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This $50 Magnet Curbed My iPhone Addiction

I spend way too much time on my iPhone – I’m talking an average of nine to 10-and-a-half hours a day. A lot of that time comes from social media use. For example, I typically spend about four hours a day on TikTok alone.

Clearly, that’s a lot of time to be scrolling everyday. I’ve wanted to reduce the amount of time I spend on social media for a while now and have tried to reach that goal in a number of ways (e.g. simple self-control, native iPhone screen time limiting tools, etc.).

Read more: Why You Endlessly Scroll Through Your Phone, and How to Stop

I’ve tried ditching my iPhone for the Light Phone, which doesn’t even have an option to download social media apps, and a Nokia flip phone, which offers very limited social media access. And while switching to these devices did reduce my screen time, being on social media is part of my job, so having little to no mobile access to it ultimately isn’t sustainable for me.

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This little square is called the Brick.

James Martin/CNET

When I use my iPhone, willpower alone isn’t enough to keep me off of my socials, especially when I shouldn’t be using them (e.g. right before bed, as soon as I wake up, etc.). So when I heard about a little square that temporarily blocks certain iPhone apps, I was very intrigued.

Meet the Brick

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Say hello to the Brick.

James Martin/CNET

The Brick is a small 3D-printed square. It kind of looks like a big Tile tracker. It’s similar in size to my AirPods Pro case (but it’s square rather than rectangular), and it’s very lightweight. It feels lighter than my AirPods Pro do when they’re in the case, for instance.

To use it, you scan the Brick with your iPhone to block virtually any app you want, along with its notifications. I’ve blocked – you guessed it – the social media apps that I spend way too many hours doomscrolling on everyday. TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are my biggest weaknesses, but I also restricted Facebook, X, Threads and BeReal to further eliminate any temptation to scroll.

You can’t get back into your blocked apps until you rescan your Brick. But you still have full access to your unblocked apps while your phone is “Bricked.” So you can continue to use the important apps, like Phone, Messages, Uber, etc., while temporarily ditching the other stuff. I’ve been testing the Brick for a few weeks and – spoiler alert – it helped me significantly curb my social media use.

‘Bricking’ your iPhone

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I guess Instagram can be kind of distracting sometimes.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

The Brick square works with an accompanying app that you need to download. The app walks you through how to set up your Brick, and I found the process is super straightforward. You choose which apps you want to block and then you scan your Brick. If you try to open one of these apps, you get a very intense “THIS IS A DISTRACTION” message, which I honestly thought was a good reminder. Once you rescan your Brick, you can access your blocked apps again and see their notifications.

You can also create different modes, which I appreciate. I have a default mode that blocks all of my social media apps and a work mode that keeps the ones I need for my job.

There are always exceptions

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Are you sure you want to use an Emergency Unbrick?

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

If you really need to access your blocked apps while your Brick is at home, you can use one of your Emergency Unbricks. But use them sparingly because you only get five. Once you run out, you can only get back into your blocked apps (without your Brick) by deleting the accompanying app.

I tried doing that to see how it works and it’s not something I’d want to do again unless I was in an actual emergency — check out the video that accompanies this story to see the Brick in action. Deleting the app also deletes your custom modes, so you have to set them up again when you redownload it, which is annoying. But if you still think you’d be tempted to open a blocked app, you can turn on Strict Mode, which prevents you from being able to delete the Brick app after scanning your Brick.

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Turning on Strict Mode.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

I keep Strict Mode on so I have to rescan to get back into my blocked apps. The Brick is magnetic so I keep it on my fridge. I like having it there because it’s far enough away from my room that I won’t get up to rescan it until I really need to get back into my blocked apps. At the same time, it’s close enough to my front door that I won’t forget to scan it before I leave the house.

iPhone Screen Time restrictions vs. the Brick

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The Brick’s close-up shot.

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

Your iPhone comes with tools meant to help you limit your screen time. For example, there are Focus modes to hide calls and notifications. There’s also an option to set limits for how long you can use certain apps per day. But Brick says its product is unique because, while you can get around the iPhone’s native limits with just a few taps on the phone itself, the Brick often forces you to actually get up to scan your iPhone on this external device. And I agree that this does make the Brick different. Speaking from personal experience, I think the iPhone tools are too easy to get around. I appreciate that the Brick makes me walk to my fridge to get back into my apps.

The bottom line

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The Brick and the iPhone.

James Martin/CNET

The Brick has been more effective at helping me reduce my screen time than willpower or the iPhone’s native limits have ever been. I scan it one hour before I go to bed and don’t rescan it until one hour after I wake up. I also keep my phone Bricked while I work. With Strict Mode, as long as I stick to my schedule of scanning in, I’m forced to respect the restrictions until I rescan. Using the Brick with this routine has shaved hours off of my typical daily iPhone screen time. On my best day so far, I used my iPhone for five and a half hours. I definitely want to keep cutting down my daily average iPhone screen time, but that does feel like a big improvement over nine-plus hours a day. 

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The Brick versus social media.

James Martin/CNET

I’ll admit that sometimes I get a little stressed when I can’t get into my socials while my phone is Bricked. As I’ve told you before, I subconsciously scroll when I’m anxious or bored. I’ve likened my iPhone to an “adult pacifier” in the past. But Bricking my phone has ultimately made my mind feel clearer. It’s easier for me to stay focused on the task at hand, rather than getting distracted by all of the information I see on social media (which can be fun too, but there’s a time and place for that). 

One Brick costs $50, but if you buy more, you’ll get a discount. Unfortunately, the Brick only works with iPhones on iOS 16 or later. But the company is working on Android compatibility, which I’m happy about, because I’m a fan of this thing so I want it to work with more devices. It’s definitely been a game-changer in my journey toward developing a healthier relationship with technology.

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