Putting Down Your Phone – It’s Black & White

This past weekend while out to lunch with my family, I noticed six college-aged guys sitting at the table next to us. All six of them had their eyes glued to their phones. I have noticed this before at restaurants, when my younger cousin has friends over, and even with my own friends sitting around our dinner table. Something about the image of six people sitting at one table, all distracted by their cell phones irks me. However, sometimes it feels like it’s the only option – if the five people I am sitting with are all on their phones and I decide to keep my phone away, am I just going to sit there and stare at them? My friend might realize she should put her phone away, but when she looks up to do so, everyone else is on their phones, so what’s the point? And this can lead to a cycle of people thinking it’s okay to spend so much time on their phones instead of engaging with the people in their company.

Throughout the semester we have had many discussions about people being addicted to their cell phones and social media. I have read numerous blog posts in which classmates have mentioned “aimlessly scrolling through social media” (and I am definitely no exception!). Not only is it rude to be on your phone all of the time, but there are also dangerous repercussions, such as accidents caused by texting and driving.

So what can we do about this? I am sure there are many people who are not looking to change behaviors. On the other hand, I am confident that there are plenty of people, like me, who want to spend less time on their phones and social media. Although they may desire to cut back, they still catch themselves mindlessly scrolling through newsfeeds of various social media sites.

Yesterday my friend told me about a trick to cut down time spent on one’s phone. There is a setting that can turn phones to grayscale, and apparently this could discourage someone from using their cell phone as much. A video posted on the Atlantic of senior editor James Hamblin explores this idea.  He explains that “emotions and attention are tied to color perception.”  Cell phones and apps are wired to grab your attention and distract. Notifications are evident by red numbers on the corners of apps. The color red is known to enhance our attention to detail and “stimulate excitement.” According to a Fast Company article, it is also associated with high click through rates, creates urgency, and is eye-catching. Could turning these red icons to gray really affect your urgency and frequency of phone and social media use? There has not been much research on the subject. Hamblin describes it as more of a mind trick, but that it has decreased how frequently he checks and uses his phone.


After reading about this, I decided to try it. On my iPhone, I went to “Settings” –> “General” –> “Accessibility” –> and then turned on “Grayscale.” I have only had this on for a few days, so it may be too soon to see if it’s making an impact, but I have noticed a few differences so far. In addition to the effect of the red color, seeing my phone in grayscale is just not as enticing. Instagram photos and Facebook videos seem to lose their appeal when they are not in full color. Additionally, since it was my intention to start using my phone less, whenever I go to use it and see the gray color, it acts as a reminder to put down my phone.

I intend to use this setting for as long as possible in order to see if it has a lasting effect and truly works. However, I anticipate wanting to turn my phone back to color when I want to take pictures for events such as graduation festivities.

Tell me what you think! Could it really work? Would you try it?


  1. Hmm.. Interesting. I’ll have to try that out. I often find myself in situations like you, I try to cut down on my cell phone usage but eventually, if everyone else is on their phones I end up being on mine too. People lose the ability to connect with the people right infront of them unfortunately. I think the information on color and stimulation is pretty interesting, I never really thought too deep into that and never knew there was a gray scale options either.

  2. Great post, Caroline! I think this ties nicely with the Google article we read this week. I have definitely experienced and been frustrated by the same situation you described. Making the effort to be attentive to the people around you doesn’t make a lot of sense when everyone else is on their phone, and it’s awkward to start a conversation with someone when they’re preoccupied with something else. The concept of using black and white as a way to try to reduce the urgency and frequency with which we check our phones is really interesting. I can definitely see it having a positive effect with visual media like Instagram, but I think for things like red notification bubbles, especially on Facebook, we’re already so wired to look for them that I’m not sure making them grey now will have much of an effect. I’m very interested to hear if you see any substantial results after some more time!

  3. Great post! I also want to spend less time on my phone. I try to always have my kindle with me so I can read when I need to pass the time instead of scroll through facebook. Now that I think about it, it would be interesting to pull out a book when all your friends pull out their phones. I bet people would notice that. Maybe I’ll try the grayscale thing. I’m not convinced that would help me, though.

