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This article was published on April 12, 2021

Google will give you a ‘Heads Up’ when you’re walking on your phone… and Darwin weeps

Remove me from the gene pool

Google will give you a ‘Heads Up’ when you’re walking on your phone… and Darwin weeps
Callum Booth
Story by

Callum Booth

Editor of Plugged by TNW

Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He w Callum is an Englishman in Amsterdam, but not in the way you're thinking. He's the Editor of Plugged, TNW's consumer tech vertical. He writes about gear, gadgets, and apps — with a particular focus on Apple — and also makes the occasional odd video. Basically, he's halfway between an abrasive gadget nerd and thinky art boy.

Once, just once, I’d like to sit down at my computer on a Monday morning and not want to smash my face repeatedly into the keyboard. Unfortunately, today’s not that day: because Google is rolling out Heads Up, a feature that’ll alert users when they’re walking and using their phones.

To put that another way, you’ll get a reminder on your phone to stop looking at your phone while you’re using your phone.

On the November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin released On the Origin of SpeciesIn this work, he theorized that life on Earth got to its current state through natural selection and evolution. The idea is that beneficial traits are passed down generation-to-generation, while negative ones disappear, slowing shaping that creature’s future.

I worry about humans molded by Google’s Heads Up feature.

But let’s get some more information out in the open. This new feature was spotted in the wild by Twitter user, Jay Prakash Kamat. It looks like this:

google digital wellbeing heads up phone walking
Kamat found the Heads Up feature on their Pixel 4a.

The option is found in the Digital Wellbeing app. Specifically, in the Reduce Interruptions section.

When you press Next, you’re taken to another screen in the Heads Up section and you’re offered some additional settings. You can have a look at these (not very interesting) options, right here:

digital wellbeing app heads up google
HEADS UP, YO.

When all this is enabled, your phone will send you a push notification when it notices you’re walking and staring at the screen. Ugh, just writing that has made me break out in shivers of disgust.

I’m not really sure exactly why this Heads Up feature is causing such a visceral reaction in me. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old and need to be turned into glue. Maybe it’s because it’s Monday. But maybe, just maybe, this is a cultural problem with technology that we shouldn’t try and solve with, uh, technology?

There’s something nauseatingly labyrinthine about how we beg tech to sort out issues that it caused. It’s stupid and will never end.

But, also, maybe Google’s Heads Up feature will help people not get hurt? And that must be good? Yet… are these the people we want in the gene pool? Are we betraying Darwin?

And here’s the kicker: Heads Up should help people, but it’s not the right solution for the issue. Folks shouldn’t walk down the street glued to their phones, because it’s rude and dangerous — not because their phone told them not to.

Anyway, the Heads Up feature is being rolled out by Google on its Digital Wellbeing app. Currently, it appears to only be on Pixel phones — although my Pixel 5 doesn’t have the option yet. At the moment there’s no information on whether Heads Up will appear on other Android devices.

Sorry, Charles.

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