Use this app to get annoyed and drop your phone to reduce screen time

Scientists have devised an app that makes you so annoyed with your smartphone that you have little choice but to put the device down and do something else.

Literally every smartphone owner has a problem with embarrassingly high and unhealthy screen times – even those who deny there’s an issue.

There are ways to combat the screen time problem, of course. For instance, some apps lock you out of another app or your device altogether after you exceed a time limit. Other phones simply remind you how much time you’re spending on the device.

The effectiveness of such methods is marginal, if real at all. But now, researchers have created a new app, InteractOut, which screws with swiping and tapping inputs on your screen.

These kinds of disruptions intensify and become more aggressive with time, in turn making you more frustrated every minute. The aim is to push the user to throw down the smartphone and do something else, presumably more useful.

“Current intervention techniques mainly focus on explicitly changing screen content (i.e., output) and often fail to persistently reduce smartphone overuse due to being over-restrictive or over-flexible,” said the researchers in the study, presented last week at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

InteractOut, they added, seems more effective. The study’s authors found that their form of screen time disruption was sixteen percent more effective at lowering smartphone use.

"Lockout apps are pretty disruptive, so if someone is in the middle of an important task or a game, they'll scramble to skip through the screen timer," said study co-author Anhong Guo, an assistant professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, in a statement about the work.

"Then, they can forget about the time limit and spend more time on the phone than they wanted to."

According to Guo, the app is more effective at limiting screen time because it is less restrictive and harder to ignore than hard lockouts.

Once the user’s designated screen limit has been reached, InteractOut can delay the phone’s response to a user’s gesture, shift where tapping motions are registered, or slow the screen scrolling speed.

The strength of the delays and shifts continues to increase each time the user touches the phone, up to a pre-set maximum, and the user can decide how the app interferes with their phone use. The app’s gradual interference allows users to continue using their phone, but with a little extra difficulty.

One of the benefits of InteractOut, the researchers found, is that its drawn-out approach forces users to be conscious about their interactions with their phones, whereas a lockout app typically only confronts you once before you decide to ignore it.