Grayscale is disgusting, and that’s the point.
In case you are already lost a dozen words into this post that’s okay, I didn’t know what grayscale was, either, until just a few days ago. I had heard the term floating around – it definitely sounded familiar – but who has time to learn yet another piece of lingo that may or may not be a thing six months from now? So, I must have put the phrase into the trash file of my brain.
Then earlier this month Kara Swisher, the founder of Recode, reintroduced it. I sat in an audience of a couple of hundred, listening to Swisher in conversation with Tristan Harris (The Center for Humane Technology) and Jim Steyer (Common Sense Media) talk about how our devices are designed to addict us.
Want some advice? Swisher asked the audience, a crowd eager for ways to beat the lure of their phones. Go grayscale.
A collective “What?” spread around the room.
Swisher explained that grayscale means removing all of the color from your phone’s display. Those beautiful blues and oranges and greens that make photos pop and lure you into hours wasted on social media, news apps, even just your email are suddenly gone. Everything about your phone becomes dull.
It’s completely disgusting, Swisher said, kidding not kidding. Trust me, you won’t want to be on your phone. I am paraphrasing her hilarious delivery.
My husband and I spent the next five minutes trying to find a grayscale setting on our phone. We couldn’t… and then we realized we were staring at our screens during a talk on screen addiction. That was awkward. When we got home, our two teenaged kids showed us how to make the switch in under 20 seconds. On an iPhone, you just got to General —> Accessibility —> Display Accommodations —> Color Filters —> Grayscale. Duh.
As I type this post, I am 36-hours into grayscale and Swisher’s words ring loudly inside my head. It is disgusting. I don’t want to look at anything on my screen: not a picture, not an email, and definitely not social media or a shopping app. I feel like I have fallen into the part of a movie where color drains to make the point about how dull and drab life used to be. I seriously don’t know how much longer I can take it.
I am pretty sure, though, that Swisher and Harris are 100% right. If you want a solution to constantly checking your phone, go gray. Harris worked at Google until he didn’t, and now his life path is to lift the veil on how our devices need to capture our eyeballs constantly. It’s their business model. We check our phones anywhere from 80 – 150 times per day, depending upon which study you believe. There is no way I checked my gray phone 80 times yesterday – it looked too ugly. But the day before in full technicolor? Totally.
Learning about device addiction is important. It shines a light on our behavior, incidentally behavior that we are more than willing to call out in our kids but far less inclined to identify and fix within ourselves. There are dozens of reasons to screen-rehab yourself, including everything from the benefits of being truly present in the real world to basic safety (don’t mix screen staring with driving/scootering/walking). The solutions will be different for all of us, but the awareness needs to be universal. Check out Harris’s TED Talk or Swisher’s insights yes, ironically on your screens. They are well worth your time.
As for me, I think I am going to do a weekly grayscale cleanse: 24-hours color free each week. Maybe I can work my way up to 48. If there is anything I have learned from two decades in medicine, it’s that most health habits change gradually, but so long as you are changing in the right general direction, you’re doing great.