James Naughtie wakes me up (thanks to TuneIn Radio), and I check the weather (WeatherPro). I could stay in bed and cruise rooftop terraces I’d like to own (Pinterest), admire the antics and outfits of last weekend’s Opening Ceremony parties (Instagram), but, heck, the forecast is fine. I see there are Boris bikes at my local stand (Cycle Hire), making it fine to cycle to Soho where, yep, there are still spaces to join the spin class at my gym The Third Space (TTS). Ah, apps. Don’t they just make life easier?
By the time I’ve been to the gym and then taken the Tube (which I know when to expect and where to position myself to be nearest the exit thanks to Tube Map) into work, the most human interaction I’ve had has been being whooped at by a man in neon Lycra. In fairness, mornings are not generally a sociable time, but surely the downside of apps is that, increasingly, our most frequent and even most meaningful interactions are with our smartphones.
‘We can’t say if constant use is good or bad,’ says psychologist Dr Cecilia d’Felice. ‘What is certain is that people need face-to-face contact. It releases bonding hormones that allow relationships to flower, and enables you to grow into a rounded social being. If you live your life solely online, you are missing out on important chemical growth.’
Back at work I am, discreetly, working out plans for face-to-face contact (Facebook), and considering options for where to eat (Open Table), or whether to knock up something creative for a picnic (Great British Chefs). Because, of course, while you can now do pretty much everything on apps, a huge part of their appeal is streamlining the stuff we do anyway — finding train times (The Trainline) or figuring out which movie to watch (Flixster). They are certainly not about us being lonely geeks. Nor, for that matter, about being etiolated, indoorsy ones: today’s vogue for healthy living has inspired droves of fitness apps (such as MapMyRUN, which shows where you have run, and lists suggestions for other good local routes).
There are few aspects of daily living that cannot be app-lified. Interiors are made easy (Houzz has photos from 500,000 dream homes, and since many items are tagged, you can then go and buy them), as is bargain hunting (scan the barcode of anything from toys to Popchips to see if you are getting a good price at RedLaser). Location-based apps such as AroundMe make it straightforward to find a cobbler, say, or a petrol station, or even to get laid (Grindr, Blendr, Badoo).
My working life is also app-heavy. Instead of endlessly looping through my own play-lists, I listen to shared ones (Mixcloud and SoundCloud). My iPhone also becomes my Dictaphone (PocketDictate), and I use an app (Evernote) that can efficiently search both text and photographs for keywords to save all my notes. Is it any surprise that 25 billion apps have been downloaded from Apple’s App Store since it launched in summer 2008, and that demand has increased so much that now each month one billion further apps are downloaded?
Against all these apps supporting real-world living, however, the mega app de nos jours sucks users into its own cybersphere: Twitter. While its benefits are legion, Twitter triggers concern. ‘Apps are great when they facilitate “real life”,’ says neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield. ‘But you want them to be a means to an end, not the end in itself. With excessive use we start to define ourselves by our external output, rather than developing, from within ourselves, our own robust identities. You have a very shaky sense of self if it constantly needs external feedback. And, if you’re constantly outputting data, when do you have time to think and reflect?’
Happily, after cocktails at a speakeasy just by my office, which I’d never have discovered were it not for my London Bars app, I have ample time to pause: my cab (called via Hailo) drops me at home in time for the arrival of some deliciously spicy spatchcock peri peri chicken (Deliverance). The result of my musing? I like the app-lied life: it is very much worth living. ES
Top three apps to change your life
You’ll wonder how you survived without this. Imagine an online magazine, populated entirely with your friends, favourite news feeds and hooked to your Tumblr, YouTube and Instagram accounts.
A location-based app that reorganises your to-do list according to where you happen to be. You’ll never forget to pick up your dry-cleaning or your friend’s shih-tzu from the groomer again.
Studies have proved that brain games can do everything from quickening your mind to delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s. This will change your life — 14 million users can’t be wrong.
Original article published in Evening Standard, in August, 2012