By Julia Di Simone
Our smartphones are designed to be addicting. Companies turn a profit when we spend more time on our devices, so it’s not a coincidence that those annoying bright red notification bubbles have to be clicked to make them disappear. Bright red is the most eye-catching color to many of us, and the pull-down feature you use to refresh your Facebook feed? That’s a trick pulled right from slot machines: pull the lever for a shot of dopamine.
Smartphones are irresistible at times. They give us access to 24/7, seemingly free entertainment which is personally curated for us. Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are working hard to develop algorithms which point you to recommended content you are likely to click on, keeping you on their site longer. This is why you find yourself awake in bed at 3 a.m. watching your twentieth consecutive Buzzfeed video, not quite knowing how you got here.
You can make your smartphone less enticing by taking a note from Tristan Harris, a former design ethicist at Google. Harris recommends visiting your phone’s accessibility settings and changing your display’s color filter to grayscale. This makes everything on your homescreen look equally important. Suddenly, that bright red Netflix bubble isn’t more enticing than your dictionary app.
Try this experiment out: next time you look at a bookshelf, identify which color spines jump out at you the most. Chances are, you’ll find that red spines command your attention. It is known that bright, warm colors are particularly attractive to the human eye, so it’s no wonder that the alert bubbles in the corner of your home screen apps, like the number that announces how many texts you have, are always bright red.
It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of being reactive to stimuli from our phone. Incoming texts, calls and app notifications light up are screens and chime at us, calling to be attended to. If your phone is interrupting your day, head to your phone’s notifications center and re-evaluate which ones you allow. With money on the line, every app wants you to spend time on it. If you download the game Tetris, it will ask to send you notifications. As a general rule, consider only allowing notifications for when human beings are trying to interact with you and let your entertainment apps stay silent until you choose to open them.
You don’t get to control how apps are designed, but you do get to control when you are connected to those apps and when you are not. Use the Do Not Disturb feature when it’s time to concentrate. If it makes you jittery to think about leaving your phone at home or stashing it in your backpack, take this first step. When you meet up with a friend at the Bistro, switch your phone to Do Not Disturb mode. You can still keep it out on the table or in your pocket if you need to, but incoming notifications will be paused so you can focus on connecting with the friend you’re excited to share a Bistro cookie with.
It’s now possible to get so many of our social needs met through a screen rather than the people around us. These days, you can feel social validation when someone likes your newest Instagram photo, you can feel connected to those you miss by scrolling through their Facebook timeline and you can feel entertained by watching your favorite YouTubers. But, if tapping your screen all day is leaving you unsatisfied, know that you can curb your attachment to your phone using these three strategies.