7 Best Apps For Managing Smart Phone Addiction

By Amanda Davidson

For the phone-addled, these apps mitigate device dependence — and despair. From physical dissuasion and mind control to harm reduction strategies, new platforms expand treatment options in a field dominated by APPstinance-only approaches like the 12 stApps and rAPPture.


Troubled by the problematic discourse around technology “addiction”? This is the app for you! SimulAPPcra deconstructs your phone — literally — into a pile of shards.


This app lovingly scolds you while telling stories of what things were like when it was a kid, e.g., “We used to seek oblivion in people and substances.”


This motion-sensitive app scans your body continuously to detect common pre-phone touching movements, including the back-pocket reach, the self pat-down, and scrounging in your bag. It works by crushing your short-term memory at that crucial micro-moment between reaching for the phone and actually touching it, preventing users from slipping into what C. Kaufman, credited as the platform’s dramaturg, calls “phone-induced brown outs”:

“We saw this gap between intention and actual use. Like when you suddenly come to in the middle of scrolling through a feed and go, wait, why did I even pick up my phone? You’re haunted by a sense of purpose, but it hovers just outside of reach. Was I going to call somebody or — we hear this one all the time — check my to-do list? We thought, what if we could induce these kinds of cognitive blank spots — lacunae, if you will — before the device is touched?”

By setting a timer for the app to start and stop, users move through space and time unmolested by the urge the urge to check email, snap a photo, or send a text — or at least that’s how you remember it.


whApp brings discipline into the world of apps by commanding your device to spank you on the hands, face, or bottom — but only with consent. Before downloading onto your home screen, whApp kindly but firmly asks you to meet up in a neutral, public space, such as a coffee shop or barn, to negotiate preferences, boundaries, and safe words.

It sounds good — but how well does it work? “We found the threshold for bodily pain was much higher than the ability to endure prolonged — or even moderate — phone separation,” says developer M. Daddy.

pApp smear

This app “smears” your home screen’s icons when you attempt to open them, producing whorls, folds, and gaping slits as you swipe and tap. The aim here isn’t to get you off the phone entirely, but to engender a different mode of engagement, at once creative, tender, and informative, according to Monika Publowski, pApp’s Chief Financial Officer.

While Publowski shares concerns with hands-off appTivists, she rejects the idea — even the possibility — of technology-free zones: “Haven’t we learned by now that aPPstinence models don’t work? We see people walking around the city black and blue after their 30-day trial periods on apps like whApp.” The fact remains, Publowski argues, that many users continue touching and tapping at their screens, even after they themselves have set up barriers to access.

Instead of prohibiting phone use, pAppSmear’s harm reduction model transforms frantic or mindless tapping into a creative act. Display modes range from Georgia O’Keefe and The Dinner Party to Our Bodies Ourselves and My Gender Workbook. As a trans-inclusive site, the latter was important to Publowski. 50% of proceeds go to Planned Parenthood.

Noli Me Tangere

Part of the emergent “Internet of things,” the cost of this app — 99 cents — includes a linen shroud and home installation of a tomb. The app collects data passively using a bio-psychic wristlet, so that as soon as a user betrays her better intentions to cut back on phone use, linen enshrouds the PDA, which is then borne into the the tomb by unseen hands, as a boulder rolls across the tomb’s opening for three days. If the boulder is prematurely rolled away, the app shrieks “touch me not” while blood oozes from a wound in the phone’s side.


At even the slightest swipe of your thumb — or thoughts — across the screen, you are encompassed in what some describe as a generalized shimmer, neither corporeal nor abstract, while others recount a profound expansion of space-time. Former employees, often found playing the tambourine in Union Square, have described their work on the project as “touching the hem of a garment whose seams are stitched with time itself.”

Once the app launches, you feel seen — truly regarded — for the first time in ages, which incites a powerful urge to click, upload, and group text without end. You try reaching for your phone, only to find you can’t — the app works by dissolving the boundaries between self and not-self, resulting in wonder, terror, and temporary paralysis. After a while, the brightness diminishes, or the aperture in space-time closes by a notch. You wait for the crushing loneliness, but instead there’s just this emptiness. Your phone sits on the counter and you leave it where it is, as you look around, bewildered, at your once-familiar apartment.


Lead image: flickr/Phil Campbell

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