UX & Technology, UX Design

How to stop yourself becoming a ‘smartphone addict’


Conrad Duncan, Journalist

Over a decade after the introduction of the iPhone revolutionised the way we interact with the internet and each other, a growing backlash has emerged against devices like it. Some of the concern has been hysterical – ‘Smartphones are as addictive as HEROIN’ claimed the Daily Express. However, some members of the technology industry have voiced fears that our constant use of apps is damaging for our health and research has shown that 46% of smartphone owners say that they could not live without them. Even one of the leading figures in the creation of the iPod, Tony Fadell, has warned that Apple needs to do something about ‘smartphone addiction’.

Many now worry that their phones are damaging our sleep patterns, reducing our productivity, and hurting our mental health. If you struggle to stop yourself from constantly checking apps before you go to sleep, you may want to join the movement of people finding ways of weaning ourselves off our phones.

‘There’s an app for that’

Unsurprisingly, app developers have been working on ways to help smartphone addicts whilst keeping them with their phones. A wide range of apps have been released in the last few years that attempt to give users a healthier relationship with their smartphones.

Moment, a free app, automatically tracks how long you’ve been on your phone in a day and how often you pick up your phone, with insights that compare your phone usage with the previous day, week or month. The app’s capabilities are quite limited, although you can buy extra features, but it is pretty effective for guilt-tripping you into spending less time with your phone.

Mute (also free) does many of the same things but with more detailed graphics and notifications, which you can adjust to nag you when you’ve been on your phone too much. Other apps, such as Forest – Stay focused and Space, attempt to help users by gamifying the process of staying off your phone, with rewards and challenges to keep you interested.

The return of the brick phone

Although the in-phone approach to fixing our addictive love of smartphones might work for some people, others are seeking a more radical approach. This has seen the return of the much-mocked ‘brick phones’, such as the iconic Nokia 3310, and 2000s flip phones. The idea is pretty simple; it’s hard to get addicted to a phone that only provides texts, calls, and a game of Snake. Last year, Nokia decided to release an updated version of the Nokia 3310, with more modern features, to cater to demand for a simpler phone.

Make your smartphone less exciting

If this approach seems a little bit severe to you, then there are other less extreme ways that you can downgrade your smartphone. The simplest way is to remove features from your phone that encourage you to pick it up, such as stopping push notifications and setting the colour of your phone to black/white. Another suggestion from Larry Rosen, a psychologist and author of The Distracted Mind, is to move potentially distracting apps away from your home page to discourage you from checking them. If you have to actively search for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you’ll be less likely to check them every time you open your phone.

It’s understandable why many people have become concerned that they can’t keep away from their phone. In the past few years, more and more ex-Silicon Valley employees have come forward to confirm our worst fears that smartphones really are designed to be addictive. And after a bad 12 months for social media giants, such as Twitter and Facebook, with concerns over privacy and fake news, some are wondering if the benefits of our apps are worth the damage they could cause.

Social media executives have already started to acknowledge that they need to be aware of the power their products can have. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey have both admitted that they need to do more to make sure that their apps actually help people. Now that more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of ‘smartphone addiction’, there is hope that our future relationship with our phones will be a much healthier one.

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