The Black & White Phone Experiment
I remember life before cell phones, I even remember life before internet. My generation is the last to have grown up without this technology. My family got internet (such an archaic statement) when I was a teenager. I got my first cellphone when I was in university and there was definitely nothing ‘smart’ about it. It was an LG flip-phone with a tiny screen, no ability to connect to the internet and no camera.
Now, twelve years later, I’m spending an average of two hours a day on my phone and let’s be honest, that’s significantly lower than average. Especially the average of those under 30. There are a multitude of reports online studying daily smartphone use and they all have slightly different numbers, but it looks like the average is probably somewhere between 3.5 to 5 hours of smartphone use per day.
Maybe it’s my age — the fact that I can remember a time before I had an iPhone — but I hate being so attached to my phone. But here’s the reality, I don’t want to become a dinosaur. I don’t want to get so out of date with technology that I can’t take advantage of the great things it has to offer. With how much I travel, I love being able to take quality photos with my phone, I love that I can download almost an entire city to my offline google maps so I don’t get lost, I love how cheap and easy it is to connect with family back home using Skype or FaceTime, and I love that I can cheer for my favourite sports teams while watching games from anywhere in the world. However, how can we do all this without getting sucked down the rabbit hole? I’m not saying we shouldn’t have smartphones, but how can we make them work for us rather than letting them control us? How can we optimize our phone usage so that they support us in our drive to thrive intentionally?
Last week I read an interesting article on how to minimize the time we waste on our phones. It entailed changing a phone’s settings to black and white, and immediately after finishing the article, I decided to do a one-week experiment. It took me about 10 seconds to go into my iPhone’s settings and make the necessary changes. I’m not going to lie, it was quite startling at first. Everything looked dull and boring. There was nothing that stood out anymore. It intrigued me how differently my brain was processing what it was seeing. Despite the fact that the content was exactly the same, I just wasn’t that interested, there was nothing drawing me in. Even my emails and WhatsApp messages seemed duller. I always assumed these apps were just text, I never realized how much colour there was across every app in my phone.
One of the reasons for doing this is that it’s supposed to reduce the stimulation our brain is getting from the bright colours. Our brains instinctively relate bright colours to importance and designers use this to create products that draw us in. One of the biggest things I noticed this past week was that I barely noticed when an ad popped up. Banners across the top of websites didn’t even register in my brain. I was able to focus more clearly on the content I was actually looking for.
I don’t have anything against using smartphones, if I did, I wouldn’t have one. But it’s the rabbit hole of connecting stories and links and ads that causes many of us to get drawn in for longer than we intend. I don’t like how easy it is to waste my time, to look up after reading through five linked articles and realizing I just wasted 20 minutes that I was planning to spend on something else. During this week of black and white, my screen time went down by about 25 minutes a day. Will that change my life? Probably not. But it’s a nice feeling to be more aware of where my time is going.
I restored the standard colour settings on my phone a few minutes ago and I was shocked at how overwhelming it felt after a week of black and white. I actually had to squint to look at the home screen and all the brightly coloured apps seem obnoxious. The red alert circles even more so. My phone is now demanding a response from me, I almost feel like it’s yelling at me to follow up on each cue.
In black and white it was easier to intentionally go in to respond to one specific alert or search for one specific thing. Now, the untapped stimulation of checking all those different alerts is making me anxious just thinking about it. This doesn’t make sense. I’m not the kind of person who is addicted to my phone. Why am I having this type of visceral reaction?
Right now, all I can think of is the relief I will get from changing the settings back to black and white. Though there’s a part of me that’s curious how quickly I will settle back into the colour. Will it take me a week?
Perhaps only an hour?
In fact, I may already be starting to get used to it again . . .