Plant a sapling on your phone and concentrate

There are many ways to make you stay off using your smartphone, for many different situations.

One of my favorite ideas was something called Phone Stack. It was popular during early 2012 as a pub game. It involved everyone in a table stacking their phones at the end of the table and talking to each other without being disturbed by the device.

Beer brand Guinness used the very idea for their campaign called Phones Down. The creative device used to depict the idea was particularly fantastic, with a stack of black colored phones at the bottom and the top 2 being white-colored phones… just like a glass of Guinness beer (stout with froth at the top!).

But 2012 was early days of Instagram, and the culture of photographing your food and sharing the pic on Instagram before you eat, almost like the modern-day version of saying Grace, wasn’t that prevalent. So the Phone Stack/Phones Down campaign seemed ok at that time. Now, I’m not so sure 🙂

There are many smartphone apps (oh, the irony!) to help you measure your ‘screen time’ in order to reduce the usage. Apple’s Screen Time and Android’s Digital Wellbeing are the most known, official ones.

These apps work like super-apps and track your device usage across apps. And give you data, in the form of interesting charts and graphs, on your usage, in order to make you think what to do about reducing such usage.

I liked the Phone Stack idea because it framed the problem differently, from a new perspective – as a game, that everyone needs to play, to win. The first to succumb to temptation in the table pays for all. If nobody picks up their phone from the stack, everyone pays for themselves.

Similarly, what could be framed differently for screen time, instead of mere charts and numbers? The equivalent of pictorial warning on cigarette packets instead of merely informing people with text-based warnings?

Here’s an interesting idea that thinks differently.

The app is called Forest (iOS | Android).

What Forest does is nothing different from the screen time apps. Instead of only showing you the time you spent on the many things on your phone to make you feel guilty, it tries a different track. When you want to stay away from your phone and concentrate on something, you start the app. In the app, a sapling is planted and it gradually starts growing into a tree. The more you stay away from the phone, the more the tree grows… into a forest! If you pick up the phone to check something, then the tree withers!

In the paid version, this digital tree is turned into a real tree, through Forest’s partners who plant an actual tree!

This is a simple placebo effect, no doubt, but placebos are extremely powerful. Even the multi-crore Rafale jets recently had lemons under the wheel during delivery recently. That’s a form of placebo too.

The idea is that you let a forest/tree grow when you concentrate on something away from your device and that your ‘effort’ in letting it grow will go waste if you pick up the device is an interesting reframing of screen time.

If you think who would really bother about a digital tree or a digital forest, you should ask people obsessed with Candy Crush 🙂



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