Today there are roughly 2 million smart phone apps available on both the Apple App Store for iOS and Google Play for Android.
There are apps for communication: email, messaging, and social media. There’s an app to order a takeaway, catch a taxi, or share a ride. There’s an app to book a flight or hotel. There’s an app to look up the train or bus times. There’s an app for maps and directions. There are apps to organise your life: schedule meetings on a calendar or take notes. There’s an app to record your running, hiking, or cycling routes. There’s an app to take photos, and another to edit them. There’s an app to help you meditate. There’s an app to listen to the radio or watch TV. There’s an app to translate into another language. There’s an app to check the weather. There’s an app to play and record music with a virtual keyboard or drums.
Struggling to get a good night’s sleep? There’s an app to remind you when it’s bedtime, monitor your sleep, and wake you up.
Do you find it difficult to find someone to date? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that. And if you happen to be Icelandic, there’s also an app to check you’re not related to the person you’re considering dating.
There’s an app to help you boycott Donald Trump’s businesses.
Need to stop overspending when drunk? There’s an app for that.
Can’t grow a beard? There’s an augmented reality app to give you a virtual beard and practice shaving with a virtual razor.
Need to pee at the cinema? There’s an app to tell you the best time in the movie to go.
Yes, there’s an app for that. There’s an app for pretty much everything.
A little over a decade ago, there were effectively no smart phone apps. Many phones had apps in some form, but prior to the iPhone they were not part of most people’s lives in any significant way. On older phones, the UI was clunky (even on high end phones), and the internet access slow. Apps were more a curiosity than something that could be of any real use. When you had to do something online you got your laptop out (for those tech savvy enough to use one).
These days it seems there’s very little left that we can’t now do with an app. It’s easier than ever to develop an app, so people will continue to create weird and wonderful new apps, and in fact the number of new apps being created is still accelerating. But it feels like the era of expecting to do more and more with apps has come to an end. Most new apps are just variations on concepts that already exist, or they are so niche that they are not going to make an impact for many people.
So instead of expecting more from apps, perhaps the time has come to use apps more wisely. We have such an abundance of apps that there is an app for everything, but we don’t need an app for everything we do.
Given that there is an app for almost every activity, we can be selective for which activities we use an app and which we do not. We can use the traditional, physical alternatives.
I have previously written about the importance of physical awareness in maintaining mindfulness, and how this becomes more difficult around technology. Reducing the number of apps we use in our daily lives can help make physical awareness easier.
The app-free alternatives
Rather than take notes on a phone, use a notebook. Feel the pen in your hand as you write on your distraction-free “device”. A notebook is cheap yet priceless.
Rather than use a delivery app, collect. Pop by the local takeaway on the way home to place your order, then pop back to collect a little later.
At the train station, go and check the board for the train times.
Buy things with cash instead of your phone. Feeling the notes and coins as you hand them over, you’ll most likely spend less.
Go to a meditation group instead of meditating alone with an app.
Get a physical wall calendar.
When you go for a run, just run. When you go for a cycle ride, just ride. Perhaps save the recording for occasional use if you are training for an event.
When you go hiking, take an old fashioned paper map.
Use a dedicated alarm clock instead of keeping your phone on your bedside table.
Want to take photos? Carry a camera and leave your phone at home.
Subscribe to a magazine instead of reading about your interests online.
Finding a balance
Apps are useful and make life easier. I am not suggesting a life without apps. But it is worth reviewing whether you really need all the apps you use. It may be more fulfilling to return to the traditional, physical ways of doing things for some activities. It may seem to be an inferior option on some level (you can’t measure the activity, you need more things, you need to spend money instead of using a using a free app), but the experience in the moment can be more satisfying and you can more easily live in mindfulness.