Industries in Depth

Google wants you to stop using your Android so much. Here's why

Pedestrians look at their mobile phones near Brick Lane in London, Britain October 5, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth SEARCH "WERMUTH PHONES" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "THE WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.

Google has made a number of changes to the Android operating system as part of its Digital Wellbeing initiative. Image: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

Keith Breene
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Android's new dashboard will help you to track your phone usage. Image: Android

It’s not often that you see a company prompting customers to use its products less, but that’s exactly what Google says it is trying to do with its new Digital Wellbeing tools.

Amid increased concern about just how addictive technology is and what effect it may be having on us as individuals and as a society, Google has unveiled a suite of features on its Android operating system. Google’s Digital Wellbeing is designed to help users increase their awareness of the amount of time they are spending on their device – and help them take a break from it.

A new Android Dashboard tracks how you’re spending your screen time, while an App Timer sets limits on how long you can spend in certain apps. And a new feature called “Shush” switches your phone into Do Not Disturb mode when you set it screen down.

Users will be able to control the flow of information they receive.

By making it easier to control what notifications people receive and when, Google aims to stem the seemingly constant flow of information that can assault phone users - keeping them hyper-connected to their screens.

‘People want help’

Launching the new features, Sameer Samat, Google’s vice-president of product management, said that the company’s research showed that phone users overwhelmingly wanted to find better ways of controlling their use of technology: “70% of people want more help striking this balance.”

Culture shift

Tristan Harris, one of the leading figures in the movement for “digital wellness,” which aims to promote a more balanced use of technology, was Google’s first ever “design ethicist.”

After leaving the company in 2016, Harris started a non-profit called Time Well Spent which is committed to solving the problems of the “attention economy.”

It went on to get plenty of attention itself and when Facebook recently shifted to prioritizing posts from users’ friends over brands, CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s post about the change talked a lot about digital wellbeing.

There has also been widespread media interest in the trend among many leading digital entrepreneurs heavily restricting their children's access to technology because they're so concerned about potential negative effects.

So, Google’s announcement hasn’t come out of the blue but is nonetheless a significant change in tone from the tech giant.

For a long time FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out – has kept may of us gripped by social media and our smartphones. Google says it hopes its new features will encourage users to instead start to experience JOMO – the Joy Of Missing Out.

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