It has been one and a half months since the end of summer break, and I guess many of our students already feel submerged by the workload and are willing to be more efficient. However, simple observations from the classroom show us that using our phones during class or revision affects our focus. Present in our pockets, on the table or at the back of our minds, our phones keep us from important tasks.

Retaining information under such conditions is much harder. It is estimated that we learn 62% better when we are away from our phones. A study from the London School of Economics showed that students’ test scores increased by 6.41% after banning phone usage. The media is constantly talking about “phone addiction”. Although we know that using mobile technology while working is a bad idea, many of us still do it anyway, so finding a solution is essential.

If staying away from your dear mobile phone seems hard, don’t worry: there is now an app rewarding you for exactly that. With Hold, offline time can be fun and rewarding.

After being contacted by their team for a potential article, we were able to get some useful information and interesting statistics about the app as well as some personal testing experience.

Hold was launched in Norway in February 2016, where its founders had noticed the importance of tackling such an issue in classrooms. Their success was immediate: within the first 3 months, more than 50,000 people have downloaded the app. An adoption rate of more than 40% in Norway led to international recognition, and the app has now expanded to Sweden and the UK. Consequently, the team now has its headquarters in London not far from campus and started recruiting new members in the UK to better fit the needs of a newfound student population. When the app launched in March 2018 in the UK, Imperial College was one of the first universities where it launched, and over 1,000 Imperial students already use the app.

The concept is simple: when you activate the “Hold mode” in the app, a counter will run and the app will do everything to help you not look at your phone. For every 20 min spent away from the phone, you earn 10pts that can be spent on the Hold marketspace (yes, that’s where to find the reward, a real, physical, free reward). This includes vouchers, discounts on products or services, such as drinks, snacks, cinema reduction, items of clothing, etc. The brand has partnership with big companies, such as Coca-Cola, Vue, Danske Bank, and 20th Century Fox. To claim the rewards, you will need your college email address.

On top of that, you can even compete with your friends and other students in Imperial by seeing who’s got the longest streak and points, with the “Highscore” functionality. Finally, no cheating is possible: you cannot earn Hold points during certain times of the night (00:00-06:00). Being away from your phone is working towards a better lifestyle, so it seems logical that the app sets one more thing to protect you from – the overworking extreme. Therefore, no need to spend all-nighters in the library either.

Easily found on Google Play and the App store, it is free of charge. It has a blue and white logo as well, not to be confused with the Imperial app. Upon opening the app, it immediately welcomes the user and gives the cheering incentive to push “the big button” (could be bigger) and put the phone on “hold”. The rest of the app being very intuitive (only 3 menus subdivided in classes). While activated, using your phone is (almost literally) forbidden: if you try to swipe down to look at your notifications, there will be a bold “You are on Hold. Hang in here!” reminding you to come back. Trying to leave the app for another one will reward you with an immediate pop-up calling you back, with the nice message: “You used your phone. Tap to continue holding. Be quick!”. Refusing to obey will break your hold time.

From my own experience on the app, I will share a few points that can make the app work for you, and how it induces a change in our relation to technology. First, the app is using everything at its disposal to make you use it as Hold contains all the elements of an addictive game: time, points that can be lost if you stop in the middle, reaching a higher level, rewards and cheerful texts. Secondly, it helps you work better by interrupting you if you attempt to use your phone. But further than the practical aspect, it creates a healthier relationship with technology. The purpose of the pop-ups, notifications and messages is to raise self-awareness of your personal phone usage while studying. Instead of simply unlocking it, realizing how often you usually look at your phone is one of the most important points.

In my opinion, we shouldn’t be dependent on the app to discourage phone usage. However, it can be our first step to learn how to “tame technology” and build a healthy relationship with technology. Ultimately, all the advantages of the interconnected world would blend nicely together with a self-aware, responsible use of technology.