At their recent developer’s conference, Google’s Vice President of Product Management, Sameer Samat said “Finding the right balance with technology is more important than ever. We found that 70% of people want help with digital well being,” He went on to announce three new tools that Google will be building into Android to help users.
The first is Shush. When you activate Shush, it will automatically silence notifications when you place your phone face down. I find this particularly attractive for two reasons. First, placing your phone face down is a natural thing to do to indicate that you desire not to be distracted by your phone. (Although, to be fair, there is some evidence that even having your cell phone in sight will negatively affect your cognitive ability.) The second thing I like about this is that it helps removes part of the habit-forming cycle — that is, the trigger from reinforcing the habit cycle. While it doesn’t remove the internal trigger it does at least help alleviate the external trigger when you want to. According to Nir Eyal, author of Hooked, only 8% of smart phone users change the notification settings on their phones. Shush seems like an easy way to give users a way to break the Hook cycle.
The second feature that Google is releasing is Wind Down. This feature allows you to set a bed time and then the phone will go into grey scale mode an hour before that bed time. While both Android and iOS have had blueshift modes to supposedly help prevent some of the ill effects of blue light before bed time, the grey scale is more of a psychological effect. By removing the vibrant colors of the apps and web sites, it hopefully diminishes the random rewards of eye-popping graphics. Random rewards are another stop in the Hook cycle. Just like Skinner’s pigeons, we find ourselves highly motivated to keep pecking away at our digital devices long after our hunger is satiated hoping for the payoff of that random reward. Some people are even switching their phones to greyscale full time in an effort to reduce their additction.
Dashboard Data View is Google’s third anti-addiction feature. While not quite as direct as the first two, I think it has it’s place. The Dashboard is there to report to you just how much you actually use your phone. I think this is important because ultimately it’s up to each one of us to decide how much and what kind of usage of our devices is appropriate. If you are able to accomplish everything that you want to get done and you still have time to play Candy Crush, catch up on Facebook, or read articles on Medium then who’s to say that’s any worse than binging on Netflix? But I think it is important to have tools that give us insight into how much we are using our devices so we can make informed decisions.
Finally, here at Follett Labs we’re also working on tools to help with distraction. We’re experimenting with a tool called Simple that allows teachers to create distraction-free copies of web sites for instruction. It automatically removes content like advertisements and videos from articles. If you would like a demo, please contact us.