Tried everything to cut down on your cell phone use (or, more likely, didn't try anything but like grumbling about it)? Here's a potentially helpful shortcut.
According to Atlantic senior editor James Hamblin, switching his phone to grayscale mode has helped him only check his phone "um, two-to-three hundred times a day."
"It's pretty awful," he says. "Your whole world is gray ... It's just a little mind hack, I guess. There's a reason every notification on your phone is red. That is a color that stimulates excitement in the brain."
It's pretty easy to find — the option should be under the accessibility settings menu of your device, as the mode is generally intended for colorblind people. (On Android phones, an additional grayscale option is found in the power saving menu.)
There doesn't appear to be much research on whether turning off colors on cell phones actually results in less time spent using them (while colors on mobile devices first debuted in 1998, features like web connectivity and apps have probably played as big or bigger of a role in burgeoning cell phone use). However, Hamblin is right on about colors triggering certain emotions in the human brain — red "creates urgency" and is associated with higher click-through rates, according to Fast Company.
An additional benefit of grayscale mode in phones is longer battery life, although backlit LCD screens require users to turn down their brightness settings to maximize this benefit.
Hamblin's hack may or may not work — though, anecdotally, I've found turning on grayscale mode to conserve battery life can backfire. Stretching a single charge even further reduces the need to balance use against the possibility the phone will run out of juice on the go.
Then there's the question of whether consumers should worry much about the much-maligned epidemic of cell phone addiction in the first place. Some studies link multitasking with media devices to minor changes in the brain, and the connection between having a phone in your face until late at night and sleep deprivation is well-established. But unless you're using your phone often or in rude situations, all the advantages cell phones offer are an easy tradeoff.
"They've become an invaluable tool in our social toolkit," wrote PsychCentral's John Grohol. "It is perfectly ordinary to be anxious to be without it, since so much of our social connectedness today is contained in it."
"Older adults may long for a different kind of social connectedness today," he added. "Much like older adults in the 1920s longed for the horse-drawn carriage ... Twenty years from now, the idea of 'smartphone addiction' will be just as quaint."
Still, there's one indisputable benefit of putting your cell phone into grayscale mode: penitence. Like the self-flagellating monks of old, users can punish themselves for imaginary slights against nature. And that's what we're really all looking for, right?