We’ve all been guilty of hitting that ‘five more minutes’ button on our phones when the time limit on Instagram runs out. It’s a vicious circle – you set yourself up for 15 minutes of good fun on social media, but end up losing sleep, hobbies and possibly a number of real social interactions you could have had in the meantime. We’re talking hours on end spent scrolling. And the worst part of it is, though we all know what we’re doing, we’re not so sure how to stop it.
Leading to high levels of executive dysfunction and rapidly decreasing our attention span (talk about not being able to sit through a film without opening TikTok five times), the trends are only getting worse and companies are being questioned on how ethical these practices are. Of course, we can’t forget the Metaverse – the new buzzword everybody is talking about, but nobody really knows how the virtual world will impact our mental health yet. iThese are just a few reasons why 2degrees and TBWA\NZ are asking consumers to take a break away from phones, laptops or alternate universes and go into Real Mode. As an app, Real Mode is designed to help take breaks from our phones when we need to and is available to New Zealanders on any network. It is timer-based and the more time you spend in Real Mode, the more rewards you get – quite simple!
With awards ranging from real-world experiences like restaurant vouchers, the app is meant to encourage a more healthy approach to our internet usage and escape the endless scroll. LBB’s Zoe Antonov spoke to Mick Stalker, creative director at TBWA\NZ to find out more about how the initiative came about, how the app works and what the future really looks like for the online world.
LBB> What was the initial brief and the conversations surrounding it?
Mick> 2degrees has always been on a mission to Fight for Fair. It’s been in their brand DNA since they took on the duopoly that ran the telecommunications sector in New Zealand. So, we’re always on the lookout for things that seem unfair to us – things we could help put right for the little guy. It’s a very Kiwi way to be.
When 2degrees arrived on the scene, like any telco, they wanted to connect people. Around New Zealand, and the world. Their reason for being was to bring people closer, but with the evolution of the device, social media companies, and the big tech giants we seem to be getting further apart. It’s affecting mental health, it’s changing our behaviour, and it’s not really our fault. All the whoops, bings, and dings are designed by highly skilled and highly paid psychologists to lure us in and keep us coming back. We’re kind of defenceless against its power.
The brief was simply, what can we do to make finding balance in a digital world a little fairer?
LBB> Tell us more about the app and how it works
Mick> Tech giants make it impossible to infiltrate apps because it would undo all their hard work, so an in-phone circuit breaker was impossible. We had to look more to creating behavioural change and positive reinforcement.
The way we looked at it was like being a sponsor of someone trying to give up on any addiction. We can’t physically stop anyone from doing that thing, but we can help make them more conscious of their decisions - make them think twice about what they're doing and reward their positive behaviour. We can try to make what has become scrolling autopilot, now a conscious decision. After all, the first step to overcoming any shortfall is admitting it to yourself. And the second is replacing the behaviour with something else that’s as rewarding.
So, the app itself is simple. We’re asking you to consciously switch off your phone for the chance to be rewarded in the real world with vouchers and experiences that support human connection. The longer your stay in Real Mode, the more entries for rewards you can share like nights out, restaurant vouchers and even parachuting and track days. When the user tries to leave the app, we prompt them and ask them to think about if they want to stay longer. We’ve designed the exit from the app to be counter intuitive to force the user to really engage their brain. Switches go in the opposite direction to normal to force you to think.
The user switches on the app and has an option to push out a message to their socials, letting people know they are in Real Mode and offline or to just jump straight in. The sharing on social is important because, as with anything, if you say you’re going to do it to friends and family you feel more accountable. Then the counter starts, and this does two things - it’s a stark reminder of how often you look at your device, but it also enters you into the prize draw every 15 minutes.
Switch into Real mode. Put down your phone. Go and connect for real. Simple as that.
LBB> What has the response from audiences been so far?
Mick> In a matter of weeks, New Zealand has spent one year in Real Mode and counting, so the idea seems to have resonated. There is clearly a desire to find more balance. There have always been things like Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode, but this is about accepting the power our phones have over us, making the decision to take control, and being rewarded for this behavioural change. The rewards side of this is most certainly an added lure. It’s been so successful we have had to release more rewards and extend the campaign and the 2degrees team is looking at making it a permanent experience.
LBB> What do you believe is the role of creative media in encouraging healthier habits when it comes to tech usage amongst audiences? How is it possible to strike a real balance between healthy living and consumption?
Mick> The mobile devices we carry in our pockets are amazing. What we can do and how we can connect and interact with the world is close to magic. If we are helping people do something positive, great – as an industry we can affect huge change. But we need to be conscious of the power we have through these devices, and the addictive nature of what they do, and we need to act accordingly. We need to be responsible. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.
LBB> Do you think the future of the internet holds more ethical choices such as this one and will companies take more responsibility in encouraging consumers to pursue healthy relationships with tech and the internet?
Mick> Of course, we all have to take some personal responsibility, but it’s got to be about time these companies help us out. Companies living in this space have to work to help us make informed and healthy choices around their offerings - they need to have good ethics. Otherwise, I think consumers see that they are in it for themselves. Interestingly, as we’ve worked through this campaign, we’ve heard rumours about Instagram working on a ‘pause’ button and Meta (formerly Facebook) talking about displaying screen time to help us understand our usage. It’s obviously in the collective consciousness.
LBB> With the rise of the metaverse, how do you believe that will affect people's behaviour online and will apps such as this one expand to try and curb people literally entering the online space for prolonged periods of time?
Mick> I think we’ve identified a real and dangerous problem. With every innovation and new technological advance, we are in danger of stepping further and further away from each other. It’s all incredible and powerful and novel – but we can’t let it become our absolute and full-time reality. We all have a responsibility to monitor and support our communities so that can’t happen.
LBB> Any final thoughts?
Mick> This is not about being anti-tech or anti-phone. This is simply about balance. What we can now do is incredible. Every day these devices add value by bringing us closer to friends and family and they keep us up to date with the world. But without balance, without consciously switching on and off, we can get lost in them. The damage is well-documented and real.
Happily, the remedy is simple and based on where the whole telco industry began - human connection, which is so brilliantly restorative and important. It’s an interesting role for a telco to play, but that’s possibly what makes it so strong. A brave client who accepts they need to be the champions of what makes phones great, but also the voice of reason when things are getting out of hand. And if not 2degrees, who else would fight for a fairer way?