The next development that’s going to tear us away from our smartphone screens

We’re addicted to our screens. I can’t be in line anywhere longer than three seconds before I’ve got my iPhone in my hand, looking for some kind of dopamine hit. Anything to escape boredom. I can’t even enough sitting at the dog park for longer than a minute before my phone’s out. Leaving at home gives me the shakes. The dog knows it, too.

Once deployed, screens–phones, tablets, laptops, computers–all demand our full attention. It’s difficult to do anything else when you’re deep into your screen. It’s to the point where the new version of iOS will have a feature designed to cut down on your screen time.

Now that smartphone usage has reached a critical level of penetration into society, the tech world needs to find a new way to keep us hooked–or a new way of hijacking our attention.

I’ve heard some very smart people talking about the next frontier–and it involves audio.

This story from the Sydney Morning Herald (originally from the New York Times) talks about the notion of “peak screen” and the kind of tech that’s coming next.

Global smartphone sales are plateauing for an obvious reason: Nearly anyone who can afford one has one, and increasingly there are questions about whether we are using our phones too much and too mindlessly.

At Google’s and Apple’s recent developer conferences, executives showed how much more irresistible they were making our phones. Then each company unveiled something else: Software to help you use your phone a lot less.

There is a reason tech companies are feeling this tension between making phones better and worrying they are too addictive. We have hit what I call Peak Screen.

For much of the last decade, a technology industry ruled by smartphones has pursued a singular goal of completely conquering our eyes. It has given us phones with ever-bigger screens and phones with unbelievable cameras, not to mention virtual reality goggles and several attempts at camera-glasses.

Tech has captured nearly all visual capacity. Americans spend three to four hours a day looking at their phones.

So tech giants are building the beginning of something new: a less insistently visual tech world, a digital landscape that relies on voice assistants, headphones, watches and other wearables to take some pressure off our eyes.

This could be a nightmare; we may simply add these new devices to our screen-addled lives. But depending on how these technologies develop, a digital ecosystem that demands less of our eyes could be better for everyone — less immersive, less addictive, more conducive to multitasking, less socially awkward, and perhaps even a salve for our politics and social relations.

Keep reading.

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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