‘Menthal’: The app that measures addiction to smartphones

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Credit: Flickr

The “beep-beep” of a notification, the comic crash from a game, and the muffled vibration indicating a text: these digital sounds are the vital signs of life to many of us these days.

Researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany have created “Menthal” – an app to tell you how much time your smartphone takes up and on what.

Psychologist Christian Montag hopes it will help us deal with a modern plague.

Metro: What appalling behavior are we cultivating through smartphones?

Montag: We’re not sure if we can diagnose an addiction yet, but we want to understand how it influences our culture and wellbeing. This is a live discussion and this will provide data. We are seeking patterns in areas such as tolerance development and withdrawal.

What makes you think we’re so bad?

We did a small study of 50 participants that gave them the opportunity to monitor their own behavior, because a lot of it is unconscious – you just click without being aware. We found that smartphones were activated every 12 minutes, which shows preoccupation, and we found from anecdotes that people felt a major gap when they were without the phone.

Who is most vulnerable?

Often people who are less satisfied or with lower self-esteem became prone to addiction-like behavior.

You say WhatsApp typically accounts for 15 percent of use. Should some apps come with health warnings?

We are not enemies of technology and obviously instant messaging services have big advantages. But some people only use social networks and don’t meet friends in real life and that’s a problem.

How would you treat them?

For extreme forms, you should see an addiction specialist. There are tricks: most people use their smartphone as a watch, so start wearing a watch and you can cut use by half. Try to keep the phone out of your hand as it will distract you.

Is there a problem with creating a smartphone app to help smartphone overuse?

At this point, we are thinking the first step is to produce numbers that function as mirror, and all our feedback is people saying, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize I was so bad.’ And that helps them to get it down.


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