Measures taken by Tech Giants to Tackle Screen Addiction

By Karen Mitchell. Published on 27-March-2019

It all starts with a single notification. You pick up your phone to check it out and before you know it, you find that you have been scrolling through your phone for the last one hour or so. You wonder, “What have I been doing all this time on my phone?”

Then it hits you that you just got carried away and lost track of time. By this time, you have been through almost every feed on your social media accounts and you can barely get enough. This isn’t by accident. The people that develop these apps, as well as the Tech giants such as Google and the likes of Facebook, put years of hard work into consumer technology so that they could make it extremely appealing.

Consequently, this makes it easy for users to get hooked and spend a considerable amount of time on their screens every day. The more time is spent on these addictive platforms, the more these companies make money. Nevertheless, things are changing for the better.

These companies are beginning to put a significant effort towards altering the way they design these products. The idea behind it is to curb the time spent by consumers on the screen. In fact, Google and Apple are rolling out features that could help control phone usage. Instagram is also working on similar control measures for its enthusiasts.

A former design ethicist at Google, Tristan Harris, who was a part of the famed “Facebook Class” from Stanford disputes that these apps are developed to be addictive. However, while speaking on NPR’s TED Radio Hour, he said that it was all about capturing the attention of users.

In 2016, Harris launched a nonprofit organization by the name “Centre for Humane Technology” and began a movement known as the “The Time Well Spent Movement’’. These efforts were all geared towards helping people to have more control over how they spend their time on screen. This movement has made its mark in Silicon Valley, driving the tech industry positively towards making the necessary changes in a bid to reduce screen addiction.

What is the tech industry doing to improve the situation?

Apple has been at the forefront to improve the situation. It was prompted to act when two major investors, who included the California States Teachers Retirement System and JANA partners, persuaded the company to do something about phone addiction in children.

This happened early this year through an open letter that was addressed to Apples Board of Directors. In response to that, Apple introduced some tools on its new iOS 12 operating systems, geared towards empowering and informing users on how they can manage their use of Smartphones.

Among these set of tools, Apple included parental controls to help parents monitor children’s time on phones.

You can now set daily limits on your applications to reduce the time you use them. Once you hit your limit the app is automatically locked. In addition, parents can completely lock out their kids from using certain apps on their phones. Google has also done something about this issue by incorporating similar control tools on its upcoming Android Pie version.

This control system, which has been labeled as the Digital Wellbeing” is still being tested. Google’s efforts have gone a bit further in comparison to Apple. For example, once the users reach the set limit on the use of any apps, they will have to go to the dashboard and manually remove the limit of that particular app.

However, on the Apple iOS 12, the user can remove the set limit by a single click on the ignore pop-up, this makes it quite easy. Adam Alter, who has authored a book on this issue which goes by the name “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the business of Keeping Us Hooked” strongly believes that even though it might take some time for significant changes to be made, tech companies can improve their design of the addictive features and make them more consumer-friendly in such a way that they are genuinely good for your well-being.

While talking to CNN, Alter argued that the tech companies have a moral obligation to minimize the kind of harm that they have been causing through their products.

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