Technology. Whether you want to or not, you can’t live without it. Flights, satellites, hospital equipment – so many processes we depend on to survive are in turn dependant on tech. From life-saving surgery to calling your mum on her birthday – technology exists to make our lives easier.
Speaking of phones – which it is estimated 2 billion of us own worldwide – and more specifically apps (197 billion downloaded in 2017) – how helpful are they, and how much, if any, should we be outsourcing to them?
When apps work, they really work
The Headspace app, founded in 2010 by former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, has been subjected to significant testing, all of which found it lessened stress, improved quality of sleep, and reductions in depression, anxiety and even blood pressure.
Avid Headspace user Nick S says that of his 2+ years using the app for daily mediation, he has been afforded the opportunity to expand his mind and let it breathe in an increasingly stimulant-dense atmosphere.
‘Being able to take 15 minutes out of my day, even if I’m just sitting quietly and not actually meditating, is a huge luxury and one that I might not otherwise have indulged in. I have an ability to appreciate situations in a way that I didn’t before, a more positive way, and it gives me the tools to be present. I wasn’t capable of doing either pre-HeadSpace’.
When I asked him if he could think of any negative aspects of using the app, or if he himself had experienced any, his answer was no.
The success rate of apps like Headspace, which has fundamental goals and a transparent objective, is clear. When we’re short of time, money or even a proper understanding of what our lives need in order to improve, apps which are easy to understand and use are heroes.
Lifestyle apps are some of the most downloaded in the whole app ecosystem, and are being credited with saving marriages, friendships, loneliness and stress.
Another great example of an app that receives overwhelmingly positive reviews is Elvie, a trainer that guides women through re-training their pelvic floor muscles (also known as Kegel exercises). I found reviews to be overwhelmingly positive, with women praising not only the functionality of the app but the effort and energy that had gone into understanding women’s bodies and lifestyle commitments.
Fitness apps such as Nike Training and Sweat not only save us time, an increasingly precious commodity, but also allow us to exercise in private and without the crippling financial commitment of a gym membership.
There’s no question that when we do apps right, we really do apps right.
But what about when outsourcing to apps goes bad?
For starters, we can’t ignore the irony of using a phone to escape life or improve its quality. Does our increasing reliance on technology mean that our ability to relate and communicate with each other is suffering?
The accumulation of your wellbeing all under one roof, i.e. your phone, may seem responsible, but there’s no doubt that constant access to that information could have adverse effects.
Hannah W spoke to me about her experiences with MyFitnessPal, the diet and exercise tracker which professes to calculate optimum calorific intake relative to users’ weightloss goals.
‘Although I was educated in some respects about the quality of food, and enjoyed the social aspects and support network of the app, ultimately my experience of it was a negative one’, she says.
‘I became obsessed with food and tracking my habits, and I was constantly going down rabbit holes – my mind was fixated on calories and the intense workouts I would need to complete to earn each meal. I found myself with only 100 calories left to spend on my dinner each day, and instead of ignoring this and eating a sensible meal, I’d just skip food completely’.
As a personal trainer, it is exactly this kind of behaviour that I believe can and has lead to the wave of unhealthy attitudes towards food and fitness so prevalent in our industry.
The link between apps such as MyFitnessPal and ano/orthorexia has not been conclusively proven, but spend a few minutes on the internet and you will find several accounts of users who became obsessed with using these platforms and whose illness ultimately regressed.
Our world is getting smaller and smaller – so many of us spend our day with our heads down, our hands at two and ten, using our phones to manage every aspect of our lives. But in doing so we may lose site of what is available to us by face-to-face contact, and that human interaction plays a vital role in enriching our lives and ensuring our sanity.
What about our own willpower, our own emotional and mental resources?
In allowing apps to have such a presence in our lives, by outsourcing so much of what we do to them, are we neglecting our own strengths which have until recently proved perfectly capable of solving our problems?
A more convenient life doesn’t always equal a better one, yet app developers are relying on us eschewing this fact for success. I may well put my money where my mouth is and try a week without apps to see what truly needs outsourcing – who’s with me?
Statista (online statistics, market research and business intelligence portal)