Yesterday, I checked my phone 32 times. I know this because I have an app called Checky. I also spent an hour and 40 minutes on my phone, which I know because I have an app called Moment. So far today, I’ve used 21 percent of my daily maximum recommended screen time of 160 minutes, and I know that because I also have an app called Hooked. It takes a lot of apps to keep track of whether you’re spending too much time looking at apps.
I downloaded these three screen-time narcs because of an encroaching fear that I use my phone too much. I can’t stand in line at the grocery store without sneaking my trusty 6S out of my pocket. When I’m on a plane, I feel a moment of dread when I’m forced to engage airplane mode. The other day I was looking at my phone during my kid’s basketball game. But only when he was on the bench. I still felt like a cretin.
Am I really though? I needed evidence. All three of these apps offer some combination of monitoring and coaching, the latter ranging from light encouragement (yay, you didn’t look at your phone 200 times!) to hard lockouts, the phone equivalent of a werewolf chaining himself to the wall before the full moon rises.
Hooked turns your phone habit into a game, ranking you against other users. As I write this, I’m ranked 213th in the game, my score trailing that of “LaTitPlay” (32nd) but just ahead of “Hamzoo 75” (214th). The irony of Hooked is that the top-ranked players must never look at their phones. Therefore, they don’t know they’re winning, because the act of checking your score would knock you off the list. So if you’re reading this, Jordyn121874, keep up the good work! You’re ranked second.
Checky doesn’t have a built-in game, but it does work to moderate your phone habit by being totally useless and crashing all the time. If Checky were a college student, it would be a guy who’s a 23-year-old sophomore.
Moment is by far the most elegant and detailed way to track your phone habit. I didn’t venture into the paid version, but in exchange for some light data-mining Moment will tell you how you fare against other users. I dare not ask why Moment needs to know how many dogs I own, but in return for that information I learned that the average Moment user spends 3 hours and 57 minutes per day on the phone. After two weeks, my average clocked in around two hours. In other words, I don’t have a problem after all! Or at least, my problem’s only half as bad as yours.
And Moment isn’t totally accurate, either. For instance, it scolded me for five hours of screen time on a day when I went skiing and used Waze on the drive. Likewise, when I go running and cue up Yo Gotti for some “Rake It Up,” that counts the same as slack-jawed Facebook scrolling in the Dunkin’ drive-through line. See, not all screen time is equal. If you’re using your phone to encourage some form of exercise, such as skiing or rakin’ it up, then more power to you. If you’re using it to look at Kevin Federline’s Instagram feed while your co-workers ask for the third time if you’d like to finish stitching up the patient, then you might have a problem.
But even with Moment looking over my shoulder, I found situations that justified unholstering the phone. After a friend’s 40th birthday bash, my wife, Heather, and I were at the elevator at the hotel, ready to call it a night. Another couple pushed their way in with a luggage cart overflowing with small bags of snacks. Feeling compelled to explain, they told us that there was a vending machine convention at the hotel and they’d won a raffle. “Look at all this!” said the guy. “Want some chips? Take some chips.” And he handed Heather some chips. “You like pretzels?” asked the woman, and she offloaded some pretzels. By the time we reached our floor, Heather looked like a human Cumby Farms snack aisle, bear-hugging bags of tortilla chips, pretzels and cookies. I took out my phone to document this event, because it’s not every elevator ride that you make off with a stash of Late July Jalapeño Lime chips, which are like Cool Ranch Doritos’ classier cousin.
I thought about posting one of these photos on social media, but then you might look at it. And maybe you’d comment. And maybe I’d respond to your comment, and then both of us would have squandered some part of our day that could be better spent doing literally almost anything else. So put your phone away. Unless, that is, you’re reading this on your phone. In which case, I think you’re fine. Just put it away before the plane starts taxiing, or you’re going to get some really dirty looks from the co-pilot. ◆
Think that’s funny? Send unbiased emails to email@example.com.