A thoughtful new piece by Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times today takes a look how Apple could improve our relationship with our iPhones. While it’s not the iPhone maker’s fault we’re so addicted to our devices, Manjoo thinks there’s an opportunity for Apple to encourage more intentional use, which would mean less use. Could there be a way to do this that’s both beneficial for users and Apple?

AirPods

Manjoo notes that while technology addiction and the negative effects aren’t anything new, the topic has been receiving a growing amount of attention.

Last week, two important AAPL investors shared an open letter asking the company to do more to help prevent children from overusing technology.

Apple responded by saying that “we take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.”

However, while no concrete plans were provided, “the company added that it is ‘constantly looking’ for ways to improve its devices and said that it plans new features that will make the tools it provides parents “even more robust.”

Most recently, Mark Zuckerberg announced an upcoming change to Facebook’s News Feed that is aimed to reduce passive content and ultimately the amount of time users spend on the service.

“We want to make sure that our products are not just fun, but are good for people,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “We need to refocus the system.”

While Manjoo doesn’t place all the blame at tech companies’ feet, he also brings up the irony of these latest developments.

It’s hard to know what to make of these confessions of regret. Come on, guys — you gave us these wondrous machines, you made billions of dollars from their ubiquity, and now you tell us they’re bad?

He goes on to share that tech addiction is a collective issue and that we all need to take responsibility. Calling on tech companies to make change is important, but they are always going to be battling investor/economic expectations.

Manjoo also briefly mentions the idea of government regulation and individuals practicing more self-control, but doesn’t believe any of the those approaches will be enough.

With doubts about what or who could really make a big impact in relation to tech addictions, Manjoo comes back to the iPhone maker.

The same company that always seems to turn up when it’s time to cross into a new era of technology: Apple.

Two compelling reasons for Apple to tackle this issue include a business interest in “the well-being of its customers,” and that of all the company’s out there, Apple would do an “elegant job.”

Manjoo interviewed a former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris, who thinks that “they [Apple] may be our only hope.” Harris shared a couple ideas on how Apple could make real change.

Imagine if, once a week, your phone gave you a report on how you spent your time, similar to how your activity tracker tells you how sedentary you were last week. It could also needle you: “Farhad, you spent half your week scrolling through Twitter. Do you really feel proud of that?” It could offer to help: “If I notice you spending too much time on Snapchat next week, would you like me to remind you?”

Proactive users can use the existing battery usage data in settings to get an idea of what apps they are using the most, but of course it’s a bit buried and not intentional like Harris’ idea.

Another option would be for Apple to offer more notification control within iOS.

Another idea is to let you impose more fine-grained controls over notifications. Today, when you let an app send you mobile alerts, it’s usually an all-or-nothing proposition — you say yes to letting it buzz you, and suddenly it’s buzzing you all the time.

Manjoo notes that some of these potential efforts could err on the side of being – ironically – “too intrusive,” but that he believes Apple could do a great job of finding a balance.

There’s a danger that some of these anti-addiction efforts could get too intrusive. But that’s also why Apple would shine here; building a less-addictive phone is chiefly a problem of interface design, which is basically Apple’s entire corporate raison d’être.

When it comes to considering the impact on Apple’s business, Manjoo thinks that it could even be a benefit for the company. Similar to how the company markets the Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE as a way to leave your iPhone behind.

Done right, a full-fledged campaign pushing the benefits of a more deliberative approach to tech wouldn’t come off as self-interest, but in keeping with Apple’s best vision of itself — as a company that looks out for the interests of humanity in an otherwise cold and sometimes inhumane industry.

What do you think? Does Apple have a responsibility here? Is it the company in the best position to make positive change concerning tech addiction? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The New York Times piece is definitely worth a read. Check out the full article here.


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