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April 24, 2012 / Kuan

I am not my apps, and vice versa.

Lately, I’ve been wondering a lot about the relationship between apps, let them be the smartphone, tablets or web ones, and me. Because I’ve noticed that I need them way more than them need me. I need The Weather Channel to help me decide what to wear today. I need Wunderlist, Reminders and a few other task management apps to remind me to pick up some tissue paper after work. I need Mint to calculate how much money I spent on food every month, and notify me to stop. I need Sleep Cycle to physically wake up every morning. Okay, I also need NPR News to wake up my brain too.

They, my beloved apps, on the other hand, don’t need me.

As Amber Case said in her TED talk that we now look at our tools not as “a physical extension of the self” like the folks and knives we’re using, but “an extension of the mental self.” True for me at least. I occasionally write my deep, dark thoughts in Day One, keep my passwords in Password Safe and record my journey on Instragram and Piictu. My apps become me without childhood memories.

Film critic Carina Chocano, in her recent essay on data on digital devices in The New York Times Magazine, wrote, “The ability to store our data externally helps us imagine that our time is limitless.” But if that’s true, what’s the essence of being human? Isn’t it the fact that we have a limited time to live that creates a thrilling, mysterious adventure called life ahead of us? Or isn’t it the do-it-now-or-never mantra that gives our action a sense of urgency and necessity?

Facing the sea of apps that were crafted by designers like me and were supposed to help ease my life, I naively passed on my duties to my apps, and thus forgo what I value deeply as a human being — those memories, those phone numbers, those birthdays, those connections. If what Chocano concluded in her essay is true that our desire to digitize “is a manifestation of our urge to remember how to remember,” we perhaps went a little too far.

Don’t wait until your Reminder app calls you out to send a message to your loved-ones for their birthdays, because if one day you lost your phone, you might also lose those deep connections.


Articles, books and apps on being human that helped shape this post:

1. Milton Glaser on Fear of Failure

2. Fish: a tab essay: a short but heartfelt manifesto about the difference between liking something on the internet and loving something on the internet. Download the app here to read on your iPhone.

3. Kevin Slawin’s TED talk on algorithms

4. Brène Brown on The Power of Vulnerability 

5. Anne Lamott’s book on writing and life Bird by Bird


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