Technology is an unavoidable part of our daily experience… but is your time well spent by the technology you use?
The problem is that a lot of technology is like sugar – it tastes great and is addictive, but too much and too often is terrible for you. You crave it and it makes you happy for a moment, but guilty and dissatisfied with yourself afterwards.
The good line I draw between technology I use frequently and technology that I limit: will this make me feel happier afterwards? Will I feel satisfied and fulfilled? Will I be creating and producing something?
Or is it tech/entertainment that steals my time and leaves me afterwards with the self-loathing of binging on a dozen donuts by myself?
Your time is valuable
Spending your time well feels harder and harder, as we live with increasing distractions around us.
Think a second about the mobile apps that make you feel happy after using them. Then think about any apps that make you anxious to check notifications, isolated, or unproductive after using them.
Seeing more and more apps treating users like sheep to be tricked and ensnared, tech entrepreneur Tristan Harris built a set of design principles and values for technology that respects users and their time.
When I think about my app use, it’s an obvious contrast. Many of my “happier” apps save me time. The “unhappier” apps are stealing my time.
And there’s numbers to support that idea. Look at that chart from Time Well Spent: apps that generally made people happy tend to take a significantly smaller portion of users’ time. Most of these “happier” apps take only a few minutes, while all of the “unhappier” apps lead to more than 20 minutes of use on average. Many of the “unhappier” apps took nearly an hour of people’s time or more.
Personally, most apps that make me happier like Google Calendar, no-ads Weather Underground, and Google Maps among others, take relatively small amounts of my time of my time. These help me schedule time for friends and the outdoors (Google Calendar) and plan for weather conditions before a hike (Weather Underground). I use them for a hot second, then get back to real life.
Apps that try to suck me in, including social media and news apps, I now turn off all notifications and sign out immediately after using them. Or straight up uninstall.
The cost of your time
Another thing I’m noticed about the apps I use is the actual cost.
Just about every app that leaves me unsatisfied is free. Then the apps upsell you or wants to hold your attention as long as possible to make more money by marketing to you.
The “unhappier” apps are making their money off of your time and attention. These apps want to hook you and keep you. Some of the most addicting games make money by forcing you to make purchases to progress or skip a waiting period. They have you hooked like a gambler at a casino.
Some of these apps also have the worst kind of marketing and advertising. Ads that pop up and interrupt you. Moving ad banners that distract your eye and prevent you from focusing. Targeted advertising that collects data about you to find your interests, your insecurities, and your weak spots. The kind of marketing that always seeks to convince you that you’ll be missing out or need more. They want to keep you anxious.
These apps don’t want you to feel satisfied. They won’t tell you that you are fine the way you are. They won’t tell you that you have enough.
On the other side, I’ve willingly paid for the apps I feel are worth it. I don’t have ads and I’m supporting developers who made a product that improves my life.
The result of your app use
After you close the app, what do you have to show? Do you feel more prepared or productive? Or do you feel lost, isolated, or like you haven’t done anything?
I want to keep only apps with a positive impact on my life and time. I love Podcast Addict, Spotify, and Chrome. I’m often using Chrome on my phone, to look up answers and ideas, from recipes to make for lunch to types of plants that would do well the shady corner of my garden. Or I’ll use it to look up an idea I’ve been thinking about, like what percent of time do people spend outdoors? (It’s about 5% percent for most Americans these days, in some regions even less.)
These help me discover, learn, and actually make something. Take notes or schedule an event. Plan ahead for being outside by checking the weather. Navigate and avoid traffic. Read or listen to long-form content like a book, podcast, or music. Exercise and be outside. Meditate, go for a walk, and be present.
That’s in contrast to apps that leave me with little or nothing to show for an hour of time. Time wasted away scrolling through a feed of posts or a game that never ends. Apps that want my eyes glued to a screen.
So delete or limit the apps that steal your time.
We need apps that allow us to be in the present moment, think deeply, and connect with the actual (rather than online) world around us.
Keep the tech that leaves you feeling your time was well spent.