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  • Cynthia Dekker

Is life brighter when your phone is not?

We take our smartphones everywhere and use them constantly. While the device brings us joy and offers many convenient functionalities, being permanently online also has its downsides. For instance, people complain that they are using their phone too much, that it stresses them out, or that it distracts them from everyday studying or working tasks, or social activities. But, let’s be honest, we cannot live without our smartphone. Therefore, the challenge for users has become to balance positive and negative experiences of using mobile devices. This quest for well-being “both thanks to and despite the constant use of digital media” has been called digital well-being.


The grayscale mode

In response to these concerns, many tools have been developed for individuals to improve their digital well-being. A relatively understudied but promising strategy is grayscaling. By using the phone’s grayscale mode, the whole smartphone display turns black and white. It was originally developed for colorblind people but recently it has been hailed as an effective tool to, for instance, reduce distraction. Although the few existing studies showed promising results in that they found reductions in screen time, we lacked knowledge on the effects on digital well-being (i.e., subjective experiences). Therefore, we conducted an experiment among 84 students to find out more about the effects of grayscaling. Participants took part by downloading a research app that logged their smartphone use (screen time and number of unlocks) and sent short daily surveys in the evenings about their (digital) well-being. The first week served as the baseline week, and in the second week participants had to turn on the grayscale mode. This allowed us to compare how people normally use and experience their phone to when their phone is grayscaled.



Life IS brighter!

Imagine scrolling on TikTok or playing a game on your phone, without any colors. Sounds less fun, right? Indeed, participants’ screen time was reduced by 20 minutes per day, on average. Regarding subjective experiences, participants felt more in control over their smartphone use and reported less overuse. They were also felt that they were thinking less about their smartphone (i.e., “online vigilance”), and they were less stressed. Interestingly, however, participants still unlocked their phones as often, which indicates persistent checking habits. This might also explain why participants did not report higher productivity, as the frequent phone checking may still distract them from their work. Nevertheless, the grayscale mode appears as a promising strategy to reduce screen time and obtain digital well-being!


Want to try it yourself?

Here you can find instructions on how to turn on your phone’s grayscale mode.



Cynthia Dekker is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR), University of Amsterdam. Her project focuses on how the deep integration of smartphones into our everyday lives impacts individuals’ daily functioning and (digital) well-being.





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