Three months of self inflicted digital pain and how it changed my habits – A review of Siempo Launcher

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Last December, I decided to start an experiment and adopt a new launcher called Siempo apart from the OnePlus and Nova launcher that I’m used to since I started using Android. After three months, even though I have stopped using it, I have observed some changes and would like to share it with my readers who are also interested in digital well being. There has been a recent surge in people starting to restart blogging even though on closed platforms like Medium, but I guess it at least that is searchable outside from search engines, and hope to see more self hosted blogs following Hackernoon’s recent split. Apart from this, people like me who were active social media users who now realize the downright issues with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat and their algorithms, and are no longer interested in being driven by them throughout their day. In this article I talk about my experience with it and how it changed my usage habits.

After surveying all the options, the only fully featured launcher (that was usable) I found was Siempo. An other notable mention was the Minimal Launcher but it did not have a free dark mode or even proper app search, making it unusable apart from phone calls and messages. I did not want to go to the extreme with this experiment so Siempo seemed to be the best option out there for Android. A few notable features of this app based on my experience are mentioned below. But before that, I must mention what I guess mostly the ideas on which the app is based on.

Tristan Harris, a Former Design Ethicist at Google had around 2-3 years ago started a movement called Time Well Spent now called Humane Tech. Nothing better to explain this than his TED Talk on “How a handful of tech companies control billions of minds every day”

A few notable things from the website are copied below for reference

Unfortunately, what’s best for capturing our attention isn’t best for our well-being:

Snapchat turns conversations into streaks, redefining how our children measure friendship.
Instagram glorifies the picture-perfect life, eroding our self worth.
Facebook segregates us into echo chambers, fragmenting our communities.
YouTube autoplays the next video within seconds, even if it eats into our sleep.

http://humanetech.com/problem

Highlights about Siempo

Nothing on the screen when you tap that power button

There is nothing more that forms habits when you tap that power button and click that enticing app which you see that you had yourself originally placed on your home screen for convenience but now are more or less compelled to check since you have formed a habit to click it as soon as you press that physical button and the screen lights up. So this app displays nothing more than a blank screen with an optional text message which it calls an Intention although I kept it as a blank screen as I find motivational quotes a bit gimmicky and silly but might be it useful for you if you feel it helps you stay motivated to use this launcher.

Everything is Monochrome and Apps have no Logos

Colorful app icons entice you to open them. When you swipe right in Siempo you will find your most useful apps utility apps as Icons (and not logos). But wait here is the catch, these are supposed to be set by you and are based on categories. You decide the app but not the categories that can be placed here, so you can have a food app but not “Uber Eats”, “Zomato” or “Swiggy”, similarly for for your travel app, you can select only one and the icon will be a generic cab icon.

The essentials which don’t belong to a category

There will be some apps which you use which don’t belong to a category from the first page, so you again swipe right and find the frequently used apps along with a search bar incase you forgot to add the app below. These are again not based on your usage analytics or recent usage, another tactic used to form habits but by you. But here is the catch with this page, no logos here as well for the pinned apps but no icon either, only the first letter of the app and the full name below it.

The blacklisted ones (social media)

And finally the biggest offenders of the attention economy. These are not even spared with fixed placement, and are randomly shuffled each time you swipe three times after you press your physical power button and unlock your screen making you literally think twice before opening this app.

Apart from this, Siempo allows you to set a custom timer of a set duration after which you use these apps such as 15 minutes, all such apps cease to function and a full page block is shown asking you to reflect for one minute if you wish to continue using this app.

Reflections on this experiment

Three months down with this, I have to admit my overall phone usage drastically declined. I stopped playing PUBG, reduced Netflix/Prime Video, nearly have stopped using Facebook (the last time I checked it was like a month ago), minimized Instagram usage to only view direct messages. Apart from this, I felt more energized throughout the day as I tended to sleep earlier although I woke up late as well, I ended up having more time on my hands as I had more energy. I ended up reading on the Kindle app or watching single small 5-10 youtube curated videos through twitter or reddit instead of a few 30 minute videos suggested by Youtube. It definitely had changed my usage patterns but I will have to caution others about a few reasons mentioned below, and would heavily suggest self moderation instead of changing their launcher.

  1. Absolute pain to use when you actually need your phone – There were times when I needed to use my phone and could not use it properly especially when with friends and family and there were times when I actually needed these apps when the block would impact my productivity.
  2. I started to use YouTube and Twitter – These apps which I had marked as harmful, were now my most used apps even after going through trouble to use them. After the banner comes for 15 minutes of usage, I formed a habit of doing something else for a minute and reusing these two afterwards. My mind had adapted to the pain and eased it for these two. Earlier I used to use these less on my phone, but was using them more on my laptop back then so I guess it was just a move from not using the laptop for these apps.
  3. App choices changed – This might be relevant to those who are price wary especially in the food/travel category. Before Siempo I certainly had a 50-50 split in terms of usage of certain apps as they offer equal number of discounts. For food, I switched between Swiggy and Zomato and Ola/Uber for cabs, it was again a 50-50 split as well. But since I had set Swiggy as my food app, and Ola as my cab app, I began to prefer convenience more for both of these after I switched back as I have now formed a deep association with these and the time I need their services I can only think of these two.

I hope, dear reader, I was able to help you with informing more about the digital well being space and I have motivated you to journey on your own quest and read more about it. Do comment about your experience with Siempo and similar apps along with what your thoughts are, would love to discuss this further.