Oh my God! Do I have digital-disease syndrome? Of course I do. If you’re reading this, you probably do as well. I’m a user, and you’re a user, too. “Hello. My name is Veronica, and I’m a digital-information addict.” Please don’t stop reading my article because I said that. Without you, dear user, I’m nothing. I’m a working mother. I work when I can, where I can, on my devices. I do every single household shopping errand and pay bills online. I’m never offscreen, it seems.
I have rules. No phones during mealtime. Make eye contact while speaking to people, even while the phone is in my hand. I can type without looking while I’m talking to someone, so that’s one of my cheats. It’s bad.
Then this happened. I woke up today and looked at my phone, and technology offered me a cure to what ails me: “Google and the Rise of ‘Digital Well-Being.’” It seems that our digital overlords are feeling the same way and doing something about it.
“Google, like much of Silicon Valley, is awakening to a new movement,” Arielle Pardes’ article in Wired began. I read on, instantly relaxed by the seductive promise—the dawn of “Digital Well-Being” is upon us. Could it be that phone manufacturers had been able to transform hypnotically staring at our phones into therapeutic mini meditations? In the future, will there be no need to stop working or engaging with data to give your nervous system a break?
Not so much ... but Google engineer Sameer Samat, vice president of Google’s Android and Play platforms, and Tristan Harris, who founded the Time Well Spent movement in 2012 when he was just a young product manager for Google, are now attempting to try to put the genie back in the bottle—as much as they can, at least. Wired reported on the May 8 Google tech conference in New York City:
There’s a new Android Dashboard, where you can track how you’re spending your time on-screen. An App Timer to set limits on how long you can spend in certain apps. A new gesture, called “Shush,” switches your phone into Do Not Disturb when you set your phone facedown; a “Wind Down” mode flips your screen to grayscale as soon as it’s bedtime.
Google calls the collection of features “digital well-being.” It’s the first major mobile platform to introduce an initiative like this, after the Time Well Spent movement captured the minds of Silicon Valley. But much like other wellness trends—Peloton and Moon Dust and Nootropics—the rise of “digital well-being” makes it look too easy. It’s a way to rebrand tech as something that’s good for you—but it only treats the symptoms, not the underlying disease.
How did this all come about? Well, Samat’s wife locked his phone in the safe for the entirety of their last vacation. In 2012, Harris reportedly took a trip to Burning Man, an off-the-grid festival dedicated to radical artistic self-expression held annually in August in the Nevada desert. Between the sweltering heat and sand, he returned to work and circulated a 100-plus slideshow presentation, a “Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention,” which went viral around the offices at Google.
It’s Memorial Day weekend. It’s time to rise from your click hole. Here’s an eight-step program from Harris’ Center for Humane Technology:
- Turn off all notifications except from people.
- Go grayscale. Changing the home screen display to black and white is less enticing.
- Try keeping home screen to tools only. Nix the apps. Display icons like text, phone, notes.
- Launch other apps by typing.
- Charge devices outside the bedroom. Get another bedside alarm clock.
- Go cold turkey: Remove social media apps from your home screen.
- Send audio notes or call instead of texting. Voice notes are more personal and precise.
- Texting shortcut: Use quick reaction symbols. Saves time and gives eyes and thumbs a rest.
This holiday weekend, I’m going to try to detox and refresh more than whatever page I happen to be surfing on my computer at the moment. Log on here Tuesday and let me know how you did over the weekend, whether you detoxed or binged—just curious to hear how it went.