It’s March 2012, the middle of exam term and my friend is in despair. Why? She can’t access her Facebook.
Nordic app Hold is hoping to combat such examples of student smartphone addiction. It rewards users for not looking at their phones on campus – a task so difficult for my zombified-friend that she resorted to using a website that locks her out of all social media accounts.
In Norway, 40% of students use Hold. One in eight people are addicted to their phones and, at university, this can be toxic. Using Hold requires self-restraint: press a button and the app will time how long you refrain from using your phone, but there are no punishments if you do. If you don’t, however, you will be rewarded with points that can be redeemed at partner businesses – you can cash in for cinema tickets, for example.
Since I’m still a student, I decided to put the app to the test. It’s harder than I imagine – I am the sort of person, it turns out, who just needs to look at this email right now… And this WhatsApp. And my Instagram. And, er … Candy Crush.
Why doesn’t the app just block me from distractions, so I’m not tempted by them? “We are trying to change long-term habits, not force people,” says creator Maths Mathiesen. “We want their relationship to their phones to change.”
By the end of the week, the app hadn’t changed my phone-checking habits, but it did make me seriously question my phone usage. Resisting my phone for 20 minutes (the threshold at which you can start earning points for rewards) proved excruciating – but it also highlighted how much looking at my phone for a second disrupts my concentration span.
Hold is still building up its network of sponsors in the UK, with beta versions being rolled out across universities in London over the next month. The rewards on offer are currently quite limited – one of them is pencils – although I’m told that Nordic students have won trips around the world. But I suppose the real reward is not spending £50,000 on a degree, only to end up with a bad grade thanks to your need to compulsively refresh, scroll and repeat.