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2Degrees urges you to regulate your screen time

Peter Griffin, Editor. 17 February 2022, 9:26 am

Nearly half of New Zealand adults have the desire to better balance their use of technology according to mobile network operator 2Degrees, which has released a new app to help people log off more often.

Surveying by the mobile company found that 54% of us don't have strategies in place to manage the time we spend on devices. Nearly two-thirds of 18 - 39-year-olds say their devices "stop them from being fully present", while one in 10 admitted to having missed important life events because of digital distractions.

While Apple and Android phone makers have built screentime management tools into their operating systems, allowing users to time-limit access to apps and monitor their time spent online, many users are oblivious to their availability or just haven't activated them.

2Degrees is taking a different approach, with an entirely new app that can be downloaded from the Google Play and Apple App Store. You don't need to be a 2Degrees user to install it, but you will need to register as a new user.

The Real mode app then allows you to activate a time-out mode on your phone, which monitors how long you spend away from the features on your phone. Messages and calls can still come in but you'll need to leave Real Mode to access them. As an incentive to stay in Real Mode, 2Degrees is offering prize draws for people who will receive an entry for every 15 minutes they stay in Real Mode. 

What's in it for 2Degrees given that more mobile usage means it can sell more calling and data services?

"We want to encourage Kiwis to use technology in a way that supports them to be happy and productive, while also making sure they are taking time to reboot, connect, and enjoy unfiltered moments in person away from the online world," says 2Degrees chief executive Mark Aue.

2Degrees claims it will not gather data on Real Mode users. 

"We DO NOT collect your data or track anything," according to the Real Mode website.

The app can also let users automatically send an "out of office" message to their social media channels to let people know they are offline - a feature that could become extremely irritating for social media browsers if the feature takes off. The aim of the app, says Aue is to make people a bit more "intentional" about how they use their phone, choosing to log off to spend time in the real world.

Fighting the attention economy

Will Real mode make a difference? If sophisticated screen time features built into mobile phone operating systems are having a limited impact, the chances of a third-party app with basic functionality encouraging mindfulness seems slim.

But everyone has their own way of managing their use of technology and the prize draw incentives and simple nature of Real Mode may have appeal. Recently I interviewed Johann Hari, the author of Stolen Focus: Why You Can't Pay Attention. The British journalist outlines 12 factors experts suggest are contributing to the general state of distraction and being frazzled many adults and children alike seem to permanently live in. He points to deteriorating diets and rising pollution as being part of the problem, the recent rise of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in kids, high-stress jobs, and the erosion of our ability to read for sustained periods.

But our use of technology and the attention economy that has arisen and is designed to keep us engaged in apps and online services, is a major part of the problem, says Hari.

Hari counts himself among the afflicted. He has gone to the extreme measure of installing a "kSafe" lockbox at home, into which he deposits his digital devices so he can't access them for a pre-set period of time. A timer opens the door to signal the end of his self-imposed internet hiatus, allowing him to log on once again.

In comparison, Real Mode is a small step towards limiting the time you spend wrapped up in the digital world.

Johann Hari's top five things you can do to improve your attention

Change your diet - If you eat a lot of sugar, that causes energy spikes, and then causes energy crashes. When you crash, you experience "brain fog" and can't pay attention. Choose food that reduces energy steadily.

Insulate yourself from interruptions - One study found that being interpreted by texts and phone calls is worse for your attention and ability to think clearly than getting stoned. Just checking a text once knocks 20% off your focus. You need to create spaces in your life where you are protected from interruptions.

Sleep an hour more every night - If you sleep six hours a night, within two weeks your attention and reaction times are the same as if you got drunk. The best thing you can do for your attention is sleep an hour more every night.

Find your flow - We all have within us the ability to get into a flow-state, which is when you can effortlessly focus on something for hours. To get into a flow state, you need to find something meaningful to you. You need to cut out all interruptions, and it needs to be something that is a little challenging. If it's too easy, you won't flow, and if it's too hard, you'll give up.

Let your kids play freely without you - The stress of constantly monitoring your kids reduces your attention, but even more importantly, the science shows children develop an ability to pay attention primarily through playing freely. Let your kids play outside without you. It's better for your attention, and better for theirs.


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