Every 12 minutes. That’s how often Americans check their phones, according to a recent study by global tech company Asurion. That means we check our phones at least 80 times a day. For millennials, the rate is almost twice as high. Studies have found that millennials grab their phones 150 times a day.
Even if you feel the urge to scale back your screen time, it’s easier said than done. Ever found yourself picking up your phone to do one task — say check the weather — only to find yourself scrolling through Instagram?
Don’t blame yourself. Apps are brilliantly designed to pull us in and keep us there. Tristan Harris, who previously designed products for Google, describes phones as slot machines. “It operates on a variable schedule of rewards,” Harris told the CBS This Morning.
“We have this belief that technology is neutral. That it’s always up to us to us to choose what we post on Facebook, how we use Snapchat or what we use our phone for. What this misses is that there is this attention economy where every company needs to maximize how much attention it gets from you. There’s a whole playbook of techniques to do that.”
One such technique your favorite apps employ is strategic use of color.
“New research shows how important color is to our understanding of priorities and emotion,” writes New York Times Disruptions columnist Nick Bilton. “We’re simple animals, excited by bright colors.” Of course, the Silicon Valley technology Bigs know this. Just look at your home screen. That enticing rainbow of color is no mistake.
The reverse Pleasantville effect
The solution? Set your phone to grayscale. This is one tactic recommended by Harris, the former Google product manager. Today Harris leads an organization called Time Well Spent, where he champions the importance of ethical design in technology that’s less manipulative and addictive.
The idea is to strip away color to make your phone less enticing. Without the flashy colors of the apps vying for your attention, your phone becomes a utilitarian tool. You’re less likely to get sucked into the mindless scroll simply because it’s a less pleasant experience.
Bilton, the New York Times tech columnist, is a self-diagnosed smartphone addict. He tried going gray. A couple days in, he was surprised by the results. “It’s remarkable how well it has eased my twitchy phone checking, suggesting that one way to break phone attachment may be to, essentially, make my phone a little worse,” he wrote.
Control your phone (instead of the other way around)
Why does setting your screen to grayscale work so well? Bilton spoke to researcher and cognitive neuroscientist Thomas Z. Ramsoy for insight. Ramsoy is the founder and CEO of Neurons Inc, a Denmark-based company that studies how people interact with apps using brain scans and eye tracking technology.
Ramsoy says a grayscale screen puts you more in control of your actions. Instead of a cacophony of colorful apps trying to outdo each other for your attention (and often succeeding), the grayscale equalizes everything you see on your screen. Nothing looks more attractive than the app next to it. You’ll be more likely to use your phone mindfully and with better intention since you are no longer subconsciously being pulled in different directions by the apps themselves.
Ready to give grayscale a try? Smartphone companies don’t make it easy, so this Lifehacker piece walks you through how to do it on Android and Apple phones.