Toronto startup develops app that locks phone until timer is up
Jackie Dunham, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, July 18, 2018 8:47AM EDT
It may not seem like much of a problem.
You’re sitting down for dinner with family and you place your smartphone on the table. Sure enough, a minute later it lights up alerting you to a notification from one of your many apps. Instinctively, you grab for it, unaware that your companions have started chatting about something else.
Absorbed in the device, you missed most of the conversation as you have many times before.
If this sounds familiar, you may be one of many Canadians grappling with a smartphone addiction.
With near-daily research sounding the alarm about the risks of overusing technology, particularly in young people, a Toronto startup is attempting to change the narrative and ironically enough, they’re using technology to do it.
Flipd is the brainchild of co-founders Christian Villamarin, Alanna Harvey and Andres Moreno and aims to help people curb their smartphone use. It works by allowing users to set an amount of time they would like to be away from their phones and then locking the device until that time is up.
“It’s like a Fitbit for your screen time. Instead of steps, it’s measuring the minutes you actually spend mindfully away from your phone,” Harvey told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
Harvey said the app, which was founded in 2016, has more than 400,000 users who are able to communicate with each other through the app and see each other’s downtime.
“Friends are unplugging together, family members are finding time to unplug together and it’s all because of using Flipd,” she said.
The idea for the app came when Villamarin noticed his brother, who is 11 years younger than him, started behaving differently after he received his first smartphone, Harvey said. She said she’s noticed it in other people and has been consciously trying to achieve “tech-life balance” in her own life.
“It’s been something I practice and preach,” she said.
When asked how the app differs from just turning off a phone, Harvey responded that it provides users with a little extra motivation because they have to actively set the amount of downtime they want.
“It’s a behavioural nudge,” she explained. “It’s getting you to do something that you may not otherwise feel motivated to do.”
Although it may seem contradictory to download an app in order to use a smartphone less, Harvey said it makes perfect sense.
“Technology has been designed to addict us,” she said. “There are so many mechanics used, such as push notifications, things that are just always pulling at our attention and so we see using the exact same mechanics to reinforce positive behaviour as a great way to use technology.”