided to embark on a little self-exploration, really assessing just how much time is wasted on my smartphone. I did some research and came across a variety of apps on the market which measure smartphone use. I decided to download three of them (Menthal, Checky, and BreakFree) and monitored my smartphone use over the course of a few weeks.
Each app had its own unique function from simply measuring how many times you unlock your smartphone (Checky), to taking a more detailed account of your use according to apps used, time spent on each etc. (Menthal), to actively encouraging you to abandon frequent use of your smartphone vis a vis a virtual and interactive character named Sato (BreakFree).
I periodically shared my experience with friends who, intrigued, downloaded an app of their choice for themselves. This inspired me to translate this enquiry into a study to investigate the willingness of smartphone users to monitor their use with a smartphone app, and whether a realization of excessive use would inevitably lead to decreased usage.
I solicited two participants to attentively monitor their use for one week via the BreakFree app which assigns an “addiction score” based on one’s day-to-day use. This, combined with virtual “regulator” Sato, is designed to deter unnecessary over usage. Trust me when I say that once your smartphone use becomes something tangible, the desire to use it just because decreases tenfold. The participants in the study also came to a similar conclusion, and noted that beating their previous day’s score became a somewhat of personal feat as each day passed. In essence, Sato personifies that little voice (somewhere deep within) our minds that asks if you really need to unlock right now, or reminds you that you won’t find reality inside your smartphone.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. An app to tell me which apps I use most and when. Sounds redundant. Fact of the matter is that I, like many, could stand to spend less time on my smartphone. Having the app has, without a doubt and simply put, helped to keep me in check. It quantifies my use and labels me as either well- behaved or an addict in need of an intervention. I don’t know about you, but I don’t take lightly to a device that not only enslaves me but also calls me out for it. I dare you to join me in fighting the good fight against smartphones worldwide, to decrease unnecessary use, and get back to basics. Power to the people, this war is not over yet!