I'm addicted to my smartphone and Apple and Google can't help me

  • Google and Apple are trying to fight smartphone addiction with controls that limit how long we use apps.
  • This logic seems flawed, especially for folks who probably don't think they're addicted in the first place
I'm addicted to my smartphone.
Todd Haselton | CNBC
I'm addicted to my smartphone.

Hi, my name is Todd Haselton and I'm a smartphone addict.

Apple and Google are launching new tools that are supposed to help me and people like me fight this addiction, but I don't think they're going to work.

Google's new version of Android that will launch this fall with a "Digital Wellness" feature and Bloomberg reported on Thursday that Apple will do the same with the next version of its iPhone and iPad software.

Google will soon show consumers how much time they spend in an app on an Android phone -- which might shock some people into using some apps less frequently. It will also let you set controls for how long you can use an app. Apple is reportedly going to launch a similar feature called "Digital Health."

Here's the problem with smartphone addiction, and I think it applies pretty broadly to a lot of us: Sometimes we just pick up our phones and turn on the screen for no reason at all. Maybe I'll open Instagram or check Twitter, or check my email for the 30th time in the last hour. Putting a timer on apps isn't going to stop that -- I'll just open a different one, or turn off the time limit controls completely.

Without using too extreme of a metaphor, this solution is sort of like a coffee distributor giving us the option to have fewer cups of coffee. The coffee maker tells you how many cups you consume each day -- you're shocked at how much it is -- and then tells you that you can have fewer cups if you want to. You can tell the coffee maker to stop serving you at a certain limit but, with a wink, still get another cup anyway.

People who are addicted to things don't want to stop doing them. Or, often, they don't even admit they're addicted in the first place.

The tools might be there to help you quit, but will you use them? If you're obsessed with opening Twitter to stay on top of the news, or your email account, are you really going to put in the controls to limit how often you can use that app? Parents might do this for kids, but will adults use it? I don't think I will{.

What does this do to our productivity? I need to use a lot of apps very frequently for work, and they're the ones that often pull me back to my smartphone in the first place. "Sorry boss, I couldn't check my email last night because I'm trying to fight my smartphone addiction." "No, I didn't see your Slack message because Google told me I already used Slack too much today."

I don't think that's going to go over well. [Editor's note: He's right.]

I applaud Google and Apple for attempting to address a problem that's very real. I'm tired of sitting through dinners where friends constantly pull up their phones -- and I can be just as guilty. But what can Apple and Google do better? I don't even know if there's much in their control. After all, they're the ones selling the addiction. Perhaps there's an incentive-based solution that could work, like credits to the Google Play or iTunes App Store when we use our phones less, but I doubt that will happen.

We need to learn to turn off our phones or leave them behind at home. If it's for doing our jobs, we need workplaces that encourage us to put our phones away at a certain time. At the very least, we need to admit we're addicted in the first place.