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App Aims To Curb Cellphone Addiction

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- It's no secret that most of us spend a lot of time glued to our smartphones. Now a new app, Onward, is aiming to curb that addiction. Here's how it works.

Onward monitors how much time users spend on their phone. Each Onward user is assigned an artificial intelligence BOT coach. The BOT gives breakdowns on screen time.

And check-ins with the BOT are designed to help users stay on track with the app.

There is also an option to set blocks on 'problem apps or sites', like social media accounts, on-line shopping, even gambling and pornography sites.

The blocks can limit screen time to 15 minutes a day, or deny a user access to such sites when they are at work.

Onward developer Gabe Zichermann says data monitoring, with the help of a BOT coach, works as an effective behavioral modification tool. And many of us might need the help since Onward's research shows we pick up our phones over 100 times a day.

"And what is crazy about that is as few as ten years ago we didn't have this device at all, explained Zichermann. "So this is an entirely new habit that has been created since the introduction of the smart phone. The habit if pulling your phone out of your pocket."

But Social Media Psychologist Dr. Pamela Rutledge cautions an app, like any other tool is only as good as how you use it. She stressed that self-monitoring might be a good first step before a user downloads any app.

"Compliance is any kind of behavior change is really the key because you know it is like new year's resolutions, explained Rutledge. "If we don't follow through it doesn't matter how good our intentions are."

Taylor Schaub tried Onward for one week.

The 18-year-old said he didn't feel like the app improved his phone use but data provided by Onward told a different story. Over the nine days Schaub used the app, his screen time was reduced by about an hour per day.

One day he even went below two hours on the phone. But he did binge on two days, spending nearly ten hours on his phone. Still, if Schaub had used the app for a month, he would have saved about 40 hours of screen time. That's the equivalent of an entire work week.

"It is not possible for somebody to resist that idea on your own, easily. And what you need I think is what we all need is an algorithm in our corner that is designed to help us combat those algorithms that are attempting to get our attention, said Zichermann.

Onward has a $15 dollar monthly subscription fee. Zichermann says the company has no plans to sell or share any users' personal information right now.

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