App MyOlaf


The internet, with the smartphone as the most important mobile device, is and remains a useful and powerful tool that can also be used to combat online addiction. Technophobia and cultural pessimism are out of place when it comes to the issue of ‘the internet and terminal devices’, because these attitudes do not contribute to solving the problem of online addiction in broad sections of society. We should think about how we can successfully use these technologies with the conscious aim of changing our behaviour and achieving the goals we have set.

Smartphones can prove to be useful tools to initiate behavioural changes, e.g. via apps like Yazio (weight gain & loss, healthy eating), Calm (sleep and meditation) and Runtastic (running, cycling, walking). The smartphone is a powerful and practical tool because we always carry it with us. Data such as location, steps, pulse etc. can be automatically transferred to apps or entered manually by the user. Status and evaluations can be called up quickly and easily at any time. In addition, modern apps synchronise between smartphone and tablet so that the user can comfortably make entries or view evaluations across different terminal devices.

The software used so far on computers and mobile devices to control online behaviour has been based predominantly on the principles of reduction and prohibition. If one mentally transfers the prohibition principle of software such as Salfeld Parental Control, JusProg, iOS Screen Time and Google Family Link to goals such as achieving one’s desired weight or healthy eating, one recognises their deficiencies.

If we tell ourselves or our child, ‘Alcohol, chocolate and fast food have a lot of calories and are unhealthy, so from now on their consumption will be carefully recorded, limited or, in case of doubt, banned altogether,’ we will most likely not reach our goal. Rather, this approach creates room for frustration and resignation. In order to achieve the desired weight and a healthy diet, the principle of positive reinforcement is needed. This can be achieved by setting realistic calorie targets on a daily or weekly basis. In addition to a balanced diet, sufficient indulgence in favourite foods and sweets is allowed in order to sustain the behavioural change. In addition, regular exercise is required, as this promotes health and wellbeing. Sport also provides additional calorie consumption, which balances out the pleasure of indulging in favourite foods.

After this digression on desired weight and healthy eating, let us return to the topic of online activities. The analogy shows what it takes to bring about a positive change in behaviour. Two principles are crucial here. One is to replace prohibitions with positive reinforcement. Secondly, it is necessary to record all online and offline activities, because every hour of online time replaces an hour of offline time.

The answer to the question of whether two hours of extra online time is good or bad depends on what a person spends their lifetime on overall. For example, do they socialise a lot? Do they invest time in favourite hobbies and only look at their smartphone at certain times? Can they concentrate well and are they getting enough sleep? Or do they communicate mainly online anyway and hardly ever meet other people? Do they always stay in the same user groups with mutual reinforcement? Do they continuously give in to the reflex to look at their smartphone? Do they have a low attention span and suffer from sleep problems?

To determine the starting position, the user first enters his or her online and offline activities and completes a test to determine online behaviour and cognitive abilities. In addition, the user is asked about his or her personal priorities in online and offline activities as well as the type and duration of these activities. The user then defines a target state to work towards, with positive experiences and reinforcements along the way.

These positive experiences and reinforcements can include, for example, the following experiences:

  1. After initial difficulties, more and more people manage not to pick up the smartphone but to leave it in another room.
  2. It is refreshing, when one has not done it for a long time, to read a newspaper or magazine for an hour without distraction and still be able to remember the content days later.
  3. Doing something with real friends, meeting them or talking to them on the phone contributes significantly more to the joy of life than communicating with virtual friends via social networks and exchanging ‘likes’.
  4. Finding your concentration, performance and wellbeing improve when you don’t look at your office e-mail inbox or smartphone five to ten times an hour (whether consciously or acting on a reflex) is a wonderful experience.
  5. Meetings in the office are suddenly experienced as more productive and atmospherically better when all participants leave their smartphones switched off.
  6. Children change their online behaviour more easily and sustainably when parents set them a good example.
  7. Parents find that children voluntarily reduce their online time when offline time is taken up by playing together, going out or having good conversations.
  8. The family finds that there is more time together for activities at the weekend – and that good conversations without smartphones, e.g. during meals, increase the quality of life for parents and children.
  9. Additional hobbies, instead of additional online time spent being showered with stimuli, enrich one’s life and improve one’s mood.

An app that focuses on positive reinforcement and records all online and offline activities could make an important contribution to overcoming online addiction. Ideally, it would be usable in both private and professional life. In what follows, some essential cornerstones are presented on which an app should be based in order to be able to fulfil the requirements described above.

(1) Name and positioning

The name of the app should not contain any words that have negative connotations or that are reminiscent of control or prohibitions (control, monitor, agent, check etc.). Ideally, it should be a catchy name or an acronym. For the moment, let us say the working title for this app is ‘MyOlaf’; its symbol could be a stylised brain. ‘MyOlaf’ stands for ‘My online activity fellow’. The app is aimed at young people, adults, parents and professionals. Depending on the user profile, certain functions can be activated and deactivated. The app should appear on the home screen of the smartphone, to attract the necessary attention of the user.

Fig. 2: ‘MyOlaf’ – home screen, name, icon, evaluations (illustrative example)

(2) Determination of the starting position

(A) The app records all online and offline activities, including sleep, based on predefined categories. The screen usage data (duration, apps, messages, activations) are collected for the smartphone and ideally across devices. If possible, this data is taken directly from the smartphone’s operating system or entered manually over a period of one week.

(B) At the beginning, the user takes online tests in the app that measure his or her cognitive abilities and online addiction behaviour (see e.g. the CIUS test, Compulsive Internet Use Scale). In both cases, the tests are based on a point scale in order to be able to show successes quantitatively in the further course of the treatment.

