Roots introduces a screen time app for tracking ‘digital dopamine’


Image Credits: Roots

As the U.S. Surgeon General is calling for a warning label on social media sites, similar to those found on tobacco products, one startup is launching a set of new tools that put the power to fight app addiction into users’ own hands. Designed for iOS, Roots offers an improvement over traditional screen-time apps by measuring not just time spent on devices, but the quality of that time spent on different apps with its “digital dopamine” tracker. Other features let users lock themselves out of the most addictive apps and add reminders to obsessively stop scrolling through algorithmic social feeds, among other things.

Co-founded by entrepreneur Clint Jarvis, the idea for Roots came from his own experiences reaching a point of burnout in the startup world.

Initially, he tried to create a more balanced routine for himself by making time for things like meditation and getting outside, which later led him to begin work on a nature-based mindfulness app. However, while participating in the entrepreneur-in-residence program at Wildwood Ventures, the focus for the app shifted to address the more immediate problem of the unhealthy way people interact with their devices.

“If you just think about the mission of the product, it’s to help people find better balance with technology,” Jarvis said. “We live in a very digital world … our phones are incredible tools. But they’re also very addicting,” he says. “We need to think of the phone as more of a relationship. … How do we set boundaries?”

Roots is designed to help people get a better handle on what sort of apps are worth spending time on and which are not.

Image Credits: Roots

“Ten minutes on your Kindle is not the same as 10 minutes on Twitter [now called X],” Jarvis noted. “Digital dopamine gives you a way to actually quantify the impact of what you’re doing on your phone.”

This “digital dopamine” is a reference to the brain chemical also known as the “feel-good” hormone that can be triggered through the use of social media and other addicting apps.

With Roots, you can set better intentions, like how much time you want to spend scrolling, and when you want that behavior blocked. The built-in digital dopamine tracker measures the quality of your screen time across different apps and turns those into actionable insights that help you make decisions about your use of technology.

The app features a handful of tools to break the cycle of scrolling, including standard things like downtime scheduling and app limits by specific apps or categories. The app integrates with Apple’s Screen Time API to help configure some of these settings.

However, it also goes a step further with things like a “Monk Mode” feature that lets you get serious about stopping your scroll by offering the ability to set limits and blocks that even you can’t override. You can’t even log out of Roots, change your phone’s date and time, or use other workarounds to bypass this particular feature. In beta testing, users liked this mode as it finally allowed them to set a hard limit on their more addictive apps.

Image Credits: Roots

Roots also offers a “balance score” that quantifies phone use in a personalized manner, to help you see where and how you can improve. Over time, Roots may add some sort of leaderboard that lets people see how they compare with others, too.

Another feature can pop up as a reminder to stop scrolling, which you can customize with personalized suggestions for other activities, like reading a book, spending time with family, going for a walk and more.

The freemium app monetizes through in-app subscriptions of $9.99 per month or $59.99 per year. The paid plans offer more advanced features like the Monk Mode and the digital dopamine report, among other things.

Image Credits: Roots

As you use Roots, you can build streaks as you stay under your screen time limits, which lets you earn rewards, like cheat days. Premium subscribers who practice good habits will also be gifted a physical scroll stopper, which introduces a “speed bump” you can place over your phone — similar to something like a Livestrong bracelet or rubber band. The scroll stopper makes you rethink scrolling apps when you pick up your phone.

Image Credits: Roots

In beta tests, Roots helped the average user reduce their screen time by 2 hours per day, Jarvis said.

Though Roots began as a solo project by Jarvis, now CEO, the app today is co-founded by others including Head of Design Pontus Wellgraf, who previously worked on design projects for MasterClass, Netflix, Microsoft, Huawei, Samsung and Ford; Head of User Experience Vikram Chauhan, who also founded Quiet Parks International, a nonprofit focused on reducing noise pollution and saving quiet spaces in nature; and Head of Development Marcin Czech.

The startup is backed by $550,000 in pre-seed funding from Wildwood Ventures and other Atlanta-area angel investors.

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