Will the new features in Apple’s iOS 12 fix our screen obsession?

In case you haven’t heard yet, Apple held its annual developers’ conference in early June. They announced some new features in iOS 12, which launches this Fall, that will “help you limit distractions, focus, and understand how you're spending your time," according to Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering. But how much can they really help, given our current obsession with screens?

The new features include a tool called Screen Time—a dashboard that will provide data on your iPhone and iPad usage. It will show you how much time you spend on each individual app and across various categories of apps, both daily and weekly. You will also see how many notifications you received and how many times you picked up your device. It will even allow you to set daily limits on how much time you want to spend on specific apps.

Apple is also improving the Do Not Disturb feature. You will be able to block calls, texts and notifications from everyone except your VIP list, and control your iPhone and iPad with one touch. And, you’ll be able to synch Do Not Disturb with your calendar or geo-locate it so that it automatically kicks in at certain times or in specific places. In the new Bedtime mode, it will also dim the screen and hide all notifications on the lock screen until morning.

Some of these features are already available, if you dig deep into Apple’s settings, and there are third-party apps that provide similar usage data and some of the controls. But, all that requires a concerted effort on the part of the user and, sometimes, additional costs. With these upgrades, Apple is making this type of information and control available to everyone, and making it easier and more intuitive to use.

The question is whether these new features will actually change people’s interactions with technology—will they develop healthier tech habits? For some people, I do think these tools will help and affect change. But for others, it’s not enough, and here’s why.

Apple new features will provide us with information and controls but, ultimately, it’s up to us to decide what we do with them. Whether or not we look at the information, whether or not we activate the controls, whether or not we honour the limits we set. If we aren’t internally motivated to do something different, we won’t change a thing.

These new features remind me of the Activity app on the Apple watch. It tracks how many calories you burn, how many minutes you spend exercising and how many hours in which you’ve stood and moved around, all on a daily basis. You can choose to look at the information, or not. You can set notifications, or not. You can use the Activity app to better understand your behavior and help you make changes, if you want, or you can ignore it and carry on as you are—much like the new features Apple announced for iOS 12. These features are no good unless we do something with them.

It’s important to understand what we’re doing, i.e. what we spend our time on and how much. But we also need to understand the impact of that behavior and have a desire to change our habits for the better. Now is the time to take responsibility for our actions and fix the problem ourselves. These new tools will be very helpful in that process but they alone will not make us behave differently. They will provide the information we need but it’s up to us to learn from it and make changes. As always, technology is not good or bad, it’s how we use it that matters.

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