"I have been fascinated lately with how tech likes to position itself as the solution to problems that it has had a significant role in creating. Because, of course, there’s an app for that.
I am entertained and a little impressed by the fact that apps designed to help people become more “mindful,” to get over phone addiction, to help focus or sleep, etc., all seem to require you to:
- Turn on functionality to enable your phone to track everywhere you go and everything you do.
- Keep the phone on your person all the time.
As I see it, there are three types or levels of apps that run our lives:
- The apps that actually run our lives: email, calendar, phone/messaging, etc.
- The apps that either suck up our time or are handy, but not critical (and you’d be hard-pressed to get people to give them up): social platforms, games, various gadgety tools, etc.
- The apps that are supposed to help us break the spell of those other apps.
To bastardize Fight Club narrator and anti-hero Tyler Durden: “We're a generation of people raised by apps. I'm wondering if another app is really the answer we need.”
My coworker has been using an app called Moment to track her screen time and app usage. When I looked at it, I was a bit confused as to why it seemed to require that she keep Location Services turned on all the time. I asked her if that was correct or if I was misunderstanding. She didn’t think it was correct, but then actually checked, and … yep.
Why does an app that’s supposed to tell you how many times you look at your phone, for how long, and what apps you use most, need to track your location? I can see a movement/step tracker app needing to know that, but that’s not what this app is for.
Moment’s actual “tracking” of your app usage also seems pretty primitive, considering that’s ostensibly the whole point of the thing. You have to go into your settings and regularly take screenshots of your battery usage stats for the last seven days, then enable the app to access your photos to analyze them. Really?
I dunno about you, but the whole thing felt kinda sketchy and like an iceberg. The app I was looking at was the tip, but what was the app’s software really up to underneath?
I’ve started meditating, something I had been interested in trying for some time. I figured that given I appear to be extremely well trained in following my curiosity at will, engage in frequent and fast context switching, and often bad at focusing for any length of time, it can’t hurt.
I’ve collected a list of meditation apps, and they tend to be similar in form and function – free to download, with in-app purchases for additional functionality and customization.
There are different series depending on your goals. But the main thread throughout is learning how to gradually regain the ability to focus … with constant reminders by the app. How to recognize when your mind wanders and draw it back, not judging yourself for failing a lot, etc. The app says my wandering mind and lack of focus is normal.
Apps have been yanking at my attention for so long that it seems very odd to rely on another app to help me learn to focus. But then, if I’m so well trained to respond to apps, I guess it’s the perfect platform to help me learn meditation (or other things)? But then I think, to borrow from Audre Lorde, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
When I took a minute to consider how I would have learned the basics of meditation without an app, the first thing that came to mind was to do a YouTube search, or find a website that looked credible and give it a quick read.
The idea of going to a meditation class didn’t occur to me until a while later, and didn’t appeal (though it would show greater commitment to breaking your phone’s hold over you). Points to the apps for their “any time, anywhere” convenience. I’ve found an app called Calm to be all right for starting to learn meditation, by the way.
An massage therapist who I knew years ago once told me about an app (now a series of apps) called Brainwave, which she said was the best thing she’s ever found for helping her sleep on planes. I don’t sleep well on planes, so I was intrigued.
There are now several apps, but, per their website, the general idea is: “Our Brainwave Entrainment apps utilize sequences of binaural tones to stimulate brainwave frequencies associated with various states of mind.”
You need to use headphones, and there are these low hum tones, with optional accompanying sounds like lapping waves or rain or music, which are supposed to help you with various things, from focus and concentration to boosting creativity to getting energized or helping you sleep.
Another one of the apps is called AlteredStates, and includes sequences for things like “Astral Projection” and “Full Theta Spectrum.” Given that I’m currently laid up with a broken ankle, I could totally go for some out-of-body experiences, but I’m not holding my breath.
I have found the Brainwave apps to be good for focus and concentration. I don’t know if it’s because they’re affecting my brain waves, but they do provide excellent white noise, and have been really useful in helping me block out background noise in offices, for example, to enable me to hunker down and write.
But again, why do I need an app for that? I’ve spent many years working in offices. Shouldn’t I be well-versed in tuning out ambient noise by now? I guess wearing headphones might discourage people from interrupting you, so combined with the white noise there’s a two-fold benefit.
The Verge predicts that “time well spent” is going to be the next big thing. I guess they’ve topped out on the trendiness and cash-grab potential of “wellness” and it’s time to move on.
Of course, if “time well spent” does become the next big trend, it’ll be followed by the next big backlash, so for 2019 the hip thing to do will be an app deleting frenzy. Begone, apps to manage our time, attention, focus, food, exercise, health cycles! And, of course, phone usage itself.
We’ll be able to defiantly go back to scrolling, endlessly and slack-jawed, through our social feeds, as our pixel pushing overlords intended.