Can 'digital wellness' help us crack our phone addiction?

The average person compulsively checks their phone 150 times a day, desperately seeking dopamine hits via likes and validation. But with apps like Screen Time offering to help us cut down our usage, is it technology that will (ironically) come to our rescue?
Can 'digital wellness' help us crack our phone addiction?

If you know the name of your old high-school classmate's dog because of some late-night Insta stalking, you might wanna listen up...

As humans, if we perceive a 'reward' to be unpredictable (in this case, random notifications or likes) and if checking for that reward is easy, like picking up our phone, we’ll start checking frequently in the hopes of that reward, because of the bursts of validation those little Instagram hearts provide – leading to an addiction. Uh-oh.

Ever wonder why your post seems to not do so well, only to be bombarded with likes moments later? Yep, that’s the work of a pesky algorithm to give you an extra boost of the feel-good hormone dopamine, and to make sure that addiction stays put.

The desire for likes and validation can also explain why some may not put out content they love, but rather content they know will do well and increase their numbers, or why some may delete their photos if they think they’ve ‘underperformed’. Eek.

Twitter-enthusiast Kanye West has even suggested getting rid of likes and follower counts altogether to turn Instagram into a healthier environment, where self-worth isn’t dependant on the amount of followers a person has. While this may seem unlikely in the era of influencers - and we can't see wife Kim Kardashian getting on board any time soon - it may be the best solution to the damaging effects that social media can have on our mental health. We can’t believe it, but for once we actually agree with Kanye. And it seems we’re not the only ones.

Apple are doing their bit by introducing Screen Time – a new digital-wellness feature in iOS 12 that shows how often you’re using your device, and offers ways to reduce it. And yes, the irony is not lost that we need our phones to tell us when we're spending too much time on them.

Screen Time breaks down how long you’re spending on your favourite apps, and even tells you how many times you pick up your phone in an hour... although we’re pretty terrified to find out. To help reduce your usage, you can set daily time limits for the apps you use too frequently, and, just to make you feel guilty about that 30-minute Insta stalk, you’ll be notified when your time is up.

Looking to go all the way? There’s a feature called Downtime which only allows phone calls and the use of pre-specified apps from 10pm to 7am. Naturally, after Downtime comes Bedtime, which might be the best feature of all. When Bedtime is activated, all of your apps are muted and your notifications don’t show up on your lock screen, which means you won’t see that work email when you check the time at 3am. Genius.

If you can’t see yourself switching off your notifications just yet, psychologists have found that turning your screen black and white can reduce phone usage, as you aren’t triggered by the flash of a brightly coloured notification. The part of the brain activated by notifications is the same part that lights up when you have chocolate or win a prize. Moral of the story: stop worrying about the likes, and have a chocolate instead.

We’ve always known that social media isn’t the best for our mental health but because it’s just there, literally in the palm of our hand day in and day out, we seem to ignore the effects. Maybe our resolution this year should be to put our devices down, turn off our notifications, and focus our attention on the real world. Are you with us?

Photos: Instagram