Could tech brands do more to combat phone addiction?

26 : 06 : 2018 Digital : Technology : Smartphones
Offline by Chris Bolin Offline by Chris Bolin

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

Kathryn Bishop, deputy foresight editor, LS:N Global

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 his or her phone about 80 times a day, while 10% will check once every three minutes – even during holidays (Source: Asurion). Meanwhile, a Deloitte study found that 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 teenagers’ 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 technology, it is little surprise that smartphone and device usage has been linked to anxiety, disrupted sleep and distraction disorders. Furthermore, 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. The results are expected to push users into reducing their screen time. Yet the onus still lies on the users to actively change their behaviour. Couldn’t Apple go further, developing a program that powers down our devices at certain times of day to counteract constant phone usage, only allowing emergency communications? It would show, at 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 about their lasting impact – something that feels particularly pertinent when Instagram has just announced IGTV, a platform tipped to promote hour-long video content.

On a positive note, some brands are taking a more active approach. Samsung has teamed up 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 some head space 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 than monetary gain, that will garner a lasting legacy by making a positive impact in the world.

To explore how technology’s attention economy is leading to mental fatigue, read The Focus Filter macrotrend.