Have you heard about the new business whose mission is “… to help people develop a healthy relationship with technology”? It’s a great line, isn’t it? The company is targeting students with the catchy idea that “you are 62% more open to information when you put away your phone”.
The ‘healthy relationship’ requires you to download and use a new app for your smartphone. The incentive for putting your phone on ‘hold’ for 20 minutes is that you earn reward points to spend via the app on brands that advertise through the app. The aim is to tackle to current growth in smartphone addiction.
There are, of course, a vast number of apps that offer mindfulness, relaxation, meditation, inner peace etc, etc. They are a feature of the digital world we live in where mobile devices, software and networks have a profound effect on the way we interpret, navigate and respond to the physical and social world around us.
The ‘Hold’ app, far from reducing the attraction and distraction of the phone, may actually increase a student’s anxiety and tension as they shoe-horn their studies into time increments that will earn them time off to… use their phones. The social competitiveness dimension of the app will also open up their focussed, deep work time to the inspection and commentary of friends.
The neuroplasticity of the human brain means that if we practise patterns of thought and behaviour that are useful to us, we will actually change our brains at a neurological level. Learning comes about through continual rehearsal, which is as true for the way we think and feel as much as it is for physical tasks we want to perfect. Relying on external devices to structure our time and how we work may have some immediate supportive benefits but in the long term, deep work requires some effort and self-discipline that results in those changes in the brain that enable us to continue to do that deep work.
Whoever it is – a student, a working professional or a hobbyist – training oneself to focus and rewarding that effort with a simple tea or coffee, or some other ‘treat’ is a sure way to developing and enhancing the ability in the future to concentrate and produce valuable results.
There are many ways to put internet and mobile phone distractions on ‘hold’; perhaps using a smartphone app to do so is a little ironic?