Six hours on Instagram. Three on Facebook. No time with family and friends, because your face is stuck to a piece of glass. Thanks Apple for the new data dump.
At an event in Silicon Valley today, Apple announced a new feature that is sure to make us all depressed, although I can also envision a day when we actually start changing.
One of the interesting things about the new Screen Time feature, coming up in iOS 12 this fall, is that it breaks down how much time you spend on each app.
You can see nice fancy charts and set time limits so that iOS 12 kicks you off of apps (you can extend your usage time, though). Parents can set limits and see when little Timmy is playing the Fortnite game too much. You can see total usage for the week, which is where you might want to take a pause and think about whether this will actually work or if it is just another fancy chart you will summarily ignore on a regular basis.
Here's my biggest problem with Screen Time. I get that we want to be informed and make wise decisions. As I wrote about recently, the real problem with phone addiction is not the phone itself or the operating system. It's that we're addicted to the micro-rewards in apps like Instagram (checking how many hearts we've collected on photos from a trip to Austria) and Facebook (how many likes we've had on photos from a trip to Austria).
Our brains are wired for gratification, and small rewards inject a smidgen of dopamine into our synapses. Data? Who cares, because we're more interested in the rewards.
This is the same issue you might find if you buy a fitness tracker. Some people use them religiously, but the truth is that we collect tons of data after we first buy them and then forget and put them in a drawer somewhere. They don't actually help us spend more time on a treadmill, since that has more to do with inner motivations. I recently started biking for the summer again, and the reward is being outside and enjoying a high-end bike. Data collection is a byproduct and a perk of owning a gadget or two. They don't make me want to ride.
And that's where things start to break down with Screen Time. This is just another way to see more data. Apple also plans to add features to the Do Not Disturb feature so that you can tell your phone you are going to bed and then wake-up to a clear screen, diving into the notifications on your own time. And new notification groups help you clear incoming messages en masse. None of these additions really get into the science of addiction--why we are constantly watching one YouTube video after another.
I like that Apple is addressing the problem, but it's not enough. The answer is not to provide even more data so we can spend more time on our phones analyzing why we're using our phones. And the maker of the drug is the wrong company to provide answers about how to stop using the drug. We need third parties for that.
My view is that we need to spend a lot more time educating each other and especially younger folks about the dangers of constant screen time, that there's a reason you're addicted to Instagram and other apps.
Self-imposed restraints based on a new understanding of the dangers (which, of course, Apple did not spell out--the damage to relationships, the breakdown in emotional connections with our kids, the fact that we're missing out on the real world more and more) will help, and the Screen Time feature is at least something.
Yet, until you decide not to be on your phone so much, the tools will be a mere annoyance. It's another way to discover all over again that you're really addicted.