Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone?

from NYTs

I’ve gone gray, and it’s great.

In an effort to break my smartphone addiction, I’ve joined a small group of people turning their phone screens to grayscale — cutting out the colors and going with a range of shades from white to black. First popularized by the tech ethicist Tristan Harris, the goal of sticking to shades of gray is to make the glittering screen a little less stimulating.

I’ve been gray for a couple days, and 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. We’re simple animals, excited by bright colors, it turns out.

Silicon Valley companies like Facebook and Google know this, and they have increasingly been turning to the field of applied neuroscience to see how exactly brains respond to color in the apps, what brings pleasure and what keeps the eye. New research shows how important color is to our understanding of priorities and emotion.

But not everyone wants to be so enamored with their screen. This week, two major investors asked Apple to figure out how to help parents limit their children’s use of iPhones and iPads, citing concerns over “long-term health.” There’s also a growing movement among some early tech employees warning against the products they’ve built. And many consumers are starting to wonder what this is all doing to our minds.

Mack McKelvey, the chief executive of the marketing firm SalientMG in Washington, D.C., said she’s aware of the tricks phones use to keep you on them longer — and coming back sooner.

More here.

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111 Responses to Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone?

  1. Rahul S October 25, 2019 at 10:24 pm #

    This article was very eye opening and brought up different issues to mind. Although the article talks about switching from the vibrant display of modern phones such as the iPhone to a greyscale display. Phones now offer this feature as well as sleep display to make colors that pop, less eye bothering and more relaxing. When updating my phone, a couple of months ago, I saw that this was on the new additions and I was very confused as to who would use this greyscale feature. I had never thought about using the feature as a way to slowly stop using my phone as much but it could be very helpful. As a young adult, similar to many other people, I am very invested in my phone, using it for most things from checking sports scores, the weather, social media, and talking to my friends and family. In my own experience, the only way for me to ease off using my phone has been to stimulate my senses using something else. This usually includes playing sports, as I am always trying to be active. When I am playing football with my friends, checking my phone does not cross my mind. Although the idea of using greyscale as a way to minimize phone usage seems very intriguing, I don’t think it would be a plausible idea for me. I use the sleep display settings on my iPhone after 9 pm in order for my eyes to get ready to sleep. I don’t know if these settings really do help in aiding the eyes for sleeping, but I do feel some comfort when using this setting before bed. I think the best way for people to reduce the usage on phones is to become more social and doing things not requiring their phones. This includes going to spend time with friends and family or enjoying a sporting event. When I do either of these things, I hardly use my phone and it is very beneficial, as you are able to obtain better relationships and more personable relationships.

  2. Megan Cannon November 3, 2019 at 3:35 pm #

    After reading this article, it only makes sense to me why the color from the phones screen would attract people to it. In one of my marketing classes, we talked about how the color of things attract people to it (i.e. cereal to little kids.) Like this article stated, people aren’t going towards the black and white cereal box that doesn’t grab their attention, their going towards the boxes that are colorful and light up the eyes of kids. It seems so crazy to me how attached we have all become to our phones, and how going a few hours without it seems to be the end of the world. I actually want to try this gray scale feature that the article talks about.
    One feature from the phone that I find useful is the do not disturb. I use it at night while I sleep, and I think it’s more of a peace of mind things for me. Not that my phone blows up in the middle of the night, but I think I’ve gotten a better sleep while using this feature. I like that there are features that apple has incorporated into their phones to cut back on the usage, it says something about Apple as a company.
    Apple, as we all know is a very successful company, and if they did not care about their customers and “long term health” as this article seems to go into, they would not have these features on their phones, because it wouldn’t matter to them. They have their money, and their customers so why would they invent an app or feature to get people off of their phones? I think overall, the idea of Apple having these features to incorporate into the phones is great to try to get everyone off of the phone and more active in the everyday life. Phones can be a huge distraction when it comes to actually being involved in the moment. I, as I’m sure many of you are, am guilty of this.

  3. Cole November 7, 2019 at 12:19 am #

    This article was very intriguing and eye opening. It would make sense why the bright and vibrant colors of the smartphones attracts so many people to it. I agree with the article when it says that people would spend less time on their phone if the colors were not as present. For example, if the phone was on the gray-scale setting, it becomes less appealing to the human eye, therefore, will cause people to be less attracted to the phone itself. Because of the bright colors and each app having its own unique color and look, it draws people to become addicted to their phone. Let’s look at the modern display of the phone, the messages app is bright green and then social media such as Instagram is a variety of eye popping colors. It has a magnet to the human eye. As soon as someone opens their phones they are drawn towards the Instagram or messages app immediately. Personally, as a young adult, I am on my phone constantly whether that be texting, checking my inbox or checking Instagram or snapchat. I know as soon as I open up my phone the first thing I check is my Instagram and then go through my other apps.
    The first time I had really noticed these new features to the phones was when I updated my phone. I noticed they added the option for gray-scale and thought to myself why would anyone want to put their phone in all grey. Now after reading this article it makes sense. I did not think that by putting the phone in the gray-scale mode that it would cause people to stop using their phone as much. Some of the other features that Apple has implemented in their recent updates is the night display. Putting your phone in night display mode can help get your eyes ready to sleep. This is the same idea as the gray scale. Overall, Phones can be a huge distraction to everyday life ad disrupt people from being more active. The idea that Apple had with the gray-scale option implemented into the phones is a great idea to get everyone to use their phones a little less and be more involved in everyday life.

