Google’s latest Digital Wellbeing experiment has you seal your phone in an envelope

As we learn more about the problems of excessive screen time, there are a growing number of ways to restrict mobile phone use. Special Projects has come up with the simplest of solutions – a paper envelope

Special Projects mobile phone envelope
The latest ‘Experiments with Google’ is a simple envelope designed to restrict mobile phone use. Image: Special Projects

Experiment with Google

Experiment with Google has been around since 2009. The program invites coders to carry out experiments using systems including Chrome, Android, AI, Web VR and AR. Anybody can submit an experiment, and many resources are freely available to download.

The latest experiment was created by Special Projects design studio in London.

They considered the issue of excessive screen time. Surely we can just turn our phones off when we aren’t using them?

The problem with smartphone multiple uses is that it might not always be so simple. What about if you to make phone calls, but don’t want to be bothered with social media alerts? How about if you need your phone to record videos, but don’t want to receive any other notifications?

In a world of instant gratification, mobile phone addiction is a real thing. The name for it is ‘nomophobia‘. This leads to compulsive behaviour, lack of self-control and an inability to relate to the world around you.

Special Projects envelope
The Special Projects envelopes work with an app to show only specific functions. Image: Special Projects

Envelope User Interface

The Special Projects idea is very simple indeed. They have created a collection of paper envelopes designed for the Google Pixel 3a.

These envelopes can be downloaded as a PDF and printed at home. The associated app is on the Play Store and all the code has been made available on Github.

There are two options, white and black.

One envelope turns your smartphone into a more basic mobile whilst the app takes over your screen and allows you only to make and receive calls. The light shines through the paper, creating adelightfully calm but magical user interface‘.

The other turns your phone into a camera, without seeing any of the rest of the screen. Special Projects says:

We have designed a series of special paper envelopes which completely transform the functionality of your smartphone for the time it is sealed inside, allowing you to enjoy fewer distractions for a little while

Special Projects app
The Special Projects envelopes along with the app are designed to help you avoid distractions and limit your screen time. Image: Special Projects

Digital wellbeing

Google has made no secret of its aspirations to expand into the healthcare industry and digital wellbeing is at the forefront of app design.

They say they want to ‘fine-tune your tech habits to achieve your personal digital wellbeing goals‘.

I think this is a really simple, and really obvious idea. Smartphones now have features such as screen time monitors, do not disturb and sleep functions as standard. But it seems that human compunction can negate these tools.

A 2014 study found that adults log an average of 11 hours of screen time across all devices. If you spend all day at a PC, then go home and spend the evening on your mobile, it might make your daily average even higher.

There are multiple dangers of excessive screen time, and particularly for children. The impacts include insomnia, mood swings, stress and obesity.

I think it’s high time we found a better way of taking a step back from our screens. And all this time, it might have been as simple as a paper envelope.

Abundary has reached out to Special Projects for comment. In the meantime, would you download one of these envelopes? Do you think they would genuinely help you focus? Would you like to see an envelope designed for your handset model? Let us know your thoughts!

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