Will turning your phone to greyscale really do wonders for your attention? | Technology

As someone who finds giving anything my continuous attention difficult, I’m always on the look-out for tips and tricks that can improve my concentration and render my digital life marginally less scatterbrained than normal.

So when the Lifehacker website offered a seemingly perfect One Weird Trick For Saving My Concentration, I just had to try it. The site cites Tristan Harris, a former Google project manager, who has reinvented himself as an anti-distraction campaigner. Harris’s own phone is a paean to tranquility, with colourful icons hidden in folders, the folders hidden on a second page, and then apps launched through search rather than icons to boot.

But Lifehacker’s idea was simpler: rather than trying to hide the “colourful” icons, why not use your phone’s own accessibility features to drain the colour from everything at once? Both iOS and Android offer the option to set your phone to greyscale, something that can help those who are colourblind as well as let developers more easily work with an awareness of what their visually impaired users are seeing.

For people with full colour vision, though, it just makes your phone drab. Perfect! But does it work to hinder tech companies’ attempts to capture your attention? I spent a week with my phone in greyscale mode, to give it a go, and I can report that the answer is: sort of.

Some effects are immediately notable. The bright red notification badges on iOS become much less shouty when they’re a mute grey. It’s the best of both worlds: they’re still easily legible, performing their function as notifications, but because they’re not screamingly bright, the desire to go through your apps consistently clearing the notifications is diminished. Score one for greyscale.

Alex Hern’s colourless iPhone. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

In other ways, however, there’s almost no effect. Once you’re actually in a social network, the slot machine effect continues to work just…

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