A new Nordic app is tackling smartphone addiction in a new way: bribing university students.
Hold financially rewards students for not being on their phones. The app monitors cell phone activity between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. daily. Students earn 10 points for every 20 minutes that their phone is inactive. Points earned can be used to claim a variety of freebies through the app’s marketplace, such as free coffee, free popcorn and discounted movie tickets.
For example, students need to spend 10 hours away from their cell phones to earn 300 points — redeemable for two free coffees. Similarly, 60 points can earn students free popcorn or a half-price movie ticket. Alternatively, students can use their points to buy books and stationery and donate them to schools through UNICEF.
Three Norwegian students launched the app in Norway in February, 2016 as a tool for maximizing student productivity and increasing concentration. A 2017 study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin shows simply having a smartphone within reach reduces productivity, slows down response speed and reduces grades.
During the first three months, 50,000 students downloaded the app. It is now used by around 40 per cent of post-secondary students in Norway.
The app makes money by partnering with well-known businesses, such as Amazon and Vue, a cinema chain in the United Kingdom. The businesses use the app as a marketing tool for their products.
Second-year Western University science student Irina Todoran thinks the app is a good idea that provides a strong incentive for students to put their phones away.
“I know I have a problem, I always check my phone during lectures, and obviously that takes away from actually listening,” Todoran said. “I recently deactivated my Instagram to not have that extra distraction.”
Similar to Todoran, some students have already taken steps to put an end to cell phone distractions.
“I use a computer app to block Facebook, so I’d probably use [Hold],” said Stephanie Stimac, fifth-year sociology student. “I think it would be a good motivator.”
Fourth-year economics student Yuxiang Tian uses an app called Forest to help him focus in school. Users plant a seed in a virtual forest and the seed grows into a tree as long as the user does not browse pre-selected websites. Further, the app donates to a real-life tree-planting organization when users spend their virtual coins earned in the app. Over 251,000 real trees have been planted this way.
However, second-year science student Catherine Choueiri is skeptical about Hold’s ability to limit phone use.
“I’m not sure it’s going to work,” said Choueiri. “Everyone's basically addicted to their phones. I think the usage of cell phones still trumps whatever you could get out of [Hold].”
Hold is currently only available to university students in Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Students can join a waitlist to be notified when the app becomes available in their country.