Research suggests that the average American smartphone user touches their device 2,617 times a day. We’ve become so dependent on our phones for our professional, personal, and administrative live that this high number doesn’t come as a huge surprise. What is somewhat surprising, however, is that there are signs that this kind of hyper-connectivity could soon be going out of style.
Do Not Disturb
One example of this shift is a new initiative from media and internet mogul Arianna Huffington. The founder of the Huffington Post wants to change just how tightly we are all tethered to our phones, and she’s partnered with Samsung to achieve this. Thrive is an app that will be released in December, and only on Samsung devices. It offers many of the “do not disturb” features that Samsung phones already offer, including scheduling times to be disconnected, only allowing certain contacts to get in touch with you when the app is enabled, and muting notifications for certain intervals.
But the features of Thrive don’t stop there. As The Verge noted, “Thrive shows you how much time you spend using particular apps. You can set time restrictions for individual apps here, or block using them altogether for periods of time. And, while you can break any of these digital timeouts early, there’s also something called a ‘Super Thrive Mode,’ which bypasses that option. Enable that, and there’s no backsies until the time limit you’ve set expires.”
Super Connected Backlash
Now, if you’re wondering why Huffington, a woman who founded a website that basically invented clickbait internet content, is partnering with a phone company, who sells addictive smartphones as their main business proposition, is releasing an app that effectively encourages users to go offline, you’re not alone. While Huffington says she hopes the app will help users “recalibrate their relationship with technology”, the partnership is rather counterintuitive. However, it does match a recent crop of articles noting the “backlash” to the kind of addictive technology that comes out of Silicon Valley.
An article in The Guardian details how many of the developers who designed addictive apps are now not using them, for fear that “minds are being hijacked.” As The Guardian reported, there is “a small but growing band of Silicon Valley heretics who complain about the rise of the so-called “attention economy”: an internet shaped around the demands of an advertising economy. These refuseniks are rarely founders or chief executives, who have little incentive to deviate from the mantra that their companies are making the world a better place. Instead, they tend to have worked a rung or two down the corporate ladder: designers, engineers and product managers who…put in place the building blocks of a digital world from which they are now trying to disentangle themselves.”
Indeed, with high profile techies like Huffington advocating “unplugging”, we could reach a point where the amount of time you spend off your phone is a sign of status. After all, people who can afford to go “off grid” for large stretches of time are in a privileged position compared to many who are tethered to their phones for work or professional reasons. While Huffington’s intentions are almost certainly good, the reality is that for many people unplugging has become very difficult given the high expectations we now put on workers.
That said, there is still room for average tech users to moderate their phone usage a bit more. While going completely off-grid may not be an option for many, disabling social media when it gets overwhelming, or turning your phone off 30 minutes before bedtime is a more realistic goal.