Those who live in app-app land

Those who live in app-app land

Their world has shrunk. It’s all about buying, downloading and sharing apps. Sure, some of them may come in very handy, but most are just inane. Preeti Verma Lal mulls over this new-age addiction.

To hail a taxi. To find a lover. To get loans. To read books. To shop. To find a restaurant. To wake you up. To remind you it is sleep time. To mend a broken heart. To find travel mates at airports. To get personalised skincare. There really is an app for anything and everything.

Android users can take their pick from 1.3 million apps. Apple app store has more than 1.2 million apps. That’s a bigger count than the pantheon of gods sitting amidst the feathery clouds. 

And with the deluge of these apps, a new kind of human has mutated – the appaholics. If Darwin were to rise out of his grave to study contemporary evolution, he’d probably create a new category within the homo sapiens – a human with not much physical mutation, but one who thrives on all things virtual. A human who barely looks at the sky – he is forever staring at the phone. A human who is growing to be one-limbed – one hand is now exclusively to hold the phone.

All appaholics have one common addiction – buying, downloading and sharing apps. Their common phobia has a new name – nomophobia (fear of being without a mobile phone). The moment they are disconnected, these appaholics panic, their anxiety soars and their stress levels hit the roof. They cannot exist in the real world. Their world has shrunk. They live in an app-app land.

I am not being an app-spoiler. Neither am I dismissing it as pure baloney. In this fast-paced life, apps come in very handy. Just tap the phone screen and taxi is at your door. When you get lost in a new city, the app shows you the way. Medical help is now at your fingertips. Finding and choosing a restaurant for the dinner date is no longer dreary. There are great apps to read. Offer advice. Recommend doctors. Find an old friend. Rescue an injured stranger. Get a home for the stray dog. Get help writing an essay. Some apps are brilliant. 

Most aren’t. They are weird and nonsensical. Like the Electric Shaver. Ever thought you’d need a phone to mow your stubble? This app doesn’t really do that either. It only makes your phone screen resemble an electric shaver with a power switch. When you switch it on, the phone whirrs like an electric shaver. Then, there’s iNap@Work. The app lets you nap at work, while it makes sounds that make it appear like you’re working. You can preset certain sounds such as clicking, typing, crumpling paper and stapling to occur often or never, depending on your preference.

And then, there’s one app that tests your smooching skills by analysing your kisses. The Cry Translator, supposedly, can tell you whether the baby is hungry, tired, or needs to be burped, based on how its cries sound. Beat this one. 

GEICO’s BroStache app comes with seven brostaches to choose from, and each stache moves along with your mouth when the smartphone is held to your lips. A creepy Watching Cute Girl app gets you a virtual girl who just stares at you. Who needs a cyber-girl? Really, who? 

Wait. Do not dismiss this app-world as a whim, a combined eccentricity of a generation. Apps are all about the money, honey. In 2012, the global mobile app revenues amounted to $18.56 billion and it is projected to jump to a whopping $76.52 billion by 2017. By the end of 2012, Portio Research noted, that 1.2 billion people worldwide were using mobile apps, which will grow at a 29.8 per cent each year, to reach 4.4 billion users by the end of 2017. These 4.4 billion users will download 200 billion apps annually. Much of this growth will come from Asia, which will account for almost half of app users in 2017. 

According to another research, 41 per cent of Britons feel anxious when detached from their smartphones and 51 per cent admitted to suffering from ‘extreme tech anxiety’. Another poll concludes that 70 per cent of women have phone separation anxiety, as opposed to 61 per cent of men. So, have smartphones and the apps packed therein completely conquered us? Statistics would say so.

 The 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits found 12 per cent appaholics use their phones in the shower. Worse still, more than 50 per cent acknowledged they still text while driving, despite the fact that this is six times more dangerous than driving drunk. The average American teenager, according to a study, sends or receives 75 text messages a day, though one girl in Sacramento managed to handle an average of 10,000 every 24 hours for a month. Of the total 6.8 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide, roughly 17 per cent are app users.

Is this addiction turning into an epidemic? Is there a way out of this? Is solitude the new luxury? China and Korea have Internet rescue camps, equivalent to alcohol or drug rehab. Few restaurants are enforcing a ‘no cell policy’. Some even offering discounts to patrons who leave their cell phone with the receptionist. 

Airports are setting up cell-phone-free zones and luxury resorts are making travellers pay through their nose for a black-hole accommodation – no television, no Internet. Life coaches are talking of Internet Sabbaths because people now have more and more ways to communicate, but less and less to say.

In fact, there’s also an app that’s designed to keep a computer user away from the Internet for up to eight hours at a time. It’s called Freedom and is described as a way to “free you from distractions, allowing you time to write, analyse, code or create”.

In his essay The Joy of Quiet, essayist and novelist Pico Iyer talks of the need to go slow, go quietly, go off the digital grid and not be chained to a blinking electronic device or measure life by the phone pings and app counts. 

Pull a moment off your day. Keep your phone aside. Now, rewind the clock. Go back to an epoch where there were no cell phones. No internet. No 4Gs. No, iPads. It was another life…I know the joys of quiet. I refrain from joining any social network. There is no internet on my phone. I have never downloaded an app.
 I am not seeking friends on Facebook. I sit in my balcony and listen to the rustle of the breeze. It tells me stories. I look up at the sky. On the blue canvas, I find white lilies made of clouds. I am no-app happy. Who needs a happiness app? Or, an app to be happy?

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