Fadell compared device use to food nutrition guides and programs. He remarked, “When it comes to digital ‘nourishment’, we don’t know what a ‘vegetable’, a ‘protein’ or a ‘fat’ is. What is ‘overweight’ or ‘underweight’? What does a healthy, moderate digital life look like? I think that manufacturers and app developers need to take on this responsibility, before government regulators decide to step in – as with nutritional labeling.” He insisted that Apple should define and promote “healthy” digital lifestyles.
Fadell also argued that Apple should provide “scales” so that users can better understand their “digital weight”. This “scale” could be a calendar with an itemized list of a user’s activity or something similar to a health app that tracks behaviors like step count and sleep. He also suggested that Apple allow users to “set their device to a ‘listen-only’ or ‘read-only’ mode, without having to crawl through a settings menu, so that you can enjoy reading an e-book without a constant buzz of notifications.” Fadell insisted Apple will be able to maintain and grow their customer base if they are able to alleviate some of the issues surrounding digital addiction.
Apple is reportedly working on something to help reduce the number of hours users spend on their devices. Their annual software update this autumn may provide parents a “Digital Health” tool to track their children’s screen time. They may also include an updated “Do Not Disturb” feature that will help users ignore certain phone calls or silence notifications.
Fadell’s op-ed digs up a number of questions surrounding device use and addiction. First, what does it mean to have a “healthy” digital lifestyle. A recent study by Flurry, a mobile analytics and advertising company, concluded that Americans spend an average of five hours a day on their smart devices. Is this a “healthy” number? Second, how do we differentiate between time spent on devices for work and leisure? Third, most devices will allow you to look up the time and data you have spent on your device in your settings. Do we need something more obvious, easier to read, or pervasive to encourage us to spend less time on our devices? Last, is it the responsibility of a company or government institution to define and enforce a “healthy” digital lifestyle? Do we need tools and guidance? These are not easy questions to answer, but they are certainly worth considering in light of Fadell’s recent op-ed and concern over smartphone addiction.