Apple's giving people the tools to help them use their iPhones less. You read that right.

For over a decade, Apple's done everything in its power to keep your eyes, ears, and fingers glued to your cellphone. This makes their latest feature a little puzzling.

Tucked away in iOS 12, the mid-2018 iteration of Apple's mobile operating system, is a feature called Screen Time. This feature will monitor user activity about app usage, time spent on the device, and more. It will also allow people to set limits for themselves. Parental controls are nothing new when it comes to pieces of tech, but Screen Time is a little different in that it's not necessarily for children.

"With Screen Time, these new tools are empowering users who want help managing their device time and balancing the many things that are important to them," Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering, said during the product announcement. In effect, Apple is giving users the option to limit themselves and the time spent on their devices.


A look at what Apple's Screen Time feature will look like on iPhone. Image from Apple.

The need for Screen Time illustrates a growing consciousness around the issue of tech addiction.

It may sound silly, but people are becoming increasingly dependent on mobile devices. Figures vary, but it's estimated that the average U.S. adult spends somewhere around four hours on their phones and tablets each day, a number that's climbed higher in recent years. Whether it's actually an "addiction" is up for debate (it's not currently listed in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but it and similar technology-related issues are being studied.

Whether or not tech can actually be addictive, there's a lot of data to suggest that it's just simply not great for our health in large doses.

If tech addiction doesn't exist, it's not for a lack of trying.

In a November interview with Axios, Sean Parker, an early investor in Facebook and its first president, explained the driving question behind the company's development: "How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible?"

"That means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that's going to get you to contribute more content, and that's going to get you ... more likes and comments. It's a social-validation feedback loop ... exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you're exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology."

To be fair, getting people to use a product as much as possible isn't exactly a remarkable goal for any company. Facebook just succeeded in ways other businesses haven't.

Sean Parker addresses a conference in 2017. Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Global Citizen.

Some in the tech industry are finally asking questions and drawing conclusions about the long-term effects of dependency on technology.

Former Facebook vice president of user growth Chamath Palihapitiya told an audience at Stanford University that the "short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created" pose a threat to society as a whole. "No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth. And it's not an American problem — this is not about Russian ads. This is a global problem."

During its 2018 I/O conference, Google acknowledged that technology as we currently know it comes with some downsides. "Great technology should improve life, not distract from it," the company's Digital Wellbeing website proclaims. This new suite of tools, similar to Apple's Screen Time, comes with a simple goal: Ensure that "life, not the technology in it, stays front and center."

Without a doubt, tools like those in Google's Digital Wellbeing and Apple's Screen Time are a good thing. But they're probably not enough.

In his 2016 TED Talk on how "better tech could protect us from distraction," former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris laid out a plan to "restore choice" in the relationship we have with technology. The goal is to convince companies to pursue a metric of "time well spent" rather than simply time spent. Harris called on companies to judge their success on the company's "net positive contribution to human life," on designers to resist the urge to simply create unproductive time-sucks, and on consumers to "demand technology that works this way."

A healthier relationship with technology requires companies to rethink their businesses as a whole. Tools like Digital Wellbeing and Screen Time on their own don't address the underlying issue.

If you feel like you're having a tough time reducing your time on your mobile devices and you want to cut back, there are simple things you can do right now.

As co-founder and executive director at the Center for Humane Technology, Harris advocates for better design. The organization's website is full of great resources, but none better and more instantly applicable than its list of ways to "live more intentionally with your devices." Here are five suggestions for ways you can cut back on mobile device dependence:

1. Manage your notifications.

CHT recommends turning off all notifications for everything except messaging apps, text, and email.

2. Change your display to black, white, and gray.

Did you know that you can make your iPhone display grayscale? CHT outlines how to do that, removing some of the bright colors that demand our attention.

3. Sleep with your phone in a different room.

Not only do phones have a nasty habit of keeping us up late when we're trying to sleep, but waking up next to one reinforces a habit that starts the day diving headfirst into technology.

4. Reorganize your home screen.

Think about what apps you spend a lot of time mindlessly browsing. Now move them to the second screen. CHT suggests using the home screen for "apps you use for quick in-and-out tasks."

5. Use available tools and apps to help you.

Tools like Digital Wellbeing, Screen Time, and third-party apps are designed to reduce distraction. Did you know that there's an app you can download that temporarily locks you out of other apps? How about an extension that blocks out Facebook's newsfeed? There are loads of productivity apps that  make your phone usage a bit more deliberate without having to cut yourself off from technology entirely.

Apple CEO Tim Cook appears at Apple's 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference. Photo by Apple.

Technology can be wonderful, and social media can connect us in powerful new ways, but remember that too much of a good thing can have its downsides.

No one is saying that you shouldn't use the internet or your smartphone. Those things are simply a part of people's lives now. What you should do, if you want to, is set boundaries for yourself. If even the companies whose profits depend on getting people hooked on the use of their products are taking steps to help you dial things back, it's probably worth a shot.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

Amazon

In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.