On average, we are distracted by our smartphone roughly every 20 minutes and spend around two and a half hours each day with our little friend and helper. Being constantly available as well as the pressure associated with this and the fast-paced nature of society has led us into a kind of digital dependency evident across all generations in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and Co. Back in 2009, only around 6.7 million Germans owned a smartphone, but that figure has now risen to 57 million in 2019. Mobile end devices are here to stay. They are seen as our friends and helpers, but they can also be a blessing and curse. If various studies are to be believed, Germans use their smartphones up to three hours each day, with young people using them more than the older generation.
Until now, every individual has felt a sense of personal responsibility for putting their smartphone down.
Of all the technology companies, however, one of the most successful app creators now wants to help us users. That company is Google and the concept is known as digital wellbeing. The Internet giant has even developed five functions and incorporated them into its own smartphones to help people to put down their smartphones more often. In the latest versions of the Google smartphones, for instance, there are features such as Unlock Clock, which displays how often the user unlocks their smartphone, Post Box, which is designed to minimize distractions caused by notifications, and the Desert Island app, which only permits access to the user’s personally essential apps. There is also We Flip for groups who together want to limit their smartphone use and the Morph feature, which allows the user to restrict access to their installed app. Google also wants to use this concept to prompt other smartphone manufacturers to offer their users similar platforms to control their online behavior. It remains to be seen whether it will lead to a reduction in smartphone use, particularly among young people.
Researchers are even warning of a kind of addiction or dependency if we fail to put down our smartphones on a regular basis and occupy ourselves with other things. If we take the idea of addiction further, the term “digital burnout” emerges in the course of research.
There are some really simple ways of undergoing digital detox without having to resort to the aid of the smartphone itself. For example, we can get the practical services that we value on our smartphone from elsewhere. Do you still own an analog alarm clock or wristwatch, for instance? In addition, all of us can delete or remove any apps that are used to stave off boredom every now and then. Or maybe you use all of the shopping and lifestyle apps to work on a daily basis. Much of this information can also be obtained via a conventional browser. Giving up social media is perhaps the most difficult and challenging form of digital detox. How often do we watch cute cat videos on Facebook? We quickly swipe from one story to the next on Instagram. And on WhatsApp we tell our friends about the latest events, share the latest gossip, and constantly send photos back and forth. If you are a smartphone user, when was the last time you actually called someone instead of sending them a text message?
Every person who has the impression that they spend too much time on their smartphone is generally aware of this. Digital wellbeing features from Google can certainly serve as a reminder to ourselves and hopefully shock us into realizing just how much time we ultimately spend on our smartphones. Yet we are all compelled to take a good look at ourselves and find some kind of balance when it comes to using the smartphone. What are you buying people for Christmas this year? A smartphone or maybe a smartwatch? How about an experience gift for a weekend for two or a meal at a fancy restaurant?
What on earth did we do in an age before smartphones? That’s right – we called each other on landlines and made arrangements to meet, we traveled without taking photos, bought train tickets at machines, sent postcards, went to the bank to send money, and watched television. It is no longer possible to imagine our digitalized society without the smartphone. However, we should remember that the smartphone remains an option in our lives rather than a necessity.