A few months after launching an initial set of six experimental digital wellbeing apps (Unlock Clock, Post Box, We Flip, Desert Island, Morph, and Paper Phone Google has expanded its suite of apps designed to help users manage their relationship with technology.
Taking the total number of digital wellbeing apps to 11, 2 of the five new experimental apps are from Google itself, whilst the other newcomers are third party apps.
From Google Creative Lab:
- Screen Stopwatch: A wallpaper stopwatch tells you how long you spend on your phone each day. Each time you unlock your phone, the stopwatch continues to count.
- Activity Bubbles: A visualisation of what your phone usage looks like in a day. Each unlock creates a new bubble. The longer you stay on your phone the bigger the bubble grows
From Third-Party Developers:
- Anchor: A Chrome extension that turns an infinite scroll screen into a deep-sea dive – the further you scroll, the darker the screen becomes, with deep-sea fish swimming past (by Brendan Browne and collaborators)
- Envelope: A special paper envelope for your phone with a keyboard, that allows you to use a screenless version of your phone (by Special Projects)
- Digital Detox: Another Chrome extension that visualises scrolling activity as physical distance covered (by Marco Land)
Do they work?
Do these apps promote digital wellbeing? It depends on how you define digital wellbeing. Wellbeing is typically defined as a dynamic balance point between your capabilities (what you can do) and the challenges you face (what you have to do) and is reflected by the experience of positive emotion and an overall feeling of satisfaction with your life.
So, to the degree that digital activity disrupts this balance between what you can do and what you have to do, digital behaviour can harm wellbeing. Similarly, by restoring balance, digital technology can help wellbeing.
But right now, this is all theoretical; we simply don’t know whether these digital apps promote human wellbeing.
However, the apps are smart because they focus on two established techniques for behaviour change – self-monitoring and self-regulation. This means they might be on the right track if rebalancing involves managing screentime. Whether or not screentime management actually promotes wellbeing is another matter.
As the suite of digital wellbeing apps expands, the challenge will be to demonstrate a measurable positive effect on wellbeing.