Apple told me I'm boring and unproductive and it hurts

Apple has an interesting way of categorizing your phone behavior. Does it make any sense?
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

That looks entertaining. I wonder what that feels like.

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple and I have one thing in common. We both think I should be using my iPhone less.

For years, this was something I worried about more than Apple did.

Now, though, I've started getting these naggy Sunday notifications -- as if it's the weekly Sermon from Mount Cupertino -- about how many hours a day I've been using my iPhone XR.

Naturally, I rejoice whenever I've managed to reduce my use by even a few minutes a day.

Too often, I don iSackcloth and pour iAshes over my head when I've succumbed to the lure of the phone even more than usual.

Having been brought up a Catholic -- even though now happily lapsed -- guilt is my squatter.

These numbers gnaw at me like the unjust accusations of ex-lovers.

I thought, then, I'd try to discover where my greatest failures lie. Just what am I doing so regularly with my iPhone that the numbers so often rise?

I'm Dull. Very Dull.

I poked around and found the Screen Time feature. It held some answers. Or, at least, some data analyst's answers.

It transpires Apple thinks I mainly use my iPhone for three things: social networking, reading-and-reference and productivity.

This, at least, is how Apple segments my phone behavior.

It's interesting how data analysis categorizes humans.

Because it's all about putting numbers in a box, it has to put humans in a box.

You're either doing this. Or that. Or that. There are no more that's. Or, if there are, you have to work hard to find them.

Can I not be reading and being productive? How about social networking and being productive? Alright, that's a stretch, but it's possible.

Sometimes I talk business via Twitter DM's. Sometimes, I block people and that's very productive for my sanity.

When I look at my numbers -- the ones Apple has decreed -- I wonder how accurate they are.

So far today, for example, the Screen Time feature claims I've spent 47 minutes social networking, a mere 12 minutes reading and referencing and a piffling 7 minutes on productivity.

Which leaves me confused.

What can I possibly have done to be productive in those seven minutes? Which seven minutes were they?

I looked at the pretty colorful graphs. As far as Apple is concerned, my productive time occurs first thing in the morning.  When I'm still in bed.

Indeed, it seems that the minute I pick up the phone, I'm being productive. Yet all I'm doing is checking emails.

Perhaps it's the fact that I delete most of them that makes this activity productive. Yet I check emails and delete them all day and Screen Time believes I've been minimally productive at best.

I'm Dull All The Time.

I tried to examine my stats for the last seven days. These aren't laid out by the hour. The verdict, though, was still quite damning.

I allegedly spent 5 hours and 35 minutes social networking, 4 hours and 51 minutes reading and referencing and a painful 1 hour and 12 minutes being productive.

I've tried to decipher this. What Apple refers to as social networking is Twitter. I confess to enjoying scrolling down my Twitter feed to see what (random people think) is occurring in the world.

I refuse to let Twitter feed me what it considers the most important tweets. Instead, I get mesmerized by the random detritus that wafts on by, written mostly by people of whom I know nothing.

Can it be that I do this for more than five hours a week? I certainly partake of no other social networking, as far as I know.

To me, Twitter is just entertainment, with a little reading and reference thrown in.

Entertainment is a category that I know Screen Time offers. Indeed, I poked around a little more and discovered how Apple sees it.

Well, if you're buying concert tickets, that counts as entertainment. Rather than a complete pain trying to get Ticketmaster to work.

Even more bizarre is that Apple considers looking up scores on my CBS Sports app as entertainment, rather than reading and reference. Whereas, it seems, pouring through articles about the Golden State Warriors is most certainly reading and reference.

I contacted Apple to ask how it defines its various categories -- especially productivity. The company didn't offer comment.

I understand, though, that Screen Time uses App Store categories as much as it can. If the App Store thinks Twitter is mere social networking, so does Screen Time.

Which might make some wonder why Apple can't decide what Uber and Amazon are. They're lumped on Screen Time under "Other."

What I learned on my own is that Cupertino considers all email use as productivity.

What, even when I'm reading emails from my good friend Edith about the death of civilized culture? It seems so.

Ultimately, this data presentation ends up daubing a picture that you may or may not recognize.

I am apparently a painfully bookwormish dullard who's only occasionally productive.

Worse, I get a mere 29 minutes of entertainment a week out of my iPhone.

If ever there was a reason to reduce my usage, then, it's that.

iOS 13: Things Apple still needs to fix

Editorial standards