Smartphones are addictive, and while smartphone addiction is not something that can be treated medically, it's clear that humanity has reached a point where smartphones (and technology in general) are so ingrained in our lives that it's having an effect.
Children used to spend their days living and enjoying life, but now kids as young as four or five get their first smartphones. A life where technology is first and foremost starts much earlier, pulling ahead of real-world experiences. Friends you hang out with in person are often replaced by those you communicate with digitally. Sure, your friend group is much larger now, but is it healthy?
Android Pie bought us our first glimpse of companies attempting to change our smartphone habits for the better through Digital Wellbeing. All of those were helpful prompts rather than actual actions, although Digital Wellbeing is improved in Android Q. Now the OnePlus 7 Pro brings us Zen Mode, and with it comes a feature I wish we'd see on every digital device.
What is Zen Mode on the OnePlus 7 Pro?
So what is Zen Mode? It's a feature that disables everything but incoming and emergency calls and the camera for 20 minutes. Once you activate it, there's no way to disable it, and it forces you to live life rather than be engrossed in your screen.
Of course, you have to activate it and that's half of the battle. Yet, over the past couple of weeks, I've found I use Zen Mode at least once per day.
Why I love Zen Mode
I love the water. I love walking down to the East River pier right outside my building and staring across at Manhattan. There's something cathartic about it, yet the incessant pings of notifications often distract me from enjoying it. Even with Do Not Disturb turned on, it's too easy to check in with something that pops up. Zen Mode forces me to not care for 20 minutes, and I love it. It provides the mental relief I'm looking for, especially as I spend my entire day looking at a screen.
That's just one way I'm using Zen Mode. Every morning I wake and try not to look at my phone for about 30 minutes, but I inevitably fail because there are so many notifications that I mistakenly believe are urgent. As part of my daily routine, I'm now adopting Zen Mode as the first thing I activate. This allows me to collect my thoughts and be thankful for everything I have. I've used it over the past three days and I'm happier and more focused. Rather than let technology control me, I now feel more in control of the tech I use daily.
Other great uses for Zen Mode
We all have ingrained smartphone habits that need improving.
Take eating dinner for example. When you're at the dinner table, it can be tempting to check your phone. Parents everywhere will know it's a battle to get their children to put down their phones. You could easily activate Zen Mode (or a similar feature), and your children can't do anything but eat at that moment. It's an easy habit to develop, yet one that has potential long-term health benefits. By eating slowly and focusing on the food you're eating, you'll eat less and feel full more quickly.
Zen Mode is about more than just the OnePlus 7 Pro
Yes, this feature is only available on the OnePlus 7 Pro, but it's one I'd love to see in the core Android OS.
Imagine if once you activate the screen on time limits of Android or iOS and inevitably exceed them, your phone locks you out. It wouldn't do it immediately; instead, it could give you a warning that 30 more minutes of use will lock you out for 20 minutes. Then it'll force you to manage your use so if it does lock you out, it's at a time when it's not an emergency.
This could also be used for any technology you're addicted to. Spend too long watching TV? Your TV could lock you out for 20 minutes and force you to do something else. The same for computers, tablets and anything else where being locked out wouldn't have potentially hazardous effects.
As I stand here by the East River, typing this on my OnePlus 7 Pro, I'm excited for a future where "digital wellbeing" is more than just a feature; a time where it's ingrained in our very being. We're not there yet, but features like Zen Mode take us a step forward. For now, I'm going to activate Zen Mode and enjoy the view.
How would you use Zen Mode? Hit the comments below and let me know.
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Nirave Gondhia has been writing about the mobile industry for over a decade and began his career selling and fixing phones in the UK. He's used every flagship smartphone over the past five years and carries at least two phones at all times - currently, he's using the iPhone 11 Pro, [Samsung Galaxy Fold and Motorola RAZR. Say hi to him on Twitter at @nirave.