The Surprising By-Products of Combating Phone Addiction

The Surprising By-Products of Combating Phone Addiction

Let's face it, we all use our phones a little too often. The average person checks their device over 100 times a day. For this reason, I decided to use a fairly unknown hidden function on most smartphones to help curb my habits. Not only did it help tremendously, but it also brought some unexpected benefits to me as a photographer.

I think it's safe to say that I love having a smartphone. I had the first ever iPhone back in the day and have somehow justified in my head that having two phones on the go is really necessary. I even wrote an article about the apps I couldn't live without. Back in early July while researching for an article I stumbled across a post which talked about combating phone addiction by turning your screen to grayscale. It grabbed my attention and what it said made complete sense. According to former Google Design Ethicist Tristan Harris, smartphones are capable of hijacking our concentration in a way that is akin to a slot machine. When a user gets a notification on their phone, a chemical called dopamine is released into the region of the brain neuroscientists refer to as the reward and pleasure center. This feeling of satisfaction can get rather addictive and as a result people find themselves checking their phones more compulsively in the hope for another hit. Sound familiar?

Could something as small as switching my phone to grayscale really help me? For the whole month of July, I decided to run an experiment to see if I could get an answer to this question, the findings were pleasantly surprising.

How to Make the Switch to Grayscale

I like to think I know my way around a smartphone but had no idea that the screens could be so easily be made to only show shades of gray. Here's how to turn your phone to grayscale on both iOS and Android:

On iOS Devices

If your iPhone is on iOS 10, take the following steps:

  1. Go to Settings
  2. General
  3. Accessibility
  4. Choose Display Accommodations
  5. Color Filters
  6. Tap Color Filters to turn it on
  7. Select the Grayscale

Even if you're on the much older iOS 8 or 9 you should still be able to find this feature although the exact wording of the menus may be a little different.

On Android Devices

Turning grayscale on an Android device may also vary due to the version of Android OS it has, if you’re on Android 7.1 Nougat, you can perform the following steps:

  1. Access the Accessibility menu
  2. Select Vision option
  3. Scroll down and select grayscale option

So with that done, you're all set to wave farewell to a color screen and reducing the dependency you have on your phone. There will still be times when you need to see the screen in color though. I find browsing eBay and looking at maps a whole lot easier if I briefly switch grayscale off. Both Apple and Google make this easy with an accessibility shortcut.

On iOS Devices

  1. Go to Settings
  2. General
  3. Accessibility
  4. Accessibility Shortcut
  5. Color Filters

Once this is done a triple-click of the home button will toggle the grayscale mode on and off.

On Android Devices

  1. Settings
  2. Accessibility
  3. Direct Access

After Direct Access is turned on you should be able to set up a triple-click of the home button to toggle the grayscale mode on and off.

Obviously, there are many versions of both phone companies' operating systems that some of you may find you can't follow the instructions above exactly. The menu names and their locations tend to change between upgrades. If you get stuck leave a comment below with your OS details and collectively we'll try and help you out.

What to Expect After the Switch to Grayscale

The first few days of using a phone exclusively in grayscale can take a bit of getting used to. I initially found that I made many more typing errors, struggled to find the right emoji, and quite often opened up the wrong app. It's strange how much you actually rely on the color of something to identify it. After about a week or so my brain had adapted to the change and I was almost back up to speed. I always had the triple click of the home button to get me out of monochrome jail if need be but I didn't find myself using it all that often.

What you will quickly notice once you make the change is how all the things which were designed to constantly grab your attention now blend in. The bright red notification badges, all the bold hearts on Instagram, and those garish app icons have blissfully had their visual volume turned down to zero. The beauty is they are still there so you aren't actually missing out on anything, but they just become so much less significant. I lost the urge to clear notifications or give into my phones demands to open an app. This was in part because I was no longer getting my dopamine reward for doing so and I also learned that the world didn't end because I didn't instantly click on something.

After a few weeks of the experiment, I found that I was no longer using my phone as much, it just didn't have the same appeal it once did. I went from checking social media every hour to less than a few times a day. At this point I also switched off all non-essential sounds which were trying to vie for my attention, and this made the device even less alluring. What I did find interesting was when I occasionally switched my phone to color mode it now felt painfully saturated and I struggled to look at it for very long. It's crazy to think that just a few weeks earlier that was totally normal to me.

