One of the new software features OnePlus announced at its recent launch event for the OnePlus 7 Pro is something called Zen Mode. Activating Zen Mode puts your phone on a kind of lockdown: you won’t see or hear any notifications, you can’t access your apps, and you can’t send messages.
The only two things Zen Mode does allow you to do is to make and receive phone calls and snap photos. Once activated, Zen Mode lasts for 20 minutes.
If after activating Zen Mode you realize you need to do something on your phone such as send a text, you are out of luck. Even if you restart your device it will stay in Zen Mode until the full 20 minutes have elapsed.
Reportedly, OnePlus created Zen Mode in response to members of the OnePlus community who were impressed with Google’s Digital Wellbeing initiative and wanted OnePlus to add something to that movement. Zen Mode, apparently, is what the company has to offer to help wean us off our constant smartphone use.
However, I am left wondering who exactly will use Zen Mode. To me, it seems like a nuclear option. It becomes even more confusing when you consider that OnePlus already offers a much more elegant solution to “notification fatigue,” as it were.
Why Zen Mode seems crazy
The first thing I thought when I heard about Zen Mode was, “Why not just use the alert slider?” On every OnePlus smartphone since the OnePlus 2, there has been a physical alert slider that allows you to quickly put the phone into a quiet mode. On recent OnePlus devices, you can configure the alert slider to activate Android’s Do Not Disturb mode, which silences all notifications until deactivated.
If you feel like you need to focus and want your phone to stop pestering you, the alert slider is a simple and elegant solution that already exists on OnePlus phones.
Zen Mode seems to be akin to bringing a bazooka to a knife fight.
Granted, Do Not Disturb and the alert slider won’t stop you from picking up your phone and opening up Reddit. However, for that issue, there are already a few apps that will assist with preventing you from opening things like Reddit and Facebook, including, of course, Google’s own Digital Wellbeing (which, unfortunately, is not fully available on OnePlus phones).
By using the alert slider and a time-management app in tandem, you get all the benefits of Zen Mode without the need for a total lockdown. Zen Mode seems to be akin to bringing a bazooka to a knife fight in comparison.
Why Zen Mode might be popular
A few hours after I found out about Zen Mode, I had more time to process it. I realized that there are specific situations where maybe something like Zen Mode might be a better option than using the alert slider and/or a time management application.
The first and most obvious reason is “quality time” scenarios, such as family dinner. I can easily see the appeal of everyone in the family putting their phone into Zen Mode as they sit down to eat together. Doing so would prevent the kids (and, let’s face it, the parents) from spending time on their phone rather than focused and attentive to the familial conversation.
Of course, turning your phones off or simply putting them in DnD mode and leaving them in a pile in the living room works just as well for this.
There are situations where Zen Mode could be useful, but in each one there is an alternative, less-extreme solution.
Another possible reason Zen Mode might be useful is to help you go to sleep. When you put your phone down on the nightstand, you probably don’t want to turn it off, as you’re likely using it as an alarm. Setting it into Do Not Disturb mode will prevent you from being pestered by notifications, but the temptation to pick up the phone and spend “just a few more minutes” on Instagram might be too tempting. By switching on Zen Mode, you force yourself to ignore your phone and actually fall asleep.
Once again, though, there is another solution for this scenario: having the willpower to ignore your phone and go to sleep.
I hope Zen Mode is not a sign of the future
I suppose my main issue with Zen Mode is that it assumes there are people who are so addicted to their smartphones that they need the equivalent of someone taking it out of their hands to stop using it. While I’m sure there are people like that out there, it’s a depressing thought that there are enough of them that OnePlus thinks we need Zen Mode.
When I first used Google’s Digital Wellbeing, it woke me up to just how much I use my phone. It was eye-opening, sure, but at no point have I ever felt the desire to put down my phone and then find myself not being able to do so. That, for me, is the problem Zen Mode is trying to solve.
Are we that far gone? Is Zen Mode not just a fancy new smartphone feature, but an eventual necessity for our lives? I certainly hope not.