As adults we're pretty savvy when it comes to advertising and commercials. Those juicy cheeseburgers or shiny new cars look pretty appealing, sure, but we know the tricks advertisers use to tempt us, from upbeat music to attractive young models. Now, how many of us have tapped an icon on our phones to check a quick email only to look up an hour later and wonder where the time went? When it comes to our phones and other digital technology, we might not be as savvy as we think.
We might not know, for instance, that engineers and designers use the color red in notifications to trigger an emotional response that makes us want to click or swipe. Or that auto-play functions are designed to hijack our good judgment. And more and more of us are feeling addicted to technology. As a few key members in the tech industry start coming forward — including Tristan Harris, founder of the Center for Humane Technology and a senior fellow at Common Sense — we're starting to understand why it's so hard to put our phones down.
According to Harris, this is all by design. And if we feel tethered to our little devices, imagine how our kids feel. So if we want to be good digital role models and make sure our families are using tech in healthy ways, we need to fight back against these tricks. We need to show our kids how to get all the benefits of these mini-computers in our pockets without forgetting to put people first.
Here are some simple tips — recommended by Harris — to work around the tricks phone designers use to keep us hooked:
Turn off all notifications, except those from people. Notifications can be helpful when they let you know something important needs your attention, like a text from your kid or an email from your boss. But most notifications are sent by machines, not people. And they're designed to draw you into interacting with an app you might not otherwise prioritize. Go to your phone's settings (on iPhones, it's Settings > Notifications) to turn off everything except messaging apps or other crucial tools.
Go grayscale. All those colorful apps? They're designed to trigger your brain's reward system and make you feel good. If you want to check your phone less, cutting off this trigger may help. It won't be easy, though. We're pretty hooked on all those flashy colors. But most phones let you choose muted colors. On iPhones, you can go full grayscale. Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations. Turn on Color Filters, and set to "Grayscale."
Limit what's on your home screen. Keep only your email, maps, calendar, and whatever else you use daily front and center. Put all those other apps — from games to recipes — into folders or move to the second or third screens. If you don't see them right away, you'll be less likely to use them.
Type to find apps. Tapping is so easy! It's easy enough that we do it without even thinking sometimes. But if you need to take the time to type the name of the app, it gives your brain a second to consider whether you really need to play another game of Candy Crush.
Take social media off your phone. You'll likely be more intentional about when and where you dip into Facebook and Instagram if you only do it on a computer. If you're a regular social media user, you might be amazed to find how much time you actually spend on these apps. And when you feel the urge to add them back to your phone, consider where that compulsion is coming from.
Charge your phone outside of your bedroom. It's so easy to roll over, tap snooze on your buzzing phone, and delve right into the latest news or last night's work emails. But is that really the habit you want to create? And for kids, having a phone by the bed is known to cause sleep problems. Invest in an old-fashioned alarm clock and keep phones away from sleeping bodies overnight.
Fight fire with fire. It's ironic, but downloadable apps and extensions remove some of the triggers built in by designers and engineers and help you to be more conscious of what you're doing. Harris recommends Apple's Night Shift setting to reduce the phone's stimulating blue light, as well as apps such as Moment, Freedom, and InboxWhenReady. Plus, there are other apps to help kids stay focused while on devices, plus some great tools that can help kids and adults reduce digital distraction.