My week in app hell

By Theresa Breuer on September 30th, 2013

Again, no word from Tiger Woods. I have been running and running and running just to make him talk to me. After ten kilometres, my legs are shaking, and my lungs are about to burst. But the only person congratulating me on my run is Trey Hardy. I have no idea who he is, and, frankly, I don’t care. I started running with the Nike+ app because I had heard that Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong or Tracy Jordan would tell me what an incredible athlete I was.

Tomorrow, I reassure myself. Tomorrow someone cool will cheer me on.

I started running because I was afraid I was going to drop dead soon if I didn’t. After having spent a week in Moscow, I woke up one morning to a voice in my head. “You drink too much, you write too little.” After days of heavy vodka abuse and dubious Russian cigarettes, I guess the voice had a point.

So I decided to change my life, but in a strange manner: by letting it be controlled by apps.

I start by downloading Lift. This app lets you join certain “habits”, like “drink more water” or “floss”. I feel like I am not such a hopeless case after all, since I floss my teeth on a regular basis, I usually drink enough water throughout the day and I eat fruit for breakfast. So there, I am not the unhealthiest person on the planet, and even though I just turned 27, I might have a good chance to outlive Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix.

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“Write for 30 minutes” is the first group I join. It feels a bit like cheating, since I earn my crust as a journalist. But hell, why not appreciate myself for it anyway.

“Weigh yourself” is another popular group. I hesitate. Nothing good ever comes from stepping onto a scale early in the morning. On the other hand: improvement always follows a little self-loathing, right?

I decide that joining the “exercise” group is probably a good idea. It says that 82,723 participants want to exercise more. I am number 82,724. Lift is telling me that I am not alone.

In order to see how fast I can run, and how many calories I burn along the way, I download Nike+. Even though no celebrity I know ever cheers me on, it makes me proud to see that I can run about 50 kilometres a week. It feels even better when I let Lift know about my run. “Props for exercise from Steven Clark!” pops up on my screen.

I take a cold shower, and tell my phone about it. “Props for Cold Shower by Emma Chace”.

I don’t know any of these people. But they make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Because a perfect body requires a perfect mind, I decide to take language lessons. Duolingo promises me mad French skills by translating simple words and phrases for only ten minutes a day. Lumosity wants to help me get a brighter brain by matching cards and memorising certain patterns.

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After a week, I feel incredible. So healthy, so mentally fit, so skilled. Bonjour, Monsieur, voulez-vous une pomme rouge? Lumosity tells me that my brain activity has improved significantly, and I am counting the props I get from random people for losing a pound.

But I am also incredibly bored. So, when a friends calls, asking me to join her at a bar with a bunch of people, I am more than relieved to spend an evening with someone other than my phone. After all, how much harm can one night of fun do?

A lot, apparently. I wake up the next morning, my head is pounding, and my stomach feels sick. I realise that I’ve only woken up because Duolingo rang me: “Learning a language requires a little practice every day,” the program cheerfully reminds me.

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“Props if you do any of your 11 habits today,” Lift texts me half an hour later. “You are not my mom,” I am yelling at my phone while taking a large bite from my “meat lover’s” pizza. I am most certainly not going to step on a scale today.

Instead, I turn on my meditation app Headspace. This is something I can do on a hangover day, I think: it doesn’t require me moving or solving a puzzle. “Sit back, relax, and allow your body to unwind,” a kind, soothing male voice is saying to me. The man is asking me to focus my senses, especially my sense of touch, feeling my body pressing down on the chair beneath me. “Let go of any feeling. Allow your mind to be completely free.”

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Instead of calming me down, the guy makes me aggressive. All of sudden, I fear that my brain activity will decrease if I don’t do my daily exercises. At least that’s what Lumosity suggests when it sends a message to my phone.

Something horrible starts to dawn on me: apps are not your friend. They don’t tell you that you were incredibly funny at karaoke last night or that making out with that man was really worth not waking up at six in the morning to go for run. No app will cheer you on for simply having enjoyed that hot dog in the middle of the night.

Apps have no mercy on you. They want to turn you into a perfect, gleaming Californian robot.

And just like that, my house of cards collapses. I feel bad about everything I did about the night before. About the cigarettes, about the drinking, about eating a steak. About eating at all. About not working out, about watching a stupid TV show the next day instead of reading Kafka. My apps point out flaws I never knew I had. Lift made me realise that I hardly ever eat a vegetarian diet, that I don’t read enough, and that I almost never go to sleep before midnight.

The problem is, though, that I don’t want to feel bad about these things. People who know me usually describe me as a hedonist, and I like enjoying my life. So maybe I am not the right person for all of these apps. I don’t want my life controlled by a phone.

I find the quest for perfection disturbing. It eventually turns people into automatons. If we are all athletic, disciplined, watching our weight, trying to improve our brain activity, we will lose all spontaneity and individuality. Let’s face it, there is nothing fun, nothing spontaneous about someone who works out every morning, and then continues their day with a green tea and an apple.

It might prolong you life, but, well… do you want to be stuck next to people like that at the dinner table? I know I don’t.