  4. Rose Hyppolite November 7, 2019 at 7:21 pm #

    I came across this article last year, and I decided to test it out for a week. Unfortunately, it did not work out the way I had expected. The point that the author was making did not align with my phone addiction. For those of you who did not read my comment from last year, I did exactly what the article said to do by turn on the grayscale on setting on my phone. What I realized was that I was attracted to the colors; therefore, It was very frustrating for me to be on social media and get the full experience. My frustration led me to switch back to colors when I was on social media.

    This year, I decided to do it with my friend. My friend was pretty successful at not switching back. She enjoyed the experience and mentioned that the author was right. The grayscale took out the need for her to constantly go on her phone and check social media unless she had to call or text someone. In addition to changing to grayscale, she also took out her notification for all of her social media platforms, such as Snapchat, Instagram, and a few games she had on her phone. She also had a strong control over the time limit she set for herself. She told herself that she would go on social media once a day, and that is what she did. After a few days of being on grayscale, she did not find the need to go on social media because she was not interested in all scrolling through a bunch of black and white pictures.
    Sadly, this year, I did not possess the self-control that my friend had. Whenever I was on social media, my phone was in the color mode. However, I did not have the need to always be on my phone. I said it last year, and I will repeat it, a world without color is very uneventful; and both my friend and I were able to agree on that. I highly recommend anyone who reads this article to try this out for themselves. You may find that your addiction may be because of all the attractive features that the phone provides access to.

  5. Preethi Dwarasila November 7, 2019 at 8:10 pm #

    I really think this is cool article. I really enjoyed reading this because we don’t really think about this topic. I started to think about this and yea generally people are more attracted to vibrant colors. And that is with almost everything. People don’t want to see dull colors and that’s why so many fast food places having colorful signs like McDonald’s and Wendy’s. They have colors with yellow and red and other bright colors which attract customers. And I use my phone because it is bright. And I think that’s why I get distracted so fast. When someone texts me I end up looking at it because it pops out especially when I am sleeping at night. Companies have realized that they need to choose eye popping colors in order to get attention. And the way it is displayed is so addictive. And this article is correct when they say that people don’t spend that much time it the display is dull and grey compared to being vibrant. Every app I open like Snapchat or Instagram is so bright and that’s why I end up opening those apps before.

  6. Sarah C November 7, 2019 at 9:29 pm #

    I found this article to be extremely interesting as I am currently trying to cut down on my screen time with my iPhone. I think that after reading this article, I will try to use the grayscale option in the accessibility settings. It was interesting to read that the tech employees are even warning their consumers about the addictive nature of the products that they have made themselves. The article made a good point that “You don’t buy black-and-white cereal boxes, you buy the really stimulating colored one, and these apps have developed really cool tiles, cool shapes, cool colors, all designed to stimulate you,” which makes complete sense.

    Occasionally, I will download an app simply because of the visual stimulation that I get when I look at it. There are many addictive games on the app store, posts on various social media, and videos that are placed on the available apps that pique my interests just based on how they look. It was interesting to learn that companies will use specific colors to encourage subconscious decisions. While taking a marketing class during my freshman year, I learned about how color theory affects consumers psychologically and their buying decisions. I can see how color theory parallels with the high usage of more visually stimulating apps. One big takeaway from this reading is that the counteractive method of reducing this distracting stimulus is called “controlled attention” and one way to exhibit this method is to change the settings on my phone to grayscale colors.

  7. Liam H November 7, 2019 at 10:33 pm #

    As somebody who spends way too much time on their phone, I found this article very interesting and useful. There are many tips to think about to avoid falling into a black hole with your smartphone. It is very fascinating to learn about all the different ways companies like Facebook and Instagram take to attract people to using their application and staying on it for a long period of time. I was not aware to how important having appealing colors and shapes were for applications in order to grab user’s attention. After reading the article, I looked at the applications I use most on my phone, and all of them were very colorful and featured designs that catch my attention. One of the major suggestions of the article to help users stay off their phones is using the grayscale feature, which makes everything on your phone appear in black and white. While I believe this would definitely help me stay off my phone, I do not feel it is necessary to sacrifice seeing images and videos in color. There are so many beautiful pictures and vivid videos for me to observe and marvel, which overrules a small need to reduce the time I spend on my phone. One thing that I will take away from this article is to not download unnecessary applications on my phone only because of the physical appearance of the application. There are an infinite amount of applications to waste time on, it is up to users to realize which ones are worth their time.

