Digital life: Cutting back on a constant smartphone habit


By Barbara Ortutay

AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK

Why are we checking Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, then Facebook again when we just wanted to check the weather?

Turns out, smartphone addiction is by design. Think of the constant stream of notifications, color schemes in apps and all the “likes,” followers and in-game trophies. Our phones and apps are designed to give us short-term, feel-good rewards, so we’ll use them longer – at the expense of reading, enjoying the moment or simply being bored.

Here’s how you can outsmart the smartphone yourself:

LIMIT NOTIFICATIONS

Notice those red dots on iPhones and Samsung phones showing how many unread messages, news items or app updates you have left to read? Of course, you have.

“Red is a trigger color that instantly draws our attention,” notes The Center for Humane Technology, an organization that promotes a healthier, less dependent relationship to technology.

Other Android phones running the most recent version, Oreo, have smaller dots. There are no numbers, and colors are more subtle, but the concept is the same: to lure you into opening the app.

To foil that on iPhones and most recent Android phones, go to your phone’s settings and turn off the dots, known as badges, for all but the handful of apps you care most about. These might be messaging apps you use with friends or news services you want breaking-news alerts from. But do you really need a red dot for the 2,346 unread emails you have?

You can also turn off push notifications, app by app.

SET A SCHEDULE

Nir Eyal, author of “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” compares humans to lab mice in an experiment of random rewards. Mice, it turns out, respond “most voraciously to random rewards,” Eyal wrote in 2012 .

Social media apps have perfected the art of random rewards. You don’t know when you’ll get a friend request, or a like, or even when you’ll see a new post from a friend. Cue endless check-ins and scrolling.

Set aside a specific time each day to check Facebook – or email or instant messages. Then resist the urge until the next scheduled time.

Along those lines, try deleting the Facebook app from your phone and check only from a computer. This could help reduce the temptation to check all day.

DETOX REGULARLY

It can be as simple as going to the bathroom without your phone or turning it off during meal times or even every Saturday. Leaving your phone behind helps your brain reset.

If you need a prompt on just why you should “detox,” try Moment, an app that automatically tracks how much you use your iPhone or iPad each day. It’s not perfect, as the timer runs anytime your screen is unlocked, even if you’ve stepped away. Still, the results will probably surprise you. For Android, there’s an app called QualityTime.

TURN OFF AUTOPLAY

Binge-watching might be fun sometimes, but it shouldn’t be standard behavior. Services such as YouTube and Netflix often play the next video automatically. Turn that off in the settings. Otherwise, it’s easy to forget where time went in the middle of a “Stranger Things” binge.

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