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“There is an app for it.” This phrase has been used at some point in reference to just about anything, hilariously sometimes. Over the last few decades, app development has skyrocketed to unprecedented heights, and there is no slowing it down.
Since Android Market (now Google Play) launched in 2008, the number of apps available has grown to about 3.48 million apps. Apple’s app store is not too far behind, with about 2.22 million apps. These apps range from games to all sorts of business and self-help apps that cover almost every area of human endeavor.
Some time ago, I found myself struggling with a severe case of app dependence. I didn’t have it worse than any other person in my generation, except that I became perturbed about the long-term effects of depending on an app for everything, from buying food to building relationships.
As an app enthusiast, I started a web app as my first startup, and I know first-hand the value that apps bring to their users. As a writer, I also know the value that apps like Grammarly have brought to me. However, this coin has two sides to it.
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Some time ago, I became apprehensive about my dependence on the AI-editing tool, Grammarly, when I noticed that the more I wrote, the more the suggested edits increased. I stopped myself one day when I saw a baffling 200 edit suggestions on a 5000-word project. It was even worse when I saw the suggested corrections; basic errors! I was infuriated.
It became clear to me at that time that I was becoming lazy and paying less attention to my writing because of the presence of an app…an app I had to pay to renew no less. This experience is not typical to every writer, but it certainly is common.
To counteract this effect, I started being very intentional and diligent with my writing. I recently finished a 6000-word project for a client that had 0 errors, and I celebrated like it was my birthday.
This experience led me to X-ray my habits, revealing a worrying trend of app-dependence. Would I rather download a new app than engage my creativity or analytical skills? Unfortunately, I answered this question in the affirmative, and this only made me more worried about the long-term effects of this app-dependence on an entire generation.
App-induced lethargy and addiction
When I got my first calculator in school, I lost the incentive to solve a math problem without it, probably because I never really liked mathematics. To date, I still find myself depending on a calculator far too much. This mental lethargy worries me most about our current app-dependence culture.
Chamath Palihapitiya, the former VP of user growth at Facebook, admitted that the short-term dopamine-driven feedback loops that Facebook created are destroying how society works. The addictive effect of social apps and how they leverage the same neural circuitry used by slot machines and cocaine to drive user engagement is well documented, but the scope can be broadened to include non-social apps.
App developers subscribe to the founding principle of entrepreneurship; find a problem and solve it. Solving a problem will almost certainly create a profitable business, but the question we must ask is, “Does every problem need an app-driven solution?” More importantly, is every problem bad?
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Financial and personal consequences
Apps are companies, and companies often charge money to grant access to their apps; this has become particularly easy with the SaaS business model. Effectively, this means that in some cases, we now have to pay to do things that we can do with just a little mental or physical exertion. This places the regular users at a disadvantage and the entrepreneurs at a heavy advantage.
Also, the kind of personal data that we must divulge varies from app to app, and the future ramifications of this kind of exposure are scary. Just think of the possible effects of one successful hack; exploitation, blackmail and merchandising of our private data.
A lot has already been said about industry 5.0 and how the blend of man and machine will revolutionize production for the next generation. However, utilizing AI and tech at every turn on a personal level tends to increase productivity while dumbing down those who rely on it.
Can we stop the proliferation of apps and AI technology for personal use? No! It’s probably the way of the future, and this is why the only solution would have to come from a place of personal responsibility.
Personal responsibility is the way out
My eagerness to reduce the number of Grammarly suggestions in my work made me a better writer than I had ever been. I chose to learn from the suggestions and improve myself with the app rather than embrace lethargy and let the app do the heavy lifting.
Taking personal responsibility and challenging ourselves to evolve to a point where we do not require constant assistance to do very human things would be a great approach to this problem. This personal responsibility extends to making app choices that strengthen us and not weaken us.
For instance, I am a lover of travel and new languages. Imagine my excitement when I discovered apps that taught languages in easy-to-comprehend ways. Soon after discovering these apps, I also discovered apps that just translated my speech to other languages to aid communication. We can see the value of both apps in different scenarios, but I would undoubtedly choose the tougher option of learning than the easier option of translating.
I mean, what if I travel to a new country and lose the phone where the translation app is installed? The panic from losing a phone combined with an inability to articulate that loss cannot be a good thing.
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The future of evolution might be man evolving with machines, but big tech companies are the biggest winners in that scenario. Humanity should always seek to improve itself with the most negligible dependence on external factors.