  8. MaryAnn G February 14, 2020 at 3:11 pm #

    I found this article to be very interesting as well as relevant to this day and age. Everyday you see people with their phones or tablets in their hands as if it is an extension of their own body. People use their phones not for the intended purpose of communicating with others but actually to waste their time on. I am someone who was once blinded by the false business a phone gives. I never truly considered the option that the variety of colors and displays could be a reasoning for my need to be on my phone but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that most of my apps have very colorful thumbnails causing an attraction towards them. Even with the simple example of photography, we all want a picture to be bright and vibrant and marketers for phones and apps have used that same strategy to grab their consumers attention.

    Changing the colors of the phone is a great starting point but I do not believe that it is the end all be all for a phone addiction. There needs to be a lot more that goes into the transformation but color gradient change is a great first step.

  9. Erin Shaklee February 15, 2020 at 11:55 am #

    Published by the New York Times, Nellie Bowles article ” Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone” addresses the serious issue of technology dependency many adults face. While most probably will not admit it, many people are very reliant on their phone and spend the majority of their absorbing something from a computer screen. Many people find themselves wasting hours on their phones do not realize where all their attention is going.
    Bowles promotes the idea that if people change their telephone screens from color to a greyscale, they will be less apt to waste time while using it. She believes that the colors used in technology control our “Attentional System”, and that as humans we are more susceptible to bright and colorful distractions. Personally, I agree with both Bowles’s claim as well as her solution. As a consumer, we are automatically more inclined to pick products that we believe to be more vibrant and attractive, so it makes sense to assume that the same concept would apply to apps we use on our phones. If people go on their phone for one specific task, it is more often than not that they will get distracted and end up on a different app entirely. Bowles faults a lot of this on the idea that people are ” simple animals” and we will always have a tendency to be drawn to bright colors. Overall, this notion can be very alarming. If people’s attention spans simply depend on the difference between bright and dull colors, that can give technology and app producers substantial power over their consumer. Bowles expresses how the color in our phone essentially takes away our control of “Choice”. Companies can use colors intuitively to persuade their consumers to use and/or buy their products. Bowles argument that the less color on our phones allows us to restrain from using our phones and letting companies subconsciously waste our time. People, including myself can overlook the fact that a company’s main goal will always be to generate profit. It is important for consumers to take that into consideration, before allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by things like colors and sounds when using their smart phone.

  10. Colleen O'keefe February 16, 2020 at 11:47 pm #

    I found the article “Is the Answer to Phone Addiction a Worse Phone?” to be very interesting, especially because I consider myself someone who uses their phone far to often for how busy I am. The author of this article, Nellie Bowles, says that she and a small group of people have “gone gray”, meaning that they have turned their smart phone to grayscale instead of having color on their screens in an effort to make their phones less stimulating and hopefully encouraging them to use it less. Bowles reports that the grayscale has helped her check her phone less by “making [her] phone a little worse”.
    The article gets into the details of how the brain reacts to different things and what in particular grabs people’s attention. Through scans of the brains electrical activity while interacting with a phone, the biggest things are color and shape. These two things are what attracts people’s attention the most, so naturally this is what companies will do to get consumers attention and keep it as well as encourage them to make subconscious decisions in their factor that will increase their own profits. Facebook in particular uses this information as a tactic to keep people’s attention.
    When I initially read the title of the article, I thought it was going to be about making our phones slower and having access to fewer apps was going to be the tactic to getting people to use their phones less. I was very surprised that it was actually about something as simple as getting rid of color. While I like to stray from saying that I am “addicted” to my phone, it is probably true to some degree and color is not a factor that I thought played into that. However, by saying that making our phones worse would lead to being less addicted this made sense. The comparison to cereal boxes was very clear in showing that consumers are attracted to color, something that catches their eye and stimulates them.
    One thing that I found a little strange but not that unpredictable is that not only do technology companies know that color plays a role in making the phone addicting and use that to their advantage, but they also want to make it difficult for consumers to change their phones to grayscale through the settings.

  11. Pablodcr February 19, 2020 at 7:15 pm #

    I think it’s a mistake to talk about addiction. “Mobile addiction” is not recognized as a disease. Using that term downplays a serious problem and turns something into a pathology that is not.
    An addiction is a serious and clearly defined health problem and using your cell phone a lot is a bad habit. An addiction is defined clinically by three factors: a pattern of problematic use, a withdrawal syndrome and a tolerance that drives the increasing doses and, in this case, the last two are not met.
    But it is true that there are patterns of problematic use, in which we neglect our tasks or leave aside our friends and family to remain immersed in the mobile screen. Here is the problem. Not in the mobile itself, but in what it is being used for.
    Then, we should reduce the use of the mobile phone, for example, by putting it in “airplane mode” as long as possible; not carry it at all times; always keep it silent; delete applications that we do not use or use very little; silence WhatsApp groups (and all notifications in general) and try calling instead of sending messages.

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