After four weeks of living with grayscale, I can emphatically say it has been a major success. What the experts had said would happen actually did; My phone is no longer hijacking my attention, I have more time in the day, and I am generally feeling more content as a result. Now if this was any other kind of website this is where the article would end, but as I am a photographer and this is a photography blog I actually found some additional by-products to the experiment which a lot of you may find interesting.

If you weren't already convinced to banish color from your device here are a few more reasons to make the switch.

1. You'll Actually Find Inspiration in Bad Social Media

We all have to follow and tolerate bad images from loved ones and work colleagues on social media. The strange thing I found was that when everything is switched to black and white it all starts to look a lot more artistic. I actually started to look at images I would normally scroll past in a heartbeat and see the true merits to them. Even though some were totally unintentional snapshots I found myself getting inspired.

2. See Composition Much More Easily

With the absence of color, there is one less distraction which means you'll be forced to look at the subject matter and the compositions used a lot more. Color is an important part of photography but it can get in the way when trying to decode an image. For this reason, I began seeing the strength of even the worst image and discovering golden ratios in the most unlikely of places.

3. You'll Take More Pictures on Your Phone

I have to admit that even though I'm hugely passionate about photography, I actually take very few photos on my phone. I think after 10 years of owning an iPhone the number of times I'd point the phone's lens at something to only be disappointed left me with negative associations of using it. It's very easy to get spoiled when shooting 50-megapixel images with far superior dynamic range on your regular camera. This attitude slowly started to change during my four-week experiment as I began reaching for my phone to take a shot more and more. I actually fell back in love with using the camera on my iPhone and although the pictures I took won't win any awards they really helped to open me up to new things photographically.

4. It May Change How You Feel About Monochrome

If you look at my work there is very little black and white photography in there. I used to prefer monochrome images early on in my career but more recently I would always look at an image of that kind and think it was missing color. Interestingly after the switch to grayscale, I found myself thinking this a lot less. I actually have some plans for a new series which will be in black and white which would have been unthinkable just a few weeks ago.

So there you have it, a whole host of reasons why switching your phone to grayscale might be a good idea. When I initially set out on this experiment the only real reason for doing so was to try and reduce the amount my phone was distracting me. Little did I know that it would turn into something much more than that. I guess sometimes it's good to see the world through someone else's eyes, even if they can only see shades of gray.

Does anyone else have their phone set to grayscale? Anyone tempted to try it out for a month? Leave a comment below I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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32 Comments

Paul Adshead's picture

Totally forgot to mention that the data usage on my phone was dramatically reduced too!

Edit: also the battery on my phone lasts much longer too as I'm not always on it...

John Miller's picture

yes and i love it. notifications visual and sound were gone first but color left also. it is nice to learn the three tap to get back to over saturation. great article. thanks

Paul Adshead's picture

Great to hear that Johh! The three tap thing is real handy, was just 5 mins ago buying somehting off ebay and switched it back on to make sure I was buying the right colour!

Would be a pain if I had to go deep into the settings to make the switch...

Thanks for the comment

John Miller's picture

P.S. if you shoot a photo in gray scale and review it after a triple click it is in color.

Paul Adshead's picture

indeed! its like shooting raw.... kinda ;)

This is great. I know I'm far too hooked on my phone and I don't like the idea of my kids seeing me on it far too often. The affect on my photography hopefully will be positively surprising also.

Paul Adshead's picture

That's heartwarming to hear! I've only been doing it for 4 weeks and I already want to convince the world to do it too!

It really is a win win situation when you think about it...

Please let me know how you get on!

Hans Rosemond's picture

What a great idea. Definitely giving it a go.

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks Hans, I'll never switch back now!

Troy Lindsey's picture

Just made the switch, the difference is already drastic so lets see how strong my will power really is. Let the experiment begin.

Paul Adshead's picture

Amazing to hear Troy! The first few days really does mess with your brain but I can assure you it DOES get easier! I have no plans on switching back...

Please let me know how you get on!

