Let me just begin by saying that I love apps. I use many of them every day to feed my insatiable appetite for information. Apps alert me to breaking news, help me file feature stories to read later, enjoy my downtime with a few games, and find my way around cities when I travel. But that doesn’t change my view on how apps are hurting our lives.
Last week I received an email from Path with the subject line ‘Search Your Memories’. When I clicked it open I was greeted with a simple phrase: Remember life. The email asked me to “import my life from other networks to find any moment on Path.”
Import my life? Was life importable? Where was my life that it could be moved around from one spot to another? Was there more than the content I had imported? (Because I hadn’t updated anything in quite some time.)
I am not naïve. I understand that much of what we do in our lives is captured online either through our own posts or those from family, friends, or work colleagues. It was the phrasing that struck me. This app promised that it would help me reminisce, all one click away.
To be honest, it angered me a bit. Who did this app think it was? More importantly, who was the copywriter that dreamed up this email that was overstating its importance in my life? Path really only possessed as much of my life as I had contributed, leaving out the glue, the time in between moments that I captured and to be honest many weren’t captured because I was enjoying them too much to type anything into my phone.
I began to rethink my online life. It’s true that I had been spending more time online since I relocated to San Francisco. My job search has kept me bouncing around sites, scanning social networks for any hint of an opening that might interest me. I signed up for webinars and trudged through articles that would replace the on-the-job experiences of which I was no longer a part. I grew my network, writing daily posts to my blog, submitting articles that were published by virtual newsrooms, even being published in three books…well, e-books.
My life had become virtual, slowly and systematically I was an online entity with conversations springing from my fingertips far more often than my lips. That’s why this email pissed me off.
My mind raced for blame as it does during these moments of fault finding within myself. I blamed this culture that had sprung up within the last few years, steering us to the web more than out our doors. I looked at apps like Lift (I understand it yet it hasn’t clicked with me yet) and its popularity in my Twitter feed. People I followed rejoiced that the app told them how close they had come that week to their goals.
I remember when I used to journal my goals with a pen and paper. Throughout high school I tracked my caloric consumption as part of my athletic ventures. I noted my workouts by sets and reps. The act of writing kept me accountable because it was not in my memory, it was tangible and I had to own up to any failures on my own, through my journal.
Now there was this app that tells us if we are on the right track to being our best. Have we become a generation of grown-ups with online nannies? Have these app developers, in their efforts to make our lives easier really just invented virtual moms? Are these apps a false sense of self-reliance?
I remember when calendar reminders were new. The email alerts would remind us that we were about to miss a meeting or to prepare for tomorrow’s presentation. These were actionable items to be checked off of a list as we met requirements. Now it seems that these items are replaced with morals. How much have we read this week? Did we meditate enough hours? Are we becoming better?
How can an app measure our moral growth? Even to suggest so seems outlandish. Accomplishing and tracking daily tasks does not improve our inner being.
Is self-sufficiency and moral growth now accomplished by being smart enough to create or use an app that replaces our parents?