Break free of your screen-time habits this year
Are night light display settings better or does grayscale work more effectively? Here’s a look at what you can do about your digital well-being
Most modern smartphones come with an automatic setting: a soothing amber night light that switches on at a designated time. You can also manually set the time you want the feature to switch on. It’s designed to reduce the strain on your eyes from the blue light emitted by most smartphone screens. This blue light is said to affect your natural sleep cycle by disturbing the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.
But does that amber light really work for you at night? A recent study by the University of Manchester suggests otherwise. According to a team of scientists at the university, “using dim, cooler lights in the evening and bright, warmer lights in the day may be more beneficial to our health". The study was published in the journal Current Biology in December. In an official release, the researchers added that “twilight is both dimmer and bluer than daylight, they say, and the body clock uses both of those features to determine the appropriate times to be asleep and awake. Current technologies designed to limit our evening exposure to blue light, for example by changing the screen colour on mobile devices, may therefore send us mixed messages".
According to the paper, the research, conducted on mice, showed that colours which resembled twilight (i.e. blue) produced weaker circadian responses than the light of equivalent intensity from colours associated with daytime (yellow to white).
The findings of this paper are relevant, especially in the Indian context, as we are spending a lot of time on our phones. According to a recent report by smartphone maker Vivo and research and consultancy firm CyberMedia Research (CMR), the average Indian spends roughly 1,800 hours a year on the phone. The report (Smartphones And Their Impact On Human Relationships) was based on a survey conducted online and in person across eight Indian cities. The 2,000 respondents included working professionals, youth and housewives in the age group of 18-45. Four in every five users reported looking at their phone just before they went to bed and as soon as they woke; 74% of users checked their phone within the first 30 minutes of waking up.
If you don’t want to just switch off your phone, and doubts continue about the effectiveness of night-light solutions, a possible solution might lie in a more colourless option: turning your display settings to grayscale. According to the Center for Humane Technology, a non-profit organization founded by Tristan Harris, a former Google design ethicist, Aza Raskin, a former head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, and others, going grayscale helps people reduce the frequency of phone checks.
It’s a display setting that can be toggled on most of the latest Android and iOS devices. According to Google, which recently launched more new apps as part of its Digital Wellbeing Experiments platform, turning your screen black and white helps reduce the “attention-grabbing nature" of many app icons.
Disabling push notifications could be another solution. I get at least 5-10 push notifications daily from food-delivery apps (a new menu, discount offers, etc.) and music streaming services (a playlist for different days of the week), for instance. With their colourful emojis and catchphrases, they do manage to get my attention. The Center for Humane Technology, which focuses on the ethics of consumer technology, suggests that you should disable all notifications “generated by machines, not actual people", which would include alerts on instant messaging apps. Another trick the non-profit suggests is to avoid cluttering your home screen with too many apps—or just moving the apps you do not need away from the home screen. Restrict that space to apps and tools
Technology companies have also realized the importance of letting users know how much time they spend on their phones and devices. Google’s Digital Wellbeing Experiments platform is a collection of tools and apps for just this. For example, “Screen Stopwatch", “Morph" and “Unlock Clock" are some new experiments designed by the Google Creative Lab. As the Experiments with Google website explains, these are designed to help people “consider their relationship with technology". Each experiment, the website explains, was designed around a different behaviour. “Where one person might get easily distracted by notifications, other might find it difficult to disconnect as a group," it says.
Users can try any of the 11 experiments available on this website. They have been designed to work on most of the recent Android devices and a user will know if their device is compatible with an experiment when they download it from the Google Play Store. Apple too released a number of digital well-being tools, including a Screen Time app, in 2018. Many other features and tools were integrated with the launch of the iOS 12 operating system later that year.
But if even the well-being apps don’t work for you, then it may be best to just switch off your phone. Some Indian users are waking up to the need to do this. Three in every five users surveyed for the Vivo-CMR report felt that switching off their smartphone periodically can actually help. And 42% of users felt positive while doing so, using words like “relaxed", “good", “calm" and “freedom" to describe their feelings.
FIRST PUBLISHED07.02.2020 | 01:55 PM IST