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Track Your Phone Usage to Diagnose Depression

Android users can now track their "digital diet" and send it to some University in Germany (...for a good cause).

Indulging a little too much on your smartphone? For Android users, there's an app for that. It's called Menthal.

Developed by computer scientists and psychologists at the University of Bonn in Germany, the app is part of a research project on cell phone use. While most studies rely on user responses and personal assessments, this app can tell researchers how much time you actually spend on your phone. You can't lie. "If you would like to go on a digital diet, we will provide you with the scales," said Alexander Markowetz, junior professor of computer science at the University of Bonn. "This app can show us in detail what someone's average cell phone consumption per day looks like."

The app has already been put to good use. Researchers at the university have examined the behavior of 50 students who use smartphones. A quarter of the students used their phones for more than two hours per day, activating their phones more than eighty times per day. That's a glance at the smartphone every 12 minutes, on average.

Part of the idea behind the app is to detect and diagnose tech-related depression. (Wait, what?) "One could imagine using cell phone data in order to measure the severity and the progress of depression," said Christian Montag, of the University of Bonn. "We are in the process of conducting another study about this."

"We suspect that during a depressive phase, cell phone use will change in a measurable way," explained Thomas Schläpfer, a psychiatrist from the Bonn Universitäts¬klinikum. "Patients will then make fewer phone calls and venture outside less frequently–a change in behavior that smartphones can also record thanks to their built-in GPS."

Cell phone use as a diagnostic tool for depression might seem a little... out there, but as anyone who's seen Spike Jonze's Her will recall, heavy reliance on technology can indeed lead to a sort of social withdrawal. Studies have shown that technology use can be a reliable indicator of depression, but we'll have to see the results of the wider German study to make a claim for smartphone use.

Want to participate? Or at least track your "digital diet?" Download Menthal here or at the Google Store.

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