Behavioural design for a healthier life-tech balance

There is plenty of concern out there around how addicted to our phones and screens we’ve become.  It’s not uncommon for people to check their phones 100’s of times a day, and particularly with the young’uns growing up today who don’t know a ‘pre-screen’ world.  Having a device so easily at reach, with apps that are tailored to encourage repeat usage has become a recipe for disaster for our health, with lots of studies reporting device addiction, disruption to sleep and wellbeing as we’ve become slaves to our devices.  And some would say we are rewiring our brains.

With the advent of flux and Apple’s upcoming iOS ‘night shift’ anti blue-light filtering,  it starts what I believe is an opportunity – using behaviour design – to rebalance the scales of healthy behaviour in how we interact with technology.  The idea of flux and Apple’s night shift feature is simple;  the blue light emitted from our screens screw’s with the body’s ability to produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.  These features dim your screen’s brightness with a relaxing orange hue as the evening or morning approaches.  By reducing your blue light exposure during the twilight hours this is supposed to have less of a detrimental impact on your sleep.  Having set it up on my iPhone work/home Mac’s for a few weeks now, I can honestly say it does make you feel more relaxed when using your device, especially before going to bed.  It gives it that ‘sundown feeling’ as evening approaches.  I really notice peoples screens with blue-light glowing all over their face.


What interests me more than those calming hues, is the direction that this type of behaviour based design moves in.  If this behaviour design intention was moved a step further, could we see the advent of features that encourage users to lead a more healthy balance with their technology?

Do we really need all the features of a smartphone at 3AM on a weeknight?

Perhaps we could see a more limited functionality available on the phone when in ‘night shift mode’ to discourage facebook checks or catching up on your dreaded work emails in the twilight hours.  Reminders or nudges that you have a long day at work and you really should put it all down.

As with human interactions with people, language and tone is regulated contextual to your situations e.g. someone will speak quieter or with different language if in an office vs in their own room at home (or not in some cases!).  Your phone could choose to modify system language, level of interaction and engagement during the day or over a holiday period.  It would be great to see if our bad habits and behaviours could be nudged back to something more healthy and balanced.  This does of course raise questions around how responsible we can be for our own behaviours – Nanny state anyone? – .  As I’m sure most people would agree, moving yourself away from digital dependency is really challenging, as essentially apps, and devices, push notifications have been designed to incite addictive behaviour.

Surely we can do with all the help we can get to break our bad patterns?

How can you get night shift now?

Apple’s night shift feature is part of the ios 9.3 release due out in Feb/March 2016. I used a dev preview to get early access 😉

For those on Andriod devices search your in luck as there are plenty of options