I spent 36 hours and 23 minutes on my iPhone last week. That’s almost an entire work week frittered away on Netflix, Twitter and Slack.
Clearly, I have a problem.
And the odds are, you do too. Because, face it — we all spend too much time staring at our phones.
Apple wants to help us with that.
Beginning today, anyone with an iPhone 5S and later can glean detailed information about just how often, and for how long, they interact with their device. On Monday, Apple (AAPL) released the public beta of iOS 12, the latest version of its mobile operating system. It includes a suite of features designed to track your phone usage and help you cut down on screen time.
Apple is the latest company to address a mounting issue created by its own products. “Time well spent” is the hot catchphrase in Silicon Valley as tech titans like Google (GOOG) and Facebook (FB) roll out features to help people make better use of their time. I’ve spent two weeks using iOS 12, and although it hasn’t changed my habits just yet, I am much more aware of — and anxious about — my relationship with my phone.
The new operating system is available now as a beta (which almost certainly includes bugs and isn’t recommended for most users) and coming to everyone later this year. It includes performance improvements, group FaceTime calls, customizable Animoji’s that look like you, and new augmented reality powers. But the central feature is Screen Time.
The tool, found under settings, tallies the time you spend on your phone by day and week, and breaks it down by app and category. It shows how many notifications you receive and how often you pick up your phone (I grab mine every six minutes). You receive all this info in a convenient weekly report that makes it hard to deny you just might have a problem.
“Each person has to make the decision when they get their numbers as to what they would like to do,” Apple CEO Tim Cook told CNN when he announced the feature last month.
After reading my reports, I decided to cut down on social media, which sucked up six hours of my week. I used the Screen Time tools to limit my daily time on Twitter (TWTR) and Instagram and all the rest to just 15 minutes. I soon upped it to one hour, because Screen Time takes its job very seriously. Hit your self-imposed limit and the screen goes gray, making it impossible to see the app. You have the option to extend your time by 15 minutes or waive the limit for the day.
I quickly formed a habit of repeatedly hitting the snooze button while thumbing through Twitter, and eventually just turned off the feature entirely.
Another feature, called “Do Not Disturb,” lets you shut down all your notifications and calls. You can schedule regular blackouts, or simply let your phone shut them down automatically based upon your location, your calendar, and more. I opted to schedule my executive time from 6pm to 9pm, when I’m usually ignoring my phone anyway. That still didn’t stop me from peeking at the screen. I couldn’t help it. You probably can’t, either.
“The biochemistry of your brain is urging you to check in. That’s really hard to change,” said Dr. Larry Rosen, a psychologist and author who focuses on how people use technology.