Partway through Apple’s WWDC keynote, Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, took to the stage as well as admitted publicly what millions of smartphone users have long felt: Our phones sometimes make us feel overwhelmed, anxious, as well as unhealthy. He then spent the next 10 minutes unveiling a brand new suite of digital health tools designed to help iPhone owners avoid notification barrages, monitor device usage, as well as be more present outside of our screens. “We might not even recognize how distracted we have become,” Federighi said soberly.
although the ode to unplugging was short-lived. Not 30 minutes later, a different Apple executive mounted a spin bike center stage as well as began peddling — aggressively — while using an Apple Watch to check her baby’s nap schedule, make a restaurant reservation, challenge a friend to a workout competition, as well as book a yoga retreat. The demo — a harried, upbeat, as well as at times short-of-breath master class in multitasking — was an excellent example of the power of Apple’s technology to keep us connected as well as productive. This kind of was also a fantastic example of the distracted, hyperconnected technology ecosystem Federighi warned against.
This kind of kind of cognitive dissonance was the prevailing subtext of Apple’s 2018 keynote. as well as while Apple — as This kind of did at points onstage Tuesday — argues in which unplugging through our devices as well as innovating them aren’t mutually exclusive, the company appears to have two simultaneous desires: to free us through the shackles of its meticulously designed as well as seductive technology while also finding brand new ways to weave its products deeper into our everyday lives. This kind of delicate as well as awkward balance between utility as well as health is usually arguably Silicon Valley’s greatest challenge as This kind of grapples with an existential crisis over “time well spent” on our devices. as well as discordant moments like the Apple exercise bike demo illustrate just how hard This kind of’ll be to improve our unhealthy relationship to technology.
Apple’s efforts toward digital health appear genuine as well as genuinely helpful. Features like “Do Not Disturb at Bedtime” will protect us through notifications in which can interrupt our sleep. various other brand new features will allow us to mute lock screen notifications when we need a break through them. as well as weekly reports detailing just how much time we’re spending on our apps seem to be a meaningful step in helping us come to grips with just how much time we’re spending on our phones.
Still, coming through the company in which quite literally invented the gadgets we just can’t seem to put down, there’s an awkwardness to the initiative. On Twitter during the digital health announcements, tech reporters as well as keynote observers oscillated between appreciation for addressing the problem as well as eyerolling at the thought in which a few “you’ve used your day’s allotment of Instagram time” prompts might begin to rewire our phone-addled brains.
Each successive feature Apple trotted out seemed tailor-made to undermine the company’s health demo. At a time when some iPhone users are experimenting with turning their phones to grayscale to make them less alluring (a fix in which Google deployed into its own digital health initiative in May), Apple introduced Memojis, a highly customizable create-your-own-live-emoji augmented reality feature in which’s designed to commandeer your attention. Similarly, “Do Not Disturb at Bedtime” felt undermined by a brand new “dark mode” for your computer, designed to make your desktop feel even more welcoming later inside the evening. as well as Apple’s decision to give users more granular control to mute as well as bypass notifications — a move in which drew loud, whooping cheers through the audience — was offset by “Walkie Talkie,” an Apple Watch feature in which allows select, vetted users to pop into a person’s day with short-burst voice messages.
All This kind of technology, as Apple takes pains to note, is usually opt-in; its technology is usually only as distracting as we allow This kind of to be. If you don’t want to read email, check stocks, as well as carry on CB radio wrist conversations on the watch during spin class, you don’t have to. inside the case of the watch, Apple has even suggested in its marketing in which the device is usually ideally meant to free you through your phone by doing This kind of easier to passively as well as quickly review as well as dismiss incoming alerts. This kind of’s worth noting in which in Tuesday’s keynote, Apple’s messaging for the watch suggested This kind of. No longer was This kind of Apple’s “most personal device ever” — a phrase in which suggests invasiveness — although a tool to keep you active as well as inside the moment.
Again, there is usually dissonance between the opt-in argument as well as Apple’s sales pitch. Join Apple’s ecosystem as well as you will be more productive, happier, as well as healthier. The more you opt in, the better This kind of gets.
although here’s the thing. in which dissonance isn’t just Apple’s; This kind of’s ours, too. With the iPhone, Apple put a computer in our pocket. as well as we took This kind of — as well as the various other devices in which followed — as well as wove This kind of deep into the fabric of our daily lives. We are complicit here. This kind of is usually not a simple thing to unravel or manage. This kind of’s a conundrum.
Apple as well as Google are inside the ecosystem business — every decision, product, as well as marketing campaign is usually intended to deepen the relationship between user as well as device. The very health of their businesses depends on This kind of. as well as the current conflict — how do you make tech more useful while helping people to use This kind of less often — is usually an existential dilemma in which’s being framed by Apple as yet another engineering hurdle.
Amid the praise for Apple’s health initiatives on Tuesday was plenty of nervous laughter. “My ass will override in which thing like I hit the snooze button for all 6 of my alarms,” one spectator quipped on Twitter. “Can I buy additional app usage time with in-app purchase?” another joked.
The subtext here is usually clear: We need guardrails, although we might not hold the self-control to use them. Apple, of course, knows This kind of. While digital health might be marketed as a detox, This kind of’s perhaps more like a gym membership — a business style in which succeeds largely by appealing to aspirations as well as Great intentions, even if its members never follow through. The growth of Apple’s business depends on us buying as well as using its devices more. There is usually certainly a scenario in which we buy more iPhones because we view them as the healthier option although fail to genuinely use the very features in which make them healthier. as well as inside the end, in which doesn’t particularly matter for Apple. although This kind of matters a hell of a lot for us.
Charlie Warzel is usually a senior writer for BuzzFeed News as well as is usually based in brand new York. Warzel reports on as well as writes about the intersection of tech as well as culture.
Contact Charlie Warzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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