BuzzKill is a productivity app launched in 2019 that aims to help users spend less time on their phones by allowing them to set hard limits on app usage. The app’s name comes from its ability to “kill your phone’s buzz”—in other words, restrict access to apps that typically provide flashes of entertainment or distraction.
Here’s an overview of how BuzzKill works:
Essentially, BuzzKill aims to restrict compulsive smartphone use by placing hard limits and barriers around how much time you can spend on potentially distracting apps.
BuzzKill was created by Anirudh Singh Sikarwar, a computer science student and developer based in India. Since its launch, the app has seen a steady rise in popularity, likely due to the growing public awareness of smartphone addiction and digital wellness.
Here are some key stats about BuzzKill’s growth:
BuzzKill has seemingly struck a chord with users who feel they spend too much time mindlessly scrolling on their devices. With screen time concerns unlikely to disappear, BuzzKill seems well-positioned to continue attracting users trying to build healthier digital habits.
BuzzKill employs a couple key technical methods to lock down apps once usage limits are reached:
VPN-based blocking – BuzzKill uses an always-on VPN connection that runs in the background while the app is enabled. All of your phone’s traffic gets routed through this VPN. When your time limit for an app is hit, BuzzKill configures the VPN to block traffic to and from that app. This makes the app unavailable.
Accessibility service controls – The app uses the Accessibility API offered by Android to gain elevated privileges to monitor app usage and control the phone’s display and functions. This allows BuzzKill to easily lock app screens when required.
These methods allow BuzzKill to reliably restrict access to apps, while still allowing normal use of the phone for calls, texts, and unlimited apps. However, the constant VPN and accessibility service access has also sparked some privacy concerns (more on this later).
For those seeking to build healthier digital habits, BuzzKill offers some clear benefits:
Increased productivity – By restricting time sucks like social media, BuzzKill can help users spend less time distracted and more time focused on meaningful work.
Reduced smartphone addiction – The app makes it easier to limit compulsive app checking and scrolling tied to smartphone addiction.
More mindful usage – By highlighting exactly how much time is spent on certain apps, BuzzKill promotes more mindful and intentional usage.
Empowering restraint – The hard restrictions provide a form of precommitment, removing the temptation for weak-willed usage.
Metrics and self-awareness – Reviewing app usage charts can increase self-awareness of smartphone habits.
Customization – Users can customize time limits and blocks based on their own usage patterns and priorities.
Works across apps – Limits apply equally across all apps, preventing switching addictions from one app to another.
For those concerned about wasted time and distraction, BuzzKill provides one of the more forceful solutions for controlling smartphone use.
Despite its benefits, BuzzKill has also garnered some criticism, debate, and controversy:
Overreaching restrictions – Some argue that strictly limiting app usage time is overkill, when more moderate limitations could suffice.
Inflexible – The fixed time limits do not account for legitimate variability in app needs day to day.
Privacy concerns – The always-on VPN and accessibility services have sparked privacy fears, despite assurances of data protections by the company. It grants elevated device access.
Parental control concerns – Although pitched as personal usage control, BuzzKill offers parental control features. Critics argue it enables helicopter parenting and surveillance.
Promotes addiction narrative – Some believe BuzzKill paints an overly addictive picture of smartphone use that fails to recognize that moderate use can be healthy and enjoyable.
Defeatable – Savvy users can disable BuzzKill’s VPN and accessibility services to defeat the restrictions. So its effectiveness relies on user motivation.
Focused on symptoms – The app does not address the root psychological or social causes behind overusing certain apps.
The app’s sharp limits represent a sledgehammer approach that may be excessive for many users. Yet its quick growth shows a demand for stronger solutions.
Despite some criticism, the BuzzKill team stands behind their vision for helping people control smartphone use. Here are some of the items on their roadmap:
The team sees vast potential for growth among individuals, parents, schools, and businesses seeking smarter phone usage. Their big-picture vision is a world where people have a healthy relationship with technology.
Given both the benefits and criticisms surrounding BuzzKill, here are some recommendations if considering using the app:
Try free version first – The free version of BuzzKill provides solid functionality for testing it out. Make sure it suits your needs before subscribing.
Use moderately – Be careful not to go overboard in restricting apps, as allowing some flexibility is healthy. Focus on reducing your biggest problem areas of distraction.
Combine with other tactics – Use BuzzKill alongside other healthy digital habits like turning off notifications, deleting apps, and designating tech-free times.
Reflect on usage insights – Review the usage charts in BuzzKill and reflect on what apps you may be overusing and why. Don’t just institute restrictions without self-reflection.
Watch for burnout – Periodically turn off BuzzKill for a stretch if you feel it’s promoting an unhealthy obsession over app use data.
Consider less invasive apps – If privacy is a major concern, explore alternatives that offer usage insights without VPNs and accessibility services.
Customize as needed – Tailor time limits and settings to your own needs and priorities. BuzzKill allows for plenty of customization.
Used judiciously, BuzzKill can be a useful tool for cutting down on wasted time and promoting mindfulness. But restraint in using the app itself is also wise.
While BuzzKill might be the most heavy-handed app for limiting usage, it also faces competition from a variety of digital wellness platforms taking different approaches:
1. Forest – Forest takes a gamified approach. You grow a virtual tree and forest over time by avoiding your phone.
2. Freedom – Freedom is a website/app blocker without hard time limits. It’s less rigid but still lets you restrict sites and apps.
3. Space – Space monitors usage and sets gentle reminders to take breaks. It takes a lighter approach focused on awareness.
4. Flipd – Flipd is a simpler app that silences notifications and locks you into distraction free modes.
5. Offtime – Offtime automatically restricts apps and sets phone to Do Not Disturb mode during scheduled downtimes.
6. StayFocused – StayFocused is a Chrome/Firefox extension that can block sites after a customized time limit.
7. Apple ScreenTime – Apple’s built-in ScreenTime tool allows app limits, downtime, and monitoring usage.
These alternatives provide a mix of limitations, tracking, incentives, and encouragement to spend less time on your phone. They offer looser restrictions with a lighter touch than BuzzKill, which may appeal to some users.
While BuzzKill is not without controversy, it represents a bold approach to helping people control and reduce smartphone use. For those who have struggled to moderate their usage through sheer willpower alone, BuzzKill’s hard restrictions may provide a reset. However, striking a healthy balance and avoiding over-reliance on the app is important. Monitoring usage data over time can provide valuable self-awareness, but should not become an unhealthy obsession in itself. Moderation and mindful intent, rather than just arbitrarily cutting usage, will lead to the healthiest relationship with technology.
Here are some final tips beyond just using BuzzKill for managing tech use:
Sustainable change comes through evolving your relationship with technology in a way that brings intentionality, awareness, and balance to device usage rather than arbitrarily cutting usage across the board. Apps like BuzzKill can be one part of a toolkit, but learning to self-reflect and build healthy habits is key.