SAN JOSE — Today Apple went from Think Different to Live Different. As it always does at the Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple introduced a host of new features, which will keep the Apple-watching press busy this week. But one set is different and more significant than all the bells and whistles, and in fact marks a milestone in the history of the company. By introducing a host of integrated human-focused features that will help us set boundaries with technology, Apple has issued a powerful response to our current moment.
The past year has been a great awakening in our relationship with technology. The impact of our always-on culture on our mental health, our relationships, our productivity, and our children has become increasingly clear. And as a result, the need to set boundaries in our relationship with technology has become increasingly urgent.
And Apple has tapped into the zeitgeist with a comprehensive set of built-in features designed, as SVP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi put it at today’s WWDC, “to help you limit distractions, focus, and understand how you’re spending your time.” We’ve already seen this hunger for a new way to engage with technology reflected in Google’s announcement of a suite of “digital wellbeing” features, as well as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat announcing features that promote “time well spent.” And this was our mission when Thrive Global worked with Samsung to launch the Thrive App, which helps people monitor how they use their phone and gives them the tools to take a break from it. But our goal wasn’t just to get people to download the app – it was to shift the culture.
And that’s exactly what Apple is doing here. With Apple’s global cultural influence, this is going to dramatically accelerate a shift from a world that values constant connectivity at all costs to one that values unplugging, recharging and reducing noise and distractions.
That’s why today is so important. Because come September, the features that Apple unveiled today will be incorporated into the new OS update, seamlessly aligning with how people use their phone. And while some versions of these features have been available for a few years now, taking advantage of them involved going deep into the settings and activating them manually – which almost nobody did. Now they’re at the top level and designed to be easy and intuitive to use. This new integration significantly reduces one of the major barriers to real behavior change and makes it exponentially more likely that these features will become part of people’s lives.
With Apple’s global cultural influence, this is going to dramatically accelerate a shift from a world that values constant connectivity at all costs to one that values unplugging, recharging and reducing noise and distractions.
One of the images used at WWDC to illustrate the problem we are facing as a society showed a phone charging on a nightstand in silent mode, but still lighting up with notifications. Another showed a parent on a playground staring at her phone rather than actually engaging with her child.
So what are the new features? To start, Apple has made notifications much more manageable and in your control. The Do Not Disturb feature, around since 2012, has been effectively put on steroids so that you now have the ability to control all the iPhones and iPads on your account with one touch, and block all notifications, calls and texts except for those from your VIP list. And now you can sync Do Not Disturb with your calendar, geolocate it, or simply schedule it for any time you want.
And when you block notifications, you can choose whether to send them to the notification center — so instead of being interrupted and distracted from what you’re doing, you can go through them in your own time and assign different levels of urgency to different categories.
Then there’s “Screen Time,” a dashboard that breaks your usage down into categories (social media, games, email, etc.) and even tells you how many times you’ve physically picked up your phone. (If you use Bedtime to set yourself an alarm to go to bed, Screen Time will tell you how many times you use your phone after your bedtime!) You can access this dashboard at any time, but it will also give you weekly reports. And since knowledge is power, Screen Time lets you use all this information to set limits on how much time you want to devote to particular apps. When you hit your limit, you’ll get a message, which you can act on or ignore – but the point is, you now have the data nudging you to use your devices intentionally rather than mindlessly.
There’s also a new feature for parents, in recognition of the growing challenge parents face in a world where our children are leading hyper-connected lives. You can now turn on a setting in your children’s phone that will give you the ability to monitor their usage from your phone. This data can be a starting point for talking to your child about having a healthy relationship with technology – instead of a vicious cycle of speculation, accusations, and denials. Parents who want to go one step further can use the new Downtime feature, which will allow them to lock their child’s phone completely for set periods of time (after Bedtime, for instance), allowing access only to certain functions, like the calculator, clock and calls to important numbers.
What Apple showed today is that putting technology in its proper place in our lives isn’t about diminishing technology — it’s about better and smarter technology designed and built with a human purpose.
These new features are very much in the spirit of Steve Jobs, who prided himself on the way Apple was built to respond to human needs. “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough,” Jobs said back in 2011, “it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”
What Apple showed today is that putting technology in its proper place in our lives isn’t about diminishing technology — it’s about better and smarter technology designed and built with a human purpose. As a result, what Apple unveiled has the potential to be the third pivotal moment in its history.
The first was the “1984” commercial, aired during the Super Bowl that year. The ad, inspired by the Orwell novel, shows a woman running with a large sledgehammer, being chased by several armored agents of what we can assume to be the Thought Police. She enters a darkened hall full of zombie-like people listening to a speech by a Big Brother figure. Before the agents catch up with her, she flings the hammer at the screen, shattering it and liberating the people from their groupthink and their connection to the screen.
Then, in 1997, Apple unveiled its “Think Different” campaign, assumed to be an answer to IBM’s “Think” slogan. Now, more than two decades later, what Apple has done is actually a culmination of those two campaigns. By incorporating the tools to liberate ourselves from the unthinking allegiance to our screens into the fabric of the OS, Apple is helping us not just Think Different but Live Different.
It’s a value that Jobs certainly recognized in his own life. He always stressed how important it is to drown out the noise for creativity to flourish. When your mind calms down, Jobs said, “there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.”
By incorporating the tools to liberate ourselves from the unthinking allegiance to our screens into the fabric of the OS, Apple is helping us not just Think Different but Live Different.
Right now the new features are in beta, and Apple is asking for feedback on how people are using them and what improvements they’d like to see. I’ll be testing them myself, but here’s my early wish list:
First, I’d like to see bi-directionality (which we incorporated into the Thrive App). What that means is that when you go into Do Not Disturb mode, and someone tries to contact you, they’ll get a message letting them know you’re in Do Not Disturb and when you’ll be available again. That’s not just about practicality, it’s about creating a multiplier effect and a new kind of FOMO to hasten the cultural shift.
And last year the big takeaway at WWDC17 was Apple’s release of its ARKit (Augmented Reality Kit) and how it allowed developers to create and innovate around augmented reality. So my second wish would be that next year Apple release an AHKit (Augmented Humanity Kit), allowing third-party developers to take the features unveiled today and create new and more powerful behavior change apps and tools to help us deepen and augment our uniquely human qualities.
And my biggest wish is that we’ll soon look back and see today as a leap forward to a time in which we’re able to use technology in a way that enriches our lives and doesn’t just consume them.
The pace of the cultural change we’re going through has just accelerated. It’s a transformation that will help us move from the idea of “time well spent” to “time well invested.” Because as we set boundaries with technology, we’ll get back more of our time, which we can then invest in what matters most — our loved ones, ourselves, meaningful work, causes we believe in and the things that bring us joy. And that will truly be Living Different.