Will Apple and Google really fix our internet addiction?
Digital detox hit the news this week, with Apple the somewhat unlikely creators of a new feature that might help users monitor and spend less time on the very devices they produce. This comes just a few weeks after Google announced similar functionality, and potentially demonstrates a change in attitude from the two tech giants in the way they approach the issue of tech and internet addiction. Is this a step away from the stance that technology can and should be used to help with anything and everything in life, towards a more balanced outlook where we accept that we can in fact have too much of a good thing?
Apple’s unveiling at their recent conference was of their new app Screen Time. According to the Apple website, it will “help customers understand and take control of the time they spend interacting with their iOS devices.” Specifically, the Screen Time app will include detailed activity reports, and allow users to set limits for the amount of time they spend on the various apps they use.
Google’s equivalent offering is ‘Digital Wellbeing’ and on the surface, it seems very similar to Screen Time. The way in which usage data is presented and displayed is almost identical with user-friendly dashboards that let you get a detailed view on where you’re spending your time.
Perhaps the biggest difference in the two apps is the forcefulness in approach they take to the internet addiction issue if a user does indeed go over their allocated app time. In the Beta version of Screen Time, Apple’s app merely sends you a notification that you can choose to ignore. On the other hand, Google’s Beta app seems to temporarily blur out the phone screen; something that can only be overcome with a hard app reset.
Google have also created a hub for their Digital Wellbeing proposition, where they say; “We’re creating tools and features that help people better understand their tech usage, focus on what matters most, disconnect when needed, and create healthy habits for the whole family.” The focus on family is driven home throughout the new hub page, and its in this approach where the app could really play a beneficial part in digital detoxing. One feature Family Link allows parents to manage the device usage of their kids, and even helps you find what Google describe as ‘nutritious content’. Google WiFi will let you schedule internet breaks, or block inappropriate content more intelligently.
In the launch of Screen Time Apple also put emphasis on the benefits the new app could have for parents: “Parents can access their child’s Activity Report right from their own iOS devices to understand where their child spends their time and can manage and set App Limits for them.” The benefits of this approach could in fact offer a non-intrusive way for parents to keep their children’s screen usage in check and consequently improve family life.
Perhaps the question which needs to be raised is whether fighting tech with more tech is really the answer? The curious ironies of these spate of announcements have certainly raised a few eyebrows, and a cynic could argue that tech companies are simply leaping on the digital detox trend as a way of retaining users, countering internet addiction fears and increasing hardware sales. However, the fact that tech giants are taking any position on the internet addiction issue has to be positive one. After all, it’s no secret that there are increasing concerns that products that Apple and Google release are having a negative effect on their users’ mental wellbeing.
So two of the world’s tech giants are starting to have a look at the world they have created and tackle a problem in the only way they know how. These features may not be the answer to the world’s over connected issues, but they are undoubtedly a (small) step in the right direction. If two of the biggest tech companies in the world are thinking about digital detox, then this might just make a few others focus on it too.