On Tuesday, May 8th, 2018, Google announced a new suite of features for its coming Android P operating system to promote digital wellness. The features, unveiled during Google’s annual I/O developer conference in Silicon Valley, are designed to help consumers, as well as concerned parents, combat phone addiction by making it easier to unplug.
This forthcoming rollout from Google is its most ambitious and consequential update to their operating system in years. Not only will Android P change the way users navigate and interact with their phones, but, conversely, it will change how our phones interact with us. The update is timely, considering Google, among other major tech companies, has been under recent scrutiny for its addictive products and the negative ramifications that stem from overuse. The new features all focus on the goal of “digital wellbeing” — making our phones less of a distraction, less of an attention hog, and more of a tool for users to take back control from their digital devices.
In the past few months, some influential tech leaders such as Salesforce’s Marc Benioff or Apple iPod’s Tony Fadell have proposed counteractive measures to Big Tech’s addictive properties with little to no action actually taken by the companies themselves. For example, following the JANA Partners letter to Apple earlier this year, Apple promised to make their devices safer for children and to introduce new features that would facilitate parental monitoring. Empirically, though, months have passed and we still haven’t seen any new rollouts or even a follow-up update on the matter. Although Android P is currently only available in beta on a handful of devices and will require a few months time to do a complete launch, it definitely shows more action and promise than its competitor. All eyes will be on iOS 12, which is expected to release in the fall. Will the new operating system include new, (or even copycat) features to help users fight phone addiction?
The suite of new features is off to a decent start by allowing and showing stronger parental control and more transparent phone usage, respectively. It’s important to emphasize that this is just the beginning, though. Becoming more aware of our digital consumption is usually the first step in a long journey to “digital wellness.”
Results from a study show that on average, 60% of U.S. Internet users said that they are addicted to their digital devices. This number rises to 76% among 13-24-year-olds. It appears that many people, even Gen Z’ers and Millennials, are aware or at least feel like they have a problem, but what are they actually doing to address it?
There need to be mechanisms in place that hold the consumers accountable. Using some of the catchy new features such as turning on Do Not Disturb by putting the phone face down or keeping track of the time you spent on social media does not solely pave the way to a viable and sustainable solution. We need to develop new habits and, to an extent, modify certain aspects of our lifestyle in order to find a balance. It’s unclear whether or not Google, Apple, or other tech companies will provide additional tools to help us do that. We cannot sit around hoping the change will come — we need to be the catalyst for change ourselves. Whether that’s seeking out apps to force less phone-time at work or setting up self-imposed digital rules before bed, or whatever. Just take that next step.
OK, so you’ve finally become aware of how much time you spend on your digital device… What’s next?
Google’s announcement is a grand milestone within the digital wellness space and it’s a nothing short of a win for us consumers. The topic of digital wellness is still in its nascent stages, but opportunity lies ahead. If Big Tech is willing to join the conversation (in a slow, meandering fashion to be sure), we can create a promising future as we further search for balance in our digital age.