With all the apps in today’s world do we have time for reflection?

I recently caught up with a really great friend and colleague for lunch in Liverpool Street – this area is in the heart of London’s financial district, the City area is crawling with people walking, running, pushing other people and everyone is creating this chaos whilst on a device.

My friend is a technologist and very successful entrepreneur, we have worked together for years on various projects and in particular future innovation of tech, so we started by discussing the app’s market. I stated that there seems to be an app for absolutely every situation: you can have a virtual girlfriend app, a sleeping app, an exercise walking app, even a speed listening app – we live in an app world.

He started to laugh and smiled – seeing that he had pushed one of my human to human push buttons, he said I do understand, but what did we ever do without apps? I mean, aside from enjoying the outdoors and talk to our families and spend quality time with our friends, that’s rhetorical. The transformation of portable phones from conversation devices to fully functional mobile computers has created a tiny software economy that produces hundreds of new apps every day. While the great majority of those apps fade into obscurity within days, some become part of a global conversation. It’s hard to imagine life without Instagram or Dropbox, for example. Others, though, become big stories for other reasons. Some apps are just such bad ideas that people cannot stop talking about them. Some become popular for no reason that we can see. And some are just amazing.

While the world has gone crazy for app’s its growth and huge userbases are significant, there’s a growing trend in messaging where companies are taking different tactics on how people young and old should keep in contact. From keeping things secret to deliberately keeping the conversation quick and lively, messaging has come a long way since simply sending each other texts. Going back as far as Your Away Message, we’ve seen that people aren’t just using these messaging services to tell people think, but plan.

However, while app’s are really interesting, anyone who has a smartphone bursting with downloaded apps is a rare breed and getting rarer. Apps are on the wane. According to analysts at Comscore, most people (65%) are not downloading apps at all, and get by with whatever comes pre-installed on phones.

Not that apps are not being used. They are, but we are now in a one-app world; 42% of people spend most of their time on a single app.

We will soon see a paradigm shift in terms of where people get their information from. By 2020, smart agents and virtual personal assistants (VPAs) will handle 40% of mobile interactions, and the post-app era will be in full swing.

“We are witnessing a shift from apps to new advanced forms of using artificial intelligence to create smart agents,” says Mark Armstrong, European MD of global app development platform Progress. “They can positively and autonomously generate the next decision or suggestion.”

He adds: “Autonomous decision-making will be taking place on a grander scale, and involves an ecosystem of complex data sets acted on dynamically, and based on user-preferences.” With that kind of tech on the horizon, apps are beginning to look archaic. Whether they had massive user bases, dominated the news media for a cycle, or just pissed people off a whole bunch, these apps made people straight up lose their minds.

So how do people reflect, relax and spend time in today’s world?

We live in a world of frenetic activity. Reflective practice is hardly possible or practical in this age of the busy corporate executive who is socialised to be a person of action, not of reflection. Action is required. Delaying decisions is seen as a sign of weakness, even if the delay may subsequently produce a better decision. CEOs want an answer rather than a question; they are looking for solutions rather than problems. Yet, is it possible that the frenetic activity of the executive is a drug for the emptiness of our organisational souls, that constant action may merely serve as a substitute for thought?

Society gives reflection and its counterpart, listening, short shrift. We do not seem to be interested in the whole story. We even perfect the art of interruption so that we can show our ‘‘proactivity’’ and gain the boss’s attention. There was a time before instant replay when humans had to get the whole message or it would be lost forever. We seem to be unwilling to perfect the art of public reflection, in which we show a willingness to inquire about our own and our colleague’s assumptions and meanings.

While accepting that there is simply too much information, that we can get hooked into bad habits, there has to be another way of thinking about all this without the “Stop the world! I want to get off” model. Ten years ago, all sorts of people were giving fairly apocalyptic warnings about where this online dependency would lead. We were warned of depression and detachment, of a world where no attention could ever be sustained. We would no longer pause or reflect. All of us would just be looking for instant dopamine hits online. And yet, it seems very few actually have opted out, and that opting out is something of a privilege.

We no longer use phrases such as “digital natives”, because now we simply live in a digital culture. All the eye-rolling over teenagers having an umbilical attachment to their phones is somewhat pointless, isn’t it or is it?

It is possible to accept that social media may cause anxiety and unhappiness and that those networks do not often work out equally, but we surely have to move away from always opposing the real world to the online world. They are integrated. These huge shifts have reshaped the presentation of self, who and what we have access to, the boundaries between work and leisure, the very concept of privacy. It has happened. Simply telling people to switch off from a bad thing is unrealistic.

Professor Paul Dolan said iPhones and tablets distract us from our loved ones. He warned people could suffer ‘mental illness’ unless they ‘put them down’. In a talk on happiness he also said the married and religious are generally happier. Men in their 40s are among the most unhappy, he said ‘The secret to happiness is turning off your mobile phone and concentrating on your friends and family rather than text messages and emails, an expert on happiness has said.

Professor Dolan, from the London School of Economics, believes that the popularity of iPhones and other smart phones has seen people constantly having their attention drawn away from their nearest and dearest and to the devices instead. He warned that unless people changed their behaviour, they could suffer mental illness as a result.

He told an audience at the Hay Festival – a celebration of culture and social responsibility, in Cartagena, Colombia, that there are also now mental conditions called internet addiction and Phantom Vibration Syndrome, where you have a phone in your pocket and you think you have got a text message but have not.

He said: ‘We’re constantly having our attention distracted and distraction is a cost’.

‘When you switch tasks it requires attention. Paying attention to what you’re doing and who you are with and turning your phone off and enjoying being with your friends is much better for you than constantly checking your phone and checking emails’, The Telegraph reports.

Prof Dolan was once a member of the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team. It was set up to suggest small ways that people could change their way of life to improve it. He said the solution could lie in introducing small changes to the environment in which people use their mobile phones.

Prof Dolan’s told an audience that unless high culture reasserted itself in the face of television and computers, society would face the prospect of an ‘authoritarian nightmare of a world controlled by technology.’

The number of text messages sent in Britian each year is around 38.5billion.

Final thoughts are that we do not need statistics to tell us we are over-attached to our technology. We already know this to be true, but we need to be reminded again and again: Technology has a power-off button. And the wisest of us know when to use it.
Learning to power-down technology is an important life skill with numerous benefits. It is becoming a lost art in our ever-connected world. But the wisest of us take time to learn the discipline. And live fuller lives because of it.

I challenge you to put away your phones when you are eating with people. Do not even set it on the table. Remove the temptation to use it and talk to the people around you. Truly listen to them, without distractions like phones. Maybe when you are using public transportation, talk to the person sitting next to you, asking that person how their day was, smiling at them and paying attention to them will be the highlight of their day. Your phone will never appreciate the time you spent with it like people will, even if it is during a short tube or train ride, and in the state of reflection and creativity, how can you reflect, be creative or even think if you have 200 messages a minute from social media channels or texting, is it time to turn you phone off for these brief but important interludes…….?

A great quote by Earl Nightingale:

“Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don’t wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it’s at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.”

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