By Steven Romero
It’s one thing to tell yourself to put aside your phone and focus on work, it’s another thing to be held accountable for it. Pocket Points is a mobile app that aims to tackle the problem of cell phone distraction. The basis of the app is simple: users rack up points for staying off their phone, and can exchange those points for discounts at local businesses. The interface resembles a game, urging students to hit their next milestone and rewarding them with points and in-app achievements.
The company emerged in late 2014 as a result of real students facing a real problem. Rob Richardson, a student at California State University, Chico at the time, realized how hard it was for his professor in a large lecture to keep students off their phones, despite the incentive of extra credit. It was too difficult to monitor, and the incentive wasn’t enough. Richardson, along with co-founder Mitch Gardner, decided to create an app that relied at first on food-discount incentives and had systems in place to ensure students really were staying off of their screens.
Cornell University is one of over one hundred current universities that now use Pocket Points. This means that students can work towards desirable rewards specific to the campus, like a breakfast omelet at Trillium, or a bagel sandwich at Bus Stop Bagels. Not only are rewards a driving force of the app’s success, but a potential boost in productivity is always appealing to students at a rigorous school.
In my own case, I learned about the app during a study session, when one of my friends set a timer on her phone and put it out of reach. I caught on to the premise of the service and downloaded it for myself; any way to remove distractions sounded appealing to me. I’ve spent several weeks now actively using the app, and I can see exactly why it’s grown in popularity around campus. The frequent buzzings and alerts on a cell phone add up quickly, making it extremely beneficial to get into the habit of just putting it away.
Pocket Points is fighting an uphill battle when it comes to keeping students off their phone, but their goal is more specific. By allowing users to set manageable chunks of time with goals within reach, they are addressing an important campus-wide issue and encouraging users to stay focused on their schoolwork. Whether students are more enticed by a free bagel, or by finishing an essay more quickly, has yet to be determined. The end result is the same: Pocket Points has been accomplishing its mission and is primed to continue expanding to schools around the world.