How can we develop a healthy attachment to our smartphones?

Fiona Rutherford

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

I spoke to Mrigaen Kapadia and Nupur Kapadia, the founders of BreakFree – a mobile phone app aimed at controlling phone addiction and helping maintain a healthy digital lifestyle.

In a previous blog I wrote about Nomophobia (or, as it’s also known, Smartphone Separation Anxiety). It’s the pathological fear, anxiety, or discomfort associated with being without your mobile phone.

The findings from last years Deloitte Mobile Consumer Survey showed that of the 35-million smartphone owners in the UK, one in six look at their phone more than 50 times a day. Nearly a third reach for their smartphones within five minutes of waking up (not including turning off the alarm). And 11% of people scroll through their smartphones immediately after waking up.

In a recent study by UK-based company Gadget Valuer, over 1000 participants were asked questions about their mobile phone habits. The results were similar; around 63% of participants said they could not go for two days without their phone, 71% said they felt uneasy when they didn’t have their phone, 76% expressed worry when their battery was low, and 74% said having no signal seriously bothered them.

 

Results from the Gadget Valuer study on mobile phone habits.

 

I spoke to self-taught Android programmer Mrigaen Kapadia, and electronics engineer Nupur Kapadia who developed BreakFree – a mobile application aimed at controlling phone addiction and helping maintain a healthy digital lifestyle. The couple were inspired to create the app because they were both spending too much time on their smartphones.

The app includes a variety of tools to help you stay away from your phone, including features that disables the Internet, rejects phone calls, and sends automatic text messages. Also, by discretely monitoring and tracking your phone usage and activity the app calculates a “mobile phone addition” score for you.

 

Screenshots of the BreakFree app.

Screenshots of the BreakFree app.

 

“After dinner we preferred the company of our phones to each others company. We kept talking about reducing our phone usage but never really did anything about it”, Mrigaen Kapadia said. “The idea was conceptualised when we were talking about how hooked people are to their phones, and [how] it would be cool to have an app that would sit in the phone, monitor how addicted people are and make them realise their addiction levels.”

“We’ve become mobile-obsessed zombies,” he added. “Checking our smartphone every 5 minutes has become more of a reflex action. We are glued to our phones when we could be interacting with other humans.”

The Android version of the app was launched in January of last year, and the couple have very recently launched the iOS version of the app. They are also working on adding extra features, like a social setting that allows users to compete with others to reduce phone dependency.

“Our two most used features are the switching on of BreakFree hours and the smart notifications,” he said. “When a user switches on his BreakFree hours, he is expected to not be disturbed by his phone. The phone goes silent, and he can disable all notifications, disable the Internet and reject calls. Smart notifications are notifications that the app presents when a user goes overboard with his usage, for example if he has used his phone for over an hour, or he crosses 75 unlocks a day, etc.”

 

Screenshots of the BreakFree app.

Screenshots of the BreakFree app.

 

“We are losing the art of conversation since there is an easy way out of popping your smartphone out and fidgeting with it,” he added. “We need to take back control of our minds and stop compulsively checking our emails, Facebook updates, etc.”

It’s always exciting to see technology evolve. However, it’s also promising to see individuals, like Mrigaen Kapadia and Nupur Kapadia, acknowledging the importance of creating healthy attachments to our gadgets. Technology and its implications for mental health and wellbeing should be taken seriously.


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