One month ago, I turned the color off of my phone. Bear with me, I know the idea sounds strange. I was talking to a friend on the bench outside my dorm when I realized his lock screen background was black and white. I was taken aback. He explained that a few weeks ago, he turned the grayscale filter on in an effort to curb his phone addiction and lower his screen time. I wrestled with the idea for the next few days before deciding to try it out. I thought that turning the filter on for a week could be an interesting experiment for me. I wanted to see if the absence of color would change my phone-using habits. 

Turning grayscale on meant absolutely no color on my phone—all the photos in my camera roll, posts on my Instagram feed, and Netflix television shows were now exclusively in varying shades of black and white. I was, quite frankly, irked. Even just looking at my lock screen background was nothing short of unappealing. The following day, I had no desire to use my phone, an unusual break from my typical routine.

Since the pandemic, I’ve noticed my dependence on my phone gradually increasing. Last month, for example, on any given week, my screen time averaged around five hours per day, typically with a high of around six hours on Sunday. During high school, I had my fair share of conversations with my mom that went somewhere along the lines of “You need to stop spending so much time on your phone,” to which I would respond, “But it’s so hard not to.”

One of the most dramatic consequences of the pandemic has been the large jump in global digital activity and internet usage. According to a report conducted by DataReportal, as of April 2020, 76% of internet users aged 16-64 reported spending more time on smartphones or mobile phones, with a 7.1% increase in internet users from 2019 to 2020. Individuals have become more reliant on internet technologies, services, and programs, which is affecting current phone habits and trends. The takeaway is clear: people are now spending more time on their devices.  

The grayscale movement is largely prompted by former Google design ethicist and the executive director of the Center for Humane Technology Tristan Harris, who argues that going grayscale severs the positive stimulants we get from our phones. Essentially, Harris argues that the simplest way to limit phone usage is to make your phone boring. 

My experience over the next few days was similar to that of the first day. I was annoyed. My urges to scroll through my Instagram feed or watch a YouTube video were met with a lackluster, blank screen. It was on the second day that I learned a few people in my classical studies class had also turned on the grayscale filter on their phones. By the fifth day, my grayscale phone had become a part of my normal routine. I stopped feeling that initial jolt of surprise when picking up my phone. Later on that fifth day, I got a text message from my friend saying, “My phone is now grayscale, and it is working wonders.” During the sixth and seventh days, I could feel myself starting to break from my previous habits. I was more inclined to pick up a book or finish homework than turn to my phone. When I did use my phone to send a text message or call a friend, I didn’t linger. Instead, I finished what I needed to do and put my phone away, mostly out of disdain for the lack of color. The videos and photos I usually found so engaging were losing their appeal.

Color plays a crucial role in producing the positive emotions we associate with our mobile devices. In a 2018 New York Times opinion piece, Mack McKelvey, the chief executive of SalientMG, explains that “you don’t buy black-and-white cereal boxes, you buy the really stimulating colored ones.” The same reasoning is applicable to our devices: we choose to use applications like Instagram and Snapchat for their vivid colors, designs, and patterns. Color subconsciously affects our decision-making, as certain hues are associated with social messages. The pink emblem of the Instagram application, for instance, evokes a calming effect by slowing down our endocrine systems. As consumers, we are subconsciously drawn to pink because we equate it with relaxed feelings. The grayscale filter works to eliminate this subconscious decision-making process—the social and cultural ties we link with specific applications are lost, as all applications project the same dull, gray image. 

Even after my one-week-long experiment ended, I decided to continue using the grayscale filter. The experiment radically changed my phone usage habits: now my screen time averages less than one hour per day. On Instagram, the application I previously spent the most time using, I’ve managed to limit myself to around 15 minutes of screen time each day. Yes, grayscale removed the fun from my phone, but more importantly, it helped me break my long-standing phone addiction and reminded me that I have control over my phone and the time I spend on it.

Lyah Muktavaram can be reached at

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