  4. Great post! I was just at dinner with my roommates and noticed the exact same thing. Even though I didn’t want to be checking my phone, everyone else was so it felt awkward not to, which, like you said, sets the social norm that it’s okay to always be connected. The grayscale option is really interesting. Personally, I think this would take a lot of the purpose especially out of the instagram where I love to see people’s photos in color. I also think I’d almost feel a sense of fomo knowing that everyone else is still seeing things in color while my settings are black and white.

  5. Those dinner settings with everyone on their phone absolutely annoys me as well, however, I have made sure I dont fall into the trap of taking my phone out as well. I make sure to tell me friends that they should put their phones away. It is something that has become the norm when people dont have anything to talk about. It is the decoy for awkwardness. I have come to hate social media because of what it has done to face to face interactions. Which is why I would be willing to recommend this to many friends. Even if it meant I used my phone less I wouldnt mind doing it because I think we all can use a break from the scrolling. I like how you started using the app yourself as well to see if the effects held true. I do think the color red on the notifications has something to do with the urge to constantly see what it possibly could be. The only downside to this is I would want everything to be in black and white. As you said IG pictures and FB videos have become dull since they lost their luster. But what if it was just the homescreen that would avoid the need to check the notifications that we just received. I think this is a great idea because for someone to cure this addiction many of us have will be the true hero. I just dont know how many people are willing to let it go or want to let it go. For many this isnt an issue until the discussion arises.

  6. Excellent post and I appreciate that you made a point to try the functionality and report out. I will definitely try this based on your recommendation and I can think of a few friends who could really benefit from it. McDonald’s was ahead of their time in realizing that red causes excitement, but it’s very interesting to learn about the impact of phones/apps that are void of color. Very cool. Well done!

  7. I love the idea of limiting phone time, especially because I have seen firsthand as well how our phones take over our lives and time spent with family and friends. Because of recent incidences where friends I’ve been with have been glued to their phones instead of participating in conversations, I’ve actually since made the conscious effort to not be on my phone when with other people. An area where I do need help though is when I’m on my computer and spend too much time checking facebook and other time-sucking sites like buzzfeed. Fortunately, there are sites where you can control how much time you spend on each site before you are “shut out.” I’ve used http://outsmarter.net/ and it really does help keep me more focused at work. I think having sites, apps and settings that help control the time we spend on our phones and other sites are important and will continue to be as social media and technology become even more integrated into our lives. Great post and great advice!!

  8. Interesting. I might give it a shot. Certainly make FB and instagram less interesting.

  9. Great post! Before I even finished reading I had already picked up my phone and tried to figure out how to turn it gray scale (and only finally figured it out once I finished the article). I obviously think overuse of cell phones is a major issue and have tried different apps in the past to cut down my own usage such as time trackers or apps that prevented the use of other apps. This seems like an easy common sense way to distinguish my phone as not part of the real world and will definitely serve as a reminder that whatever I’m distracting myself with better be worth it. I’m going to try and last as long as I can with my phone on gray scale as well!

  10. yifanhong04233 · ·

    Great post. Social media really brings us together more conveniently and instantly. But frankly speaking, we are gradually losing the ability to communicate with each other face to face. I remember reading a news about a family reunion dinner where everyone was on their cellphone and social media and nobody talked. It was a really embrassing moment! I will definitely try this app and make myself more open to real-person interactions.

  11. Be an agent of change! It great to see that someone is being proactive in the fight against phone addiction. Maybe if you starting calling people out you could help them change their ways? i have a friend with a bad instagram addiction and i want to help her quit!

  12. Creative idea! I agree with the troubling trend of social media taking over our social lives and my blog was about how social media is depressing the youth. I have a rule in my house where if we are in the same room we are not allowed to be on our phones. It started out as a rule when we were younger but has morphed into more of a respect thing as we got older and has really helped our family communicate better.

  13. willybbolton · ·

    Really cool post! I think this idea is pretty cool. The colors and red notifications cause me to constantly check my phone, especially before I go to sleep. This definitely could serve as good reminder to stay off my phone when I don’t need to be.

  14. This blows my mind for how simple but useful it is. I do hesitate to turn off the color on my iPhone — it was a huge selling point knowing I’ll have a gorgeous, retina display to view everything on. It enticing to scroll through pictures on Instagram, but as you said – almost too enticing. I’ll give it a try!

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