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Image: Woman in a runners stance who looks like she's coming out of a phone screen

Our Phones are Designed to be Addicting. But Here’s How We Can Take Back Control!

Have you ever slipped into the endless vortex of content on your phone? Do you automatically reach for it when you hear it ding? Find yourself constantly checking it for updates? Or feel that intense itch to remove that little red notification bubble? None of these reactions are your fault. Your phone has been cleverly designed to make you react this way! Thankfully, there are easy ways we can all turn our phones into healthy additions to life instead of time-sucking addictions.

The more that we know about the design of these powerful devices in our pockets, the more that we can control how they impact our health, relationships, and future success. So in this article, we’ll be learning about how our devices have been created specifically to suck up our time and a few simple actions we can all do to take back control!

Image: Woman in a runners stance who looks like she's coming out of a phone screen
Source: Pixabay

Okay, so this is a subject that’s been on my mind for the past few months. I’ve been catching myself opening my phone to complete one task that should take 2 minutes to complete, but then 10 minutes later I find myself snapping out of the screen as if I was coming to the surface for air. And this happens repeatedly. I’m sucked into the pretty lives of others; their babies, their food, their art, their woes, their wins. It’s a rabbit hole of life, curated entirely for me. Constantly bringing new information to fall into, explore deeper, and compare myself to.

It’s like I’m on a scavenger hunt with no reward. And it’s a tiresome process. One that makes me think that I’m doing something wrong. Like I’m not capable of putting my phone down for a few minutes. Where’s my willpower?

So, you can imagine my excitement when I came across the videos I’m sharing with you in this piece. Suddenly, my reactions didn’t seem so out of place. They’re exactly what the designers of these devices want! But thankfully, every one of these videos offers some advice to help us take back control. I’ve put most of it into action and, let me tell you, my relationship with my phone has seriously changed for the better!

Okay, I’ll stop blabbering now and get to the content. But I wanted you to know that you most definitely aren’t alone in your endless scroll. There are millions of us out there being sucked down the same path.

Now, how exactly are our phones designed and what can we do about it?

It’s our attention these developers are after. And they know exactly how to get it.

“It’s not designed to help us, it’s just designed to keep us hooked.”

— Tristan Harris, Google’s former design ethicist and current Executive Director of the Center for Humane Technology

The first video I’d like to point you to is an awesome one from Vox‘s series, By Design. In this, they give us the low down on the psychology behind how tech designers are keeping our attention, how the same design process behind slot machines are being used to fuel our addictions, and 3 easy actions we can adopt to reduce their impact on us.

Via: Vox 1

Interesting, isn’t it?

I highly suggest taking a closer look at the Center for Humane Technology, the organization Tristan co-founded. Their focus is to realign technology with humanity. To accomplish this lofty task, they’ve built a team of former tech insiders and CEOs who “intimately understand the culture, business incentives, design techniques, and organizational structures driving how technology hijacks our minds.” You can meet them and learn more about the work they’re doing by clicking here!

Oh, and make sure you check out the rest of Vox‘s series, By Design, hosted by Christophe Haubursin. It brings us through how design connects with technology. And in turn, helps us better understand how the design of systems in our lives impact us and what we can do to make the most out of them.

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Could virtual reality be a form of medicine? For patients who are using VR to help manage their pain and discomfort during minor surgery, it already is! Take a look at the amazing way this technology, originally popular for gaming, is getting a new life in hospitals.

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So, are we really being conditioned with design to develop a phone addiction? How can we take back our control?

Generally speaking, most objects in our lives are designed to give us the illusion of choice (even this article is structured to keep you flowing through it). But does this mean we’re actually being conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs? Trained to physically react to stimuli in certain ways?

Well to answer this question… notice what you do the next time your phone rings (or you hear somebody else get a notification).

This next video, from BrainCraft‘s series Attention Wars, goes over more of the psychological tricks put into play in the designs of our phones and online social platforms. In this, we’ll hear from a few experts and researchers about studies on our health conducted by Facebook, and learn more about how persuasive technology ended up being used in unfavorable ways. In addition, we’ll also get a few extra tips on how we can develop a healthy relationship with our phones!

(Fear not, we have a lot more control than you may be thinking at this point.)

Via: BrainCraft 2

It’s all a little mind-boggling to think about, isn’t it? That something so simple, so every day as design, can impact our lives so intensely. The rest of BrainCraft‘s series, Attention Wars, explores the psychology, design, and impact of tech and social media. So if you’d like to see more, make sure you check it out!

Okay, okay… what were those tips again?

There was a lot of information there! So here’s a combined list of those tips:

1)  Turn off your push notifications (except the ones from actual, real-life humans trying to contact you.)

Do you really need to know all of the breaking news as soon as it happens? Is it possible that you could dedicate a particular time of the day to check all of the updates at once?

2) Greyscale your phone!

We react strongly to visual cues and color stimulates certain reactions from us. If there’s no color, there’s nothing to keep triggering those reactions in our minds. (It’s definitely a little weird at first. I’ve had my phone set this way for the past week, and my screen time has dropped. There’s just very little that’s appealing about scrolling through a sea of greyscale photos. And suddenly, nothing seems that urgent.)

3) Curate your home screen!

Keep only the apps that help you navigate your daily life (calendar, contacts, maps, banking, etc.) and can’t catch you in an endless scroll front and center. Bring those apps that actually add to your life to your home screen, and collect all of your social apps and put them into a harder to access spot.

(For myself, I’ve made it a point to put the apps I want to make sure I use every day on my home screen: Headspace, One Second Everyday, and Litterati are a few! And tucked away in the furthest, most inconvenient to access panel on my phone, live my social media apps in a folder titled “Take a Breath”.)

4) Keep your phone out of reach.

If you can’t access it, you won’t be on it. Simple!

5) Download apps that use these addictive behaviors for good

I mentioned these above, but apps like Headspace and Litterati are using the intriguing concepts of games and socializing to help us develop healthy behaviors/habits! There are so many others. What are your favorites?

Take back your technology!

Technology is awesome. At its core, it’s created to help us do more in our lives. The original intention was never to suck up all of our time. But now we all know a lot more about how their design is impacting us! And going forward with this in mind, we can take back the control to use technology to help us thrive.

Share this article with someone you think should lift their head up from their screen more! 

Stay open to new possibilities!

  • Sam

“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” — Albert Einstein 

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  1. Vox. “It’s Not You. Phones Are Designed to Be Addicting.” YouTube, Vox, 23 Feb. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=NUMa0QkPzns&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 24 June 2019.
  2. BrainCraft. “The Psychological Tricks Keeping You Online.” YouTube, BrainCraft, 23 Nov. 2018, www.youtube.com/watch?v=z3TJPyHqadY&feature=youtu.be. Accessed 25 June 2019.
Image: Samantha Burns

Sam Burns

Former Editor-In-Chief

Sam wrote and edited hundreds of articles during her time on the Goodness Exchange team from 2016-2021. She wrote about topics from the wonders of nature to the organizations changing the world and the simple joys in life! Outside of the Goodness Exchange, she’s a part-time printmaker, collector of knick-knacks, and procurer of cheeses.

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