There is a maxim that has been widely circulated in the business world: “What gets measured gets managed.” This principle is popular because it has so many diverse applications. Do you want to improve productivity on an employee by employee basis? Measure each worker’s current output in order to know where to invest in staff development. Do you want to drive more traffic to a website? Use Google Analytics to measure your current page views and figure out where they come from. Do you want to mitigate time wasted on your smartphone? But wait... why would anyone want to do that?
My younger brother, who is currently a freshman at Georgetown, has a roommate who has chosen to use a $30 flip phone instead of a $300 smart phone. When I asked the roommate why, he told me that he “didn’t want to get addicted.” In an unrelated discussion, my brother has also told me that this roommate is one of the most productive people he knows. There is no doubt in my mind that these two traits are correlated. Improved productivity is just one of the many benefits we can see when we develop the skill of using our phones more conscientiously, and the app under scrutiny today is a handy tool for developing that conscientiousness.This app has been previously referenced in more than seventy national and international publications, including the New York Times, BBC, Bloomberg and PBS, but never before in the Duke Chronicle. It’s called “Moment,” and has the potential to completely recalibrate how we use our smartphones.
Moment is what is known as an invisible app—you don’t play games on it or interact with it during the course of your day, but it runs in the background and constantly serves its purpose. Moment’s purpose is simple: it tracks how much time we spend on our phones each day, how many times we “pick up” our devices and on which apps we spend the most time. And, as Moment proudly declares on its page in the App Store, “Moment is the first and only app on the App Store to do this.” This brings us back to our original question —why do you need to manage the time you spend on your screens? Maybe you don’t. Or maybe you simply think you don’t.
Moment data indicates that many people wildly underestimate how much time they spend on their screens. Kevin Holesh, the developer behind the app, estimated he spent 45 or 55 daily minutes on his smartphone. His girlfriend presumed that she spent around an hour on her device. After installing the beta version of the app, they learned the sobering truth : humans are bad at estimating. Both Kevin and his partner were spending around twice as much time on their devices as they had guessed.
I do not doubt that many of us have fallen prey to the same underestimation. As I’ve written in the past, our smartphones are simply tools that we have begun to use indiscriminately. Managing the use of these tools begins with measuring their use. But even if people agree that we spend a lot of time on our devices, there is nothing in that fact that inherently motivates us to become digital hermits. A desire to spend less time “on the line” comes from an internal motivation, not from a few statistics.
I personally chose to begin a more intentional association with my iPhone, after contemplating one specific piece of data. In the past three months, I have spent a daily average of one hour and 58 minutes on my iPhone 6s. I checked that statistic this morning using Moment’s helpful tracking system, which can generate reports of your phone usage over a day, a week, a quarter or “all time”. What really struck me—and what has struck me in the past—was the number that Moment generated after calculating this average.
I am spending 12 percent of my waking time on my phone. Moment indicated that if I continue at my current rate, I will squander 5.2 years of my life on the screen. Before that number sunk in, the even more disconcerting fact was that my current screen usage is down 9 percent from this summer, when I spent hours each day surfing the web and watching Netflix or Amazon Prime TV series. The average Moment user spends 23 percent of their waking life on their phone. That’s 10 years on screen over the course of a lifetime!
Imagine what you could do with 10 years. You could launch a successful business, get two college degrees, travel the world, build a career or start a family. We live in an age of maximalism, where technology is concerned. We have lived by the unspoken principle that “More tech is good tech.”
By all means, if your phone provides you with value, then you should continue to use it as much as you please. But consider what you miss when you fail to live intentionally. Consider what you stand to gain if you simply measured your screen time and reduced it by 30 minutes daily. Consider downloading Moment, an app that will help you use other apps less.
Think about spending less time iTime on your phone, and more me time on yourself—it might help you better understand what you really need to accomplish.
Jack Dolinar is a Trinity junior. His column usually runs on alternate Mondays.
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