Hey HN, we're Royce and Oliver, the founders of Clearspace (https://www.getclearspace.com). We make an iPhone app that helps you reduce compulsive phone use. It regulates your social media experiences and app usage, saving you from impulse opens and mindless scrolls. Here’s a demo: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zXLYvtG1zZ6ZRq01eGc8jlsn70v…

During the pandemic, we found ourselves spending more and more of our lives on digital content. Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, even HN were always right there, and the impulse to open and consume became stronger than ever. We realized how much of our technology use was compulsive rather than intentional. Willpower alone was not enough to solve the problem. Most of these products have been designed to activate dopamine feedback loops and, to be blunt, keep users hooked [1].

Not wanting to be addicted, we started cobbling together “attention protection stacks”: iPhone shortcuts, Chrome Extensions, custom /etc/ files, anything to create digital environments that aligned with our own goals rather than the engagement metrics of big tech. We had some surprising successes with that, so we decided to build a comprehensive and approachable solution. We began with our worst pain point: mindless scrolling on our phones.

How it works: you tell us what apps you want to reduce your usage of (edit: and websites! we just rolled out website support this week), and we do the following to train better habits:

(1) App Intercepts: we inject a mandatory 15 second breathing exercise before opening apps you’ve added to Clearspace. This helps to break the dopamine feedback loop that your brain has learned, where tapping an app icon yields an instant reward.

(2) Intentional Sessions: at the end of said breathing exercise, you tell us how long you want to use an app for. Then you enter and we'll pull you out after that amount of time.

(3) Cumulative Progress: each day you stay below your intended time limit adds to your streak of successes. Over time, protecting your streak frequently becomes more important than a “quick scroll” before bed (and if you get a 100 day under-budget streak, we'll send you a hat).

(4) Teammates: you can add “teammates” who will receive automatic texts if you exceed your budget on an app, remove it from Clearspace, or delete Clearspace entirely.

You may notice how this is fighting fire with fire: we use tech to limit your tech use, social features to curtail social media, and so on. The mechanisms built into the big apps have such a conditioning effect on the brain, they’re nearly impossible for most people to resist. We invoke similarly powerful mechanisms on your behalf, to help your life be less dominated by these things.

Some of this only recently became technically possible. The new ScreenTime API from Apple allows users to connect apps on their phone to third party apps (like us). We receive opaque “tokens” for each user app selection and we can perform actions on the tokens, which affects the apps without us knowing what the actual apps are. We can add and remove “shields” to a token, which presents an obstructing interface over an app or website. We can display a user's usage of a token over a time period and display that data to them.

Btw, after 3M “app intercepts” (a 15 second wait), we’ve found that people opt not to continue to the app they tried to open 54% of the time. We think that says something about how much of our social media use as a society is compulsive rather than intentional.

Here are some typical testimonials from users who have been recovering their time by using our app: https://twitter.com/martindaniel4/status/1630175865496584193, https://twitter.com/timzyu/status/1632551744340123650, https://twitter.com/jandralee/status/1650674167174377473

If you're an iPhone user, we'd love for you to try our app and let us know what you think! We have a freemium model: adding one app is free, paid tier gives you unlimited apps. Your feedback on the app would be deeply appreciated and more broadly we’d love to hear about how you’ve navigated this problem in your life.

[1] though maybe not HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=77173, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=372593.