Apple has unveiled new tools to help people control their smartphone use, after facing accusations that its technology is “addictive”.
A tool called Screen Time will create daily and weekly activity reports, the technology giant announced on Monday at its Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose.
The reports will detail how long you spend in an app, how many notifications you receive and how often you pick up your device. Users will also be able to set a time limit on certain apps.
Parents will get even more information and oversight, including the ability to see their child’s activity report from their own device and the power to schedule times (around bed time, for example) when certain apps cannot be used.
The changes will be rolled out as part of Apple’s new operating system, iOS 12.
Google announced similar changes to its software in May, including a dashboard showing the apps where users spend the most time and a break reminder for YouTube.
The addiction fight
Apple and its Silicon Valley counterparts have recently been forced to defend themselves, following accusations their devices and software are designed to be used compulsively.
In January, two major Apple shareholders urged the company to address the issue of “smartphone addiction” among children.
“Apple can play a defining role in signalling to the industry that paying special attention to the health and development of the next generation is both good business and the right thing to do,” Jana Partners LLC and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System wrote, in an open letter.
Statistics back up their concern: Pew Research recently found that 45 per cent of American teens now say they are online on a “near-constant basis”.
Many Australian smartphone users also “feel addicted” to their smartphone, according to the Telsyte Australian Digital Consumer Study 2018.
Is technology addiction for real?
Opinions differ about whether technology addiction can be a clinical diagnosis.
James Kesby, a researcher at the Queensland Brain Institute, said there are multiple camps within the medical community.
“Some people believe that addiction can be anything that you overdo to a point where it’s a negative consequence for your life,” he said.
“It’s difficult to draw that line in the sand for things that are external, like electronics.”
Andrew Campbell, chair of the Cyberpsychology Research Group at Sydney University, suggested that people are not addicted to technology.
Rather, they display obsessive behaviour when it comes to specific online functions, such as social media — a tool that providers users with “esteem rewards” in the form or reposts, likes or retweets.
Facebook’s founding president Sean Parker echoed similar sentiments in 2017, accusing his former employer of using “a social-validation feedback loop” of likes and comments to addict users.
“It’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology,” he said at an Axios event in Philadelphia.
As part of iOS 12, Apple will also help limit social media tracking — an apparent response to ongoing concern over Facebook’s use of consumer data.
In Safari, “Intelligent Tracking Prevention” will block social media “Like” or “Share” buttons from tracking users without permission.
Will ‘Screen Time’ help?
Technology can help control behaviour, according to Dr Campbell.
But many digital health tools appear to be more focused on finding new ways to measure usage, he suggested, rather than changing it for the better.
“There are more 100 million apps out there for health and wellness,” he said.
“If there’s that many, we need to know two things: one, what ones work, and two, why isn’t everyone using them?” Dr Campbell asked.