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Atticus Harris

in search of simplicity

You Don’t Need An App For That

Things you don't need an app for

It wasn’t until I finished my run that I realised I hadn’t run anywhere. Despite the sweat dripping down my forehead and the shortness of my breath, my screen displayed 0km. Not hitting start on your running app is a bummer. Even though you feel great and have all this oxygen pumping through your lungs, something is missing. If it doesn’t happen in an app, does it really happen at all?

Two years after Apple launched the iPhone they ran a campaign for the app store that announced ‘There’s an app for that’. They’d show different problems – like trying to find a good place to order pizza – and then highlight an app that would help solve the dilemma. It was clever and memorable. I’ve quoted the line to people in the past. Your friends have probably quoted it to you. Now, 10 years later, it seems like there really is an app for almost everything.

The question is no longer, is there an app for that? The question has become, do we really need an app for that? Digital technology has saturated our lives. We’re drowning in software that wants to consume more and more of our time. But do apps always add value? Or are there moments when an app degrades the experience by adding complexity?

Your Monthly Subscription To Enlightenment

Modern life means using technology. And by extension, it should also mean knowing when not to. Meditation is, for the most part, an activity that does not benefit from being packaged in an app.

Meditation is about developing self-awareness and a clearer perspective of reality. It’s about opening a direct line to our most authentic self. The Tao, God, Vishnu, Zeus. Whatever you call the force that courses through us all, meditation offers a way to see it.

Meditating daily also promotes a healthy ability for commitment and self-discipline. Practice can be boring and frustrating, especially in the beginning. But the act of consistent contemplation gives us the internal tools to fight against these self-limiting behaviours.

Meditation is freedom. But freedom is not what we’re being raised on.

Like it or not, apps are designed to get us hooked on products, to consume more of our time and increase the holy grail of monthly subscriptions. We’re being conditioned to respond by notifications. Our lives are tracked as a series of badges and virtual likes. All of this is to say that the current paradigm of apps is in stark contrast to the value of meditation.

Technology Isn’t Always a Step Forward

An app adds another layer to any experience. That layer can be useful. It can also be unnecessarily complex. When we’re thinking about meditation and software, making a phone call is (ironically) a good analogy.

These days, when we pick up the phone we expect to be able to immediately call our friends and family. But when phones first started being used, the systems weren’t as seamless. We needed a switchboard operator that connected us to the person at the end of the line. Mobile technology got rid of that. It enabled us to connect directly with people.

Meditation apps are like having to connect via the switchboard rather than being able to direct dial. When your system isn’t very developed an operator can be useful. They make the links you can’t. But eventually, we want to move on from that. We want to be able to walk around, free of all that clunkiness. We want to make direct calls around the world.

Meditation is the same. Where ever you are, whatever you have with you, you possess a direct line to inner peace. In order to access that direct line, you need to practice skills in focus and mindfulness.

I’ll happily admit that an app can be a great way to get started with learning. It can provide a service, but it can’t provide you with freedom. At some point, your long-term goals (freedom from attachment to anything i.e. an app or service) will diverge from the long-term interests of the software service. So if we rely on an app as our only tool for meditation we’re being shortchanged. It prevents us from accessing the full spectrum of capabilities.

Create Your Digital Free Moments

When was the last time you went running without tracking it on an app? When was the last time you did your commute without listening to music? Or the last time you went to the toilet and didn’t check your phone? Our lives are increasingly filled up with things. Each moment is carefully boxed up, digitised and served up as a product.

An app is a product. It is another thing asking us to own it, to be attached to it and to need it. Eventually, you’ve got to put all that down and be able to walk away. That’s easier said than done. Which makes it vitally important.

The amount of time in our day not spent using technology is decreasing. So we need to consciously protect and hold on to the spaces that we keep digital free. These no-tech moments are time to be with ourselves, to listen deeply and just enjoy being alive. That might take many forms: a run, a meditation session or reading a book. We come away with more from these moments when we are fully engaged and able to focus. It’s our responsibility to create that space. Luck for us, the formula is simple enough.

You are not your monthly subscription, you are not the latest model of phone X, you are not your mobile operating system. You are a person and that means you’re already equipped with all the tools you need to see reality.

Stop doing. Stop consuming. Start listening. Start being.

That’s one thing you don’t need an app for.