How going gray can help break your device addiction

Chandler Collins
Jul 22, 2019 · 4 min read

Because our devices are hard to quit and color is a big part of that

It’s no secret. We’re on our devices constantly. The average American spends over 10 hours a day interacting with a device.¹ In other words, assuming you’re near the average, you spend nearly half of your life on a screen. Oof!

And it’s not poised to get any better soon unless you make a conscious effort to resist. As our devices grow easier to use and more visually stunning, they grow more addictive. That AMOLED screen on the latest iPhone acts like a siren — drawing you in with its irresistible call of inky blacks and saturated colors––and pulls you under.

A key reason that these devices are so addictive is color. As Tristan Harris, a former Design Ethicist at Google and Director of the Center for Humane Technology, says, “Looking at even just the colors of your screen activates a banana-like rewards [system] for chimpanzees. If you just turn that off, it makes a big difference.”²

Let’s dive into how to do that.

Activating Grayscale on iOS

Image for post
Image for post
Grayscale shortcut on iOS

Turn on Grayscale:

  • Open your iPhone’s Settings > General > Accessibility
  • Tap Display Accommodations
  • Toggle Color Filters to On
  • Tap to check Grayscale

Next, set up shortcut:

  • Open Settings > General > Accessibility
  • Scroll down to Accessibility Shortcut > select Color Filters

How to use:

Now, just press the home button three times (or the side button on iPhone X and up) to enable or disable grayscale. Triple-tap again to revert to color.

Setting up Grayscale shortcut on MacOS

Image for post
Image for post

This one is a little bit more complicated than on iOS. While you can simply turn on grayscale from System Preferences > Accessibility > Display > Use Grayscale, it’s much quicker (and more fun) to set up a custom keyboard shortcut to enable or disable grayscale with a few strokes.

There are three main components to setting this up:

  • Writing an AppleScript to automatically enable / disable grayscale from System Preferences
  • Creating Automator app to open the AppleScript
  • Keyboard shortcut to run the Automator App and enable grayscale

Step 1: Setting up AppleScript

  • Open app Script Editor
  • File > New
  • Copy / paste code below
  • File > Save new script as “Grayscale”

Step 2: Adding Automator Script

Image for post
Image for post
Setting up Automator

As a limitation in MacOS, you can’t set up a keyboard shortcut directly to our above AppleScript. To get around this limitation, we can use an Automator script which will open our AppleScript, and then set a keyboard directly to this Automator file. Take that, Apple!

  • Open “Automator”
  • File > New
  • Choose “Quick Action” type
  • Change “Workflow Receives” dropdown to “No Input”
  • Add “Launch Application” action by searching in lefthand column and dragging onto workspace
  • Search for the “Grayscale.app” file that we created in Step 1
  • File > Save and name file “Grayscale Shortcut”

Step 3 (Final Step): Setting Up Keyboard Shortcut

  • Open app System Preferences
  • Click Keyboard
  • Select Shortcuts > Services
  • Scroll to the bottom to find General > Grayscale Shortcut
  • Click (none) on the right side to set your keyboard shortcut (I use ⌘⌥G)
  • Done!

Conclusion — It’s all up to you now

And voila! Returning to the Odysseus metaphor from earlier, now you have the wax to keep you safe from our (digital) sirens. Technology and personal devices are inherently amoral. Yet, when we begin to use our personal devices as crutches and replacements for genuine human connection, then they become negative forces.

If you take Annie Dillard at her word when she writes “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” then millions of Americans are pouring half of their lives into screens rather than the world outside of them. Hopefully “going gray” is just the first step to living a life of intention and connection rather than addiction. Good luck!


Chandler Collins is a student and creator at the University of Virginia exploring the intersection of media, technology, ethics, and public policy. You can find more of his work at http://chandlercollins.com.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store