The average American spends 7 hours and 4 minutes looking at a screen each day, with half that time coming on mobile devices. That’s more than 53 days per year spent on your phone. According to another study, on average we touch our phones 2,617 times per day. A third survey reveals that 70% of Americans check their phones within five minutes of receiving a notification, and 48% of people say they feel a sense of panic or anxiety when their cell phone battery goes below 20%. Is such behavior healthy? Or has the supercomputer in our pocket turned into the master of our lives?
We all know the smartphone is an incredibly useful invention: modern phones famously have more computing power than the rocket that carried Neil Armstrong to the moon. Each of us carry all the world’s books, all the world’s music, all the world’s movies, and a map of every road in every city in our pocket. We can use our phone to summon a car, book a hotel, and send a message to people across the world. Social media gives each of us the ability to use a one-to-many global broadcasting platform. At its best, social media allows people to find their tribe and are hyper efficient tools for surfacing information. At its worst, however, social media can impair our ability to focus, and greatly disrupt our lives.
The term “push notification” sounds benign enough – but think about the word push. It suggests force. Pushing someone physically is an act of aggression. Social media platforms are designed to optimize engagement – to “push” you to keep scrolling, posting, and liking – and the reasons behind this are clear. Social media companies sell digital advertising. The more engaged you are with a social media platform, the more ads the platform can sell – and the better the platform can target those ads.
47% of Americans consider themselves “addicted” to their phones – are you one of them? Have you ever found yourself preoccupied with your phone? Do you feel like you need your next post to be better than the last, to earn more hearts and likes? Have you put a strain on a relationship because of your phone? Spent time on social media as a way to escape problems? Are you irritable if you are separated from your phone? All of these are classic signs of addiction – and if you answered “yes” to any of them, you, too, may be addicted to your phone.
The algorithms that social media sites use vary, but the underlying principle is the same: they will do anything to keep you looking at your phone. That means ever more interruptions. It means leaning into outrage: studies have shown, on average, we tend to stare at something negative and outrageous for a lot longer than we’ll stare at something positive and calm. It means offering you a regular dopamine hit of reinforcement in the form of likes, follower counts, shares, and reposts. As Johann Hari writes in Stolen Focus, “You can see why there is no button that suggests you meet up with your friends and family away from the screen. Instead of getting us to maximize screen time, that would get us to maximize face-to-face time.”
While social media is the biggest culprit, other apps also contribute to the constant stream of interruptions in our lives. Hari cites a study by Michael Posner at the University of Oregon which shows that, if you are focusing on something and you get interrupted, it will take on average twenty-three minutes for you to return to the same state of focus. A different study of office workers in the U.S. found most of its participants never get an hour of uninterrupted work in a typical day.
Startups, including PingPod, experience a version of this. Solving big problems requires the sustained focus of the entire team. But focus is very, very hard amidst a barrage of Slacks, e-mails, texts, social media notifications, and Zoom meetings. Clear communication is one of our firm’s core values – but there is an inherent danger in this, which we actively protect against, that all one does is communicate. These days, incredibly, the ability to sit and think without distraction has become a rare superpower.
Use Your Phone to Put Down Your Phone
Many proposed solutions to the screen time problem – social media fasts, screen time limits for children, banning surveillance capitalism, turning social media into a public utility – focus on reducing the use or the impact of smartphones. At PingPod, we prefer to work on solutions with a more positive bent: we let you be the master of your phone, instead of letting your phone control you.
PingPod belongs to a class of technologies that seek to channel the powers of your smartphone towards real life activities that are healthy, fun, and social. Ours is a technology that feeds your ability to focus and connect rather than disturbing it. Experiences like ping pong, that are active, require focus, and are unmediated by smartphones, are becoming an ever more important part of a healthy life.
Ping Pong is one of many possible autonomous experiences – one which stands out as a powerful driver of focus. It’s a fast-paced game that requires constant focus and deliberate movement in order to sustain a rally – take your eye off the ball for a second and it could be too late. The very best players are famous for their quick reflexes. And there is a rhythmic beauty to the sound of the ball against the paddles and the table that people find captivating.
Focus is a muscle that can be strengthened. PingPod is a place where smartphones go into the bag for one to two hours and people get lost in the game rather than their phone. We have had multiple customers tell us that they experience a slowing down of time when they are at the Pod.
A Pod is a place for doing – for picking up an activity that engages your mind and body, and improves mental and physical health. A Pod is a place for everyone who craves fun, activity, and community. It’s a place to come together with others and combat the modern feeling of isolation rampant in our cities – a feeling borne of smartphone addiction, and heightened by a global pandemic. Instead of losing yourself in your phone, we want you to lose yourself in a real life experience.
See you at the Pod!
Photo credit: image by rawpixel.com on Freepik