Impulse Control

Americans turn to technology to stay in line


The Slow Down app alters the tempo of your music, depending on your driving speed. (AP Photo)

Published: Monday, January 3, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, December 30, 2010 at 5:46 p.m.

Dan Nainan can’t trust himself to work at his comput­er without clicking on distractions, so he uses an Internet-blocking program to shut down his Web access twice a day.

“I’m sorry, but try as I might, I could never, ever do this on my own,” said the New York City comedian who’s strug­gling to finish a book. “I wish I could, but I just don’t have the discipline.”

Nainan’s system of two, two-hour blocks is one example of how Americans are trying to control their impulses using technology that steps in to enforce good behavior.

Many tools are now avail­able to help people stay in line, including a GPS-enabled app that locks down texting once a car gets rolling and a program that cuts off credit-card spending. Another device monitors your workout and offers real-time voice feedback.

Have we entered an era in which electronics serve as mother, cop and coach because we can’t manage our own desires?

Yep, said Ann Mack, a trend-watcher for JWT Intelligence, an arm of the marketing giant.

“The thing is we’re becom­ing more aware of these behaviors, and as a result, we’re trying to seek help to circumvent some of our more base impulses,” Mack said.

Tools to cope with tempta­tion are everywhere.

Some car owners are voluntarily using a technol­ogy developed for convicted drunk drivers — ignition locks attached to in-car breathalyzers.

Shelley Snyder, marketing coordinator for Intoxalock, said about 1.5 percent of the company’s clients are voluntary, which includes parents imposing the setup on their young drivers.

One of Intoxalock’s competi­tors, Guardian Interlock Systems, said its figures are slightly higher: 5 to 7 percent of clients are drivers volun­tarily installing the equip­ment, with about 2 percent intended for use by teens.

If your drunken behavior tends to cause more remorse off the road than on, there’s an app for that as well.

A handful — includ­ing “Don’t Dial!” and “The Bad Decision Blocker” — will cut off your access to phone numbers for up to 24 hours, the former allowing you to name a friend as gatekeeper. Another app requires the answers to math questions before allowing you to send an e-mail, the pre­sumption being it’s really hard to do math while somehow impaired.

George Distler in Orlando, developed the BlackBerry app NOTXT n’ Drive after a teacher at his daughter’s high school was killed when a texting motorist — an older one — crossed a median and struck her car.

Distler, who had previously developed games for the iPhone, based the app on the notion that the safest way to deal with your phone while driving is to remove temptation altogether. His NOTXT runs in the back­ground and, using GPS, automatically restricts texting when a car reaches 10 mph. It deactivates when it detects the car has stopped.

Among those down­loading the app were three companies with a combined fleet of more than 1,200 trucks. Distler estimates about 48 percent of his sales are parents hoping to curtail the texting habits of young drivers.

Another app, Slow Down, alters the tempo of your music, depend­ing on your driving speed, on an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Using GPS, the music slows if a preset speed limit is exceeded and stops completely if you’re over the limit by more than 10 mph. You can have your tunes back when you slow down.

What about other areas, like overspend­ing?

Enter MasterCard’s inControl program, which has one compa­ny partner in the United States, Citi­group. You can set a general cap and the bank cuts you off when you’ve reached your spending limit, or you can preset a monthly amount for specific purchases such as restaurant meals. Like other bank cards, you can also order up spending alerts.

Overthinking, overdrinking, over­spending. What’s left?

Are you lonely on your runs? Adidas has extended monitoring and data collection technology for its miCoach brand to include a “coaching mode.” You can choose from a variety of voices to feed information about form and speed.

Mack thinks a greater awareness of how we consume has produced a growing awareness of the limits of self-con­trol.

“The spotlight has definitely been put on that,” she said. “We’re increasingly living in this era of mindfulness. Expect more technol­ogy coming out that saves us from our­selves.”

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