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Google Pixel 3 has a section in the Settings called 'Digital Wellbeing'. I haven't looked at what other phones have this (probably a lot of them do as this topic is rising in popularity), but my old OnePlus didn't and I was curious to explore the options I had under this section.

My daily practice is steeped in the idea of the quantified self where I track everything from the number of hours I sleep to the number of words I write in a day. Naturally, I was happy to see that the Pixel provides a log of how many minutes I spend on any given app in a day, how many times I unlock my phone and how many notifications I get.

I've been using this for a while and I consistently spend about 2 hours on my phone. Given that I don't listen to music or podcasts on my phone, this is quite high. But the bulk of that time is spent on calls and reading, which isn't so bad. Whatsapp and Gmail take up sizable chunks of time as well. Apart from calls, WhatsApp is the only app on my phone that has notifications turned on. So I'm not surprised that I spend a good twenty to thirty minutes a day on WhatsApp. But it does worry me that I check my mail often enough to account for ten to fifteen minutes a day. Perhaps turning off notifications for Gmail wasn't such a bright idea after all.

Another interesting thing I noticed is that I unlock my phone about twice as many times as the notifications I get. This isn't surprising as I almost always open my phone when I get a notification (which is either a call or a WhatsApp message) and I open it other times without a notification prompt to check email, read something, check my social feed, etc. But, nonetheless, the number being twice as many notifications that I get is a bit of a concern as I get about forty to fifty notifications a day and I can't possibly have that many times a day when I feel like checking my email or my social feed. The reading only happens when I'm waiting in line at the supermarket or during my commute and reading accounts for far fewer unlocks even though the time spent is higher. So, this is a clear area of improvement for me. I'll be looking to bring this number down in the coming weeks.

And then there is the app timer. I can set a timer for any app on my phone. For instance, I've set my Instagram daily timer at ten minutes. Last weekend, I was lazy to get out of bed in the morning and was scrolling through my Instagram feed and ten minutes later, I had a pop-up that said my time is up and that Instagram will be effectively blocked for the rest of the day. When I clicked on the Instagram app icon, I saw the same pop up telling me that I can't use it for the rest of the day. Of course, I can go back to Settings and increase the timer or remove it altogether, but that's a barrier that the Pixel puts in front of me that I have to cross. And I decided I'll stick to my timer and not use Instagram for the rest of the day. My notifications are anyway turned off, but if that hadn't been the case, I would not get any notifications either after the timer is reached. This is very effective feature and I intend to use it on Gmail and WhatsApp - the two major apps that take up time.

It also has options to disable notifications and put the phone on 'Do not disturb' mode at certain times of the day. But I already have all notifications disabled and my phone is on 'Do not disturb' 24x7, so this isn't of much use to me. Looks like I'm ahead of the curve on this one.

And finally, there's my favourite feature - Wind down. I can select a time for Wind down, which I set from 11pm to 7am every weekday and 11pm to 11am every weekend and holiday. I can also specify what needs to happen during the Wind down period. The first option is to put the phone in 'Do not disturb' mode. But as I said earlier, my phone is always in that mode. So, it's no different during the Wind down period.

The second option is Grayscale. And I absolutely love this. If I open my phone during the wind down period, I see no colour on my phone. Everything is in black and white - grayscale. If I open Instagram, I don't see any colour in the pictures. If I open a website, again I don't see any colour. The question of watching a video doesn't even come up in this mode. In fact, the phone turns so unappealing that I'm induced to feel that it is better to put it down than to go on using it that way. Which means, I will only use it for emergency texts and calls and nothing else during this period. I'm thinking about extending the wind down period to cover my entire weekends. I'll start that experiment this month and see how I cope.

Digital wellbeing is a hot topic that a lot of people are writing about (like Cal Newport) and it is even a growing topic for PhD theses. It is probably too soon to say if I'm observing any long term positive effects, but in the shorter term, my time on social media has been cut down and my time spent on my phone has reduced. Both of which are good things. 

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