Troy Lindsey's picture

Will do, fortunately I can't carry a phone into work so the majority of my day I'm without it anyways.

Paul Adshead's picture

That should actually make the change a little easier. All the best!

Another great example of people letting technology control them, rather than them being in control of the technology.

The idea of the phone notification setting off dopamine receptors is just a marginal variation of the same thing that has been used as an excuse for being 'addicted' to email for 20+ years. It's nonsense.

What this 'addiction' to phones really illustrates is the raging narcissism and chasing of Internet faux-celebrity that photographers, and many others in society, are gripped by today.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Robert, how would you compare it to that of a slot machine? Of all the papers I read on the matter neuroscientists seem to agree that phone notifications are more than a marginal variation...

Robert i think that's a drastic over-simplification. Addiction comes in many forms and it's impossible to deny that receiving notifications via likes, comments and shares gives you some form of pleasure.

Can you really say honestly that receiving 100 likes on a photo you've posted doesn't make you feel good? Extrapolate that across all the apps on your phone, the number of friends you have, the anonymous comments praising your stance on some worldly cause. The more you receive; the better you feel. It isn't nonsense.

Im not saying that increased narcissism isn't another effect of the device world we live in. I agree with you there.

Thomas Starlit's picture

Huawei seem to have removed the menu item from their phones. But there is a back door...as always

1) Enable Developer mode (by tapping build number within Settings > About phone multiple times)
2) Go to Developer Options and turn it on.
3) Under Hardware accelerated rendering you will see option called Simulate color space, click it and set it to Monochromacy

If someone knows of an app to do this, pls let me know

Paul Adshead's picture

This is valuable to know thanks Thomas! Haven't come across any apps so far but if I do I'll report back...

Paul Adshead's picture

Just sent your details to a friend and it worked perfectly on his (non Huawei) Android phone. Thanks again!

One of the better "let's use our phones less" ideas I've heard! Another great use of the built in filter is the Low Light option. I use it to turn my brightness down even more when I'm on it at night and don't want it to mess with my sleep.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Matt, thanks for the comment and kind words. Does the "Low Light option" you talk about turn down the blue light in your phone?

Now here's an article and idea worth passing around. I'm going to give it a go for a while and see what happens. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ok. So I just turned it to grayscale and … WOW! I can tell instantly this is going to be a thing that makes a difference. High five, man.

Paul Adshead's picture

You're very welcome Erik! it means a lot to hear so many people trying it!

The first week takes a bit of getting used to but it will soon become normal.

High five back at you!

My 2 cents, the real issue for me is the constant wack-a-mole notifications. So I took the worst offenders (social media), and completely turned off notifications. No little red numbers telling me that the third cousin of my cousin's high school friend's hair dresser liked a post I had liked a week ago. The only notifications I get are for e-mail that is directly addressed to me (no notifications for spam) and all work e-mail. Everything else is off. When I have time to check, I do, and the rest of the time I am not bothered by my phone's constant "Look at me, look at me, look at me!" Greyscale still allows the pop-ups on your screen that draw your attention like sugared up three year olds with finger paints, even if they are in greyscale.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Andrew, sounds like you have a great balance on your phone.

The funny thing about the *few* notifications that I do still have pop up is that now they are in greyscale I don't even flinch when I see them. They can wait. The very true sugared up notification you talk about has been replaced with a boring gray hello.

Almost the same way when you get mail through the post, those boring plain envelopes (mostly bills!) can wait!

Great article. Bugbean has developed an Android only app called AntiSocial which help's users control and track their phone usage. A great app to slowly reduce the time spent on social media by using the 3 blocking modes available. Highly recommend downloading AntiSocial and taking the 2 week challenge.

Paul Adshead's picture

Will investigate thanks Sarah!

Paul Adshead's picture

Have a friend experimenting with it now, thanks for the heads up!

Hi Paul,
What about a LESS technology is MORE approach? What about just putting our phones away in moments / places that matter that in the bedroom, while having dinner or having conversation with friends? https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/bagbybrand/bagby-phone-free-bedrooms

Paul Adshead's picture

The technology issue definitely needs more than one angle of attack, that is for sure...

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