(C) Based on the question ‘What is important to me?’, the user is asked to allocate 100 points to given online and offline activities. In contrast to a classic scale (from 1 to 5, ‘important’ / ‘unimportant’), the user is forced to make a clear prioritisation in distributing points independently.

(D) The user is asked according to various criteria how satisfied he or she feels and how he or she assesses his or her quality of life. In addition, they answer the question of whether and to what extent they see a need for personal action with regard to their online-offline mix.

(E) At the end of the survey, users receive different types of information. On the one hand, they find out where they currently stand in relation to online addiction, what their current online-offline mix looks like, what their current quality of life is like (with a colour classification, green / yellow / red) and how they are positioned in their relevant peer group (top 25%, top 50% etc.). Secondly, they see whether their current online-offline mix is in line with the priorities they defined themselves under point (C). Emerging discrepancies could be: if meeting friends is so important to me, why do I see them so rarely and prefer to spend my time alone on social networks? If I don’t want to be distracted by the smartphone, why do I read 150 messages a day and activate the smartphone 100 times daily?

(3) Definition of the user’s goals

(A) The user determines the duration of online time and divides it according to predefined categories (games, social networks, music, photos, films, communication, information etc.). The user also defines the number of times the smartphone can be activated. In addition, he stores certain hygiene principles, e.g.: I only activate the smartphone when I come out of the bathroom in the morning. (Or alternatively: only at school or at work).

(B) The user determines the duration of the offline time. He or she specifies concrete goals on the basis of predefined categories. These could be, for example, meetings with friends, telephone calls with friends, hobbies, sport, activities with the family, visiting interesting places, reading (magazines, non-fiction, literature), important or interesting topics that the user would like to study more intensively (e.g. climate change, artificial intelligence, van Gogh, Joanne K. Rowling, South America etc.).

(4) Measurement of target achievement

(A) Users can view their current status on a daily basis. A colour scale (green / yellow / red) shows the status of the online goals, the offline goals and the overall status.

(B) At regular intervals of four to six weeks, the tests on online addictive behaviour and cognitive skills will be repeated. In addition, the user again answers the question ‘What is important to me?’ and distributes 100 points to given online / offline activities. The questions on quality of life and personal pressure to act are also asked once again. Afterwards, the measured changes in each case will be displayed.

(C) To ensure the provision of the necessary information on a daily basis, the user receives appropriate notifications (e.g. ‘Have you completed your activities yet?’). In addition, the app supports him or her with recommendations (e.g. ‘Time for an online break?’) and motivational messages (e.g. ‘Congratulations – another green day!’ ‘Keep it up!’). Furthermore, warnings can also be activated (colour code yellow or red), e.g. if the user exceeds the specified online times.

(5) Offline offers and online tips

(A) The app shows the user a list of hobbies that they can pursue alone or together with friends (e.g. table tennis, dancing, cycling, judo, mini-golf, chess).

(B) The user receives suggestions for specific activities in his or her geographical surroundings (e.g. excursions, hikes, cycle paths, high ropes course, go-kart track).

(C) The app provides updated lists of books and magazines that might be of interest to the user. These suggestions also help users find new offline reading material – especially if they have set themselves the goal of getting back to reading more.

(D) The app gives users concrete tips on how to reduce their online time and avoid smartphone distractions. These tips are adapted to the age and personal life situation (young people, adults, parents, professionals). They include hygiene measures (e.g. putting the smartphone out of reach during work phases, minimising acoustic and visual notifications on the smartphone, setting up fixed times for processing messages and e-mails) as well as suggestions for so-called ‘interval fasting’ (e.g. only using the smartphone after 1 pm) and for consciously setting time-outs in which one is not reachable.

(6) Coaching

(A) The user has the option of creating an online-offline daily schedule on a daily and weekly basis, which he or she can tick off in each case. At the same time, an automatic comparison with the overall status under point (4) is provided.

(B) The app suggests methods and training courses that help to improve cognitive abilities and social skills. These are offered in part within the framework of the app while including a reference to partners.

(7) Partners and points of contact

(A) The partner section contains selected references to websites or apps of collaborating partners that can make a positive contribution regarding online addiction and the online-offline mix. Possible topics are e.g. healthy nutrition, fitness and sports, sleep and meditation, media competence or certain books and magazines.

(B) In addition, various contact points for physical and mental abnormalities are mentioned. The affected person and his or her environment can thus familiarise themselves at an early stage with the possibilities of professional help, including diagnostics and therapy.

(8) App versions for different users

(A) ‘MyOlaf’ as a basic version is aimed at a single individual (young person or adult).

(B) ‘MyOlaf Family’ is aimed at families for joint use. Parents can formulate the children’s goals together with them and monitor progress; at the same time they can also set personal goals for themselves. In this way, the whole family can follow their developmental steps. The adults can serve as role models for the children by also deliberately reducing certain online activities in favour of offline activities, which greatly enhances credibility in the eyes of the children.

(C) ‘MyOlaf Business’ is aimed at employers and employees. Employers can offer the voluntary installation of this app on company smartphones. This gives employees the simple opportunity to monitor, question and control their online and offline behaviour in the business environment (e.g. duration and frequency of reading e-mails and professional chats, number of messages and calls on the business smartphone, setting up free spaces without interference for concentrated work etc.). Discussions about behavioural changes in the team and in relation to superiors are given a fact-based foundation with the possibility of anonymous benchmarks within and outside the company.