From the Wall Street Journal this week two stories surfaced this week about the technology in our lives, First David Pierce’s “Every Gadget and App Should Have a Dark Mode” and Christopher Mim’s “The Hot New Channel for Reaching Real People: Email”
Nothing in these stories is new, earth-shaking or essential for being alive today, but they do herald a bigger movement, the movement to accept technology and find ways to work with it in your life.
David Pierce admits “The first thing I do in the morning is to check my phone. I grab my phone off its charger, silence the alarm, press the power button”, think about that, he’s laying in bed, checking his phone.
After almost five years of hearing study after study, reading hundreds of books on “How to break up with your phone” or have “Authentic Conversations” the world is waking up to something I’ve known for a long time, there is no unplugging and asking people to do so is selfish, evil and dangerous.
“Thought leaders” like Simon Sinek, who is a modern day Tony Robbins, will tell you how toxic social media is, while best selling authors like Yuval Noah Harari will explain how you’re being uploaded, he’s a modern-day Ray Kurzweil.
Yet I’m here to explain the middle ground to you and beg you not to pay attention to the hyperbole and cut yourself a break with your device judgment.
Have you thought about what life looks like after our “screens” are no longer dictating our time? What happens after apps? I’m here to tell you that time is very close.
If you’re a parent with a child in first grade, by the time they graduate from high school, apps won’t exist and everyone will have forgotten about their dependence on them.
I know this because for a decade I have used software to document, control, monitor and run my life and I can share with you that most of what I do is done without any “screens”.
Let’s get a few things about technology out of the way before we go any further!
YOU ARE WHAT YOU INSTALL
Today apps have come to define our lives, values and time. As part of the touring keynote speaker circuit, one of my “offerings” is something I call iPhone palmistry. I psychically read people’s iPhones in an elaborately decorated cardboard booth at events all over the globe.
What is iPhone palmistry? Simply put, I look at people’s phones and tell them what I think they value based on the case they chose, the wallpaper, lock screen images and the apps on their home screen. I’m often met with laughter, shock, and sometimes tears as people open up to me after a “reading” and share how amazing, difficult, or deeply sad their life is.
There is no problem in your life that isn’t created, exaggerated or controlled via some app on your phone.
Our relationships with apps has become polarizing. We simultaneously demonize smartphone usage while requiring people to engage with us on an ad-hoc basis over 4G. People spend hours lamenting the loss of “authentic” conversations, the good old days of spending time out with friends and what life was like way back in 2010 when people were truly present.
My grandfather, who proudly informed me of my shrinking brain from the “boob-tube”, his name for television in 1981, would fit right in right in any conversation today.
WHAT IS AN APP ANYWAY?
So let’s call time out on our smartphone hate and talk about the state of apps and their coming disappearance. We think of apps as pieces of software that we interact on our smartphones. They usually have an onboarding routine, and a screen that we interact with daily. Apps do things for us like remind us of important events, people, cycles or pieces of data.
People often associate apps with distraction. Corporations spend billions, with a “b”, of dollars to keep us engaged with our applications. It’s a metric that companies measure to see the success of applications. Somewhere right now, every app on your phone has a cognitive bean counter sitting in an office measuring the total time you spend in their app.
Apps are the checkout candy of the mind.
This is the reason so many people take issues with apps and therefore worry about their “smartphone addiction”. Apple and Google both released products to combat this “addiction” last fall.
Historically we would have called this type of surveillance by Silicon Valley over the line, but today, we embrace it as a software upgrade to our mental health. In a single update, our phones now shame us into not using our Instagram feeds, make us feel guilty for looking at our text messages, and remind us that apps don’t run our lives, but rather the app platform providers, Apple and Google, do.
YOU INSTALL HABITS, NOT APPS
I would and do argue that we don’t need Silicon Valley’s help redirecting our attention. Instead, I want us to focus on what these mini pieces of internet-connected software have become and how they will evolve.
Apps, for better or worse, are merely habits we install in our life.
Facebook is “break habit”. MyFitnessPal is a “food logging habit”; Tinder is a “be social habit”. Airbnb, “plan vacation habit”.
When there isn’t an app developer creating new habituations in our lives, the device makers take over for us. Our devices have systems to check our location and dim their illumination before bed, and our phones have settings to block out calls while we are driving.
The habits, good and bad, are being installed for us, whether we like it or not.
LIFE AFTER SCREENS
Today, a combination of my watch, home devices and even my car alertme when I’m running late for an appointment, remind me to start settling down to go to sleep, and prompt me to take a stroll when I’ve been layingaround too long answering email.
All of the alerts described above come to me with no visual interface from my phone. If I’m running late for an appointment, I hear a small chime in my earbud. Around 9:30 p.m. my house lights slightly dim to remind me to get ready for bed, and after 50 minutes of couchsurfing my watch will tap on my wrist and tell me to “stand up.”
The “app” has disappeared from my life.
Do I still look at my phone and find enjoyment in Facebook? I do, and I do so with the vast knowledge that these habits are where my mind goes to relax. This is no different from my father, who zoned out with the 6 pm news, or my grandfather, who was hopelessly lost in the newspaper.
Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung, and Microsoft have all released new screenless technology in the past two years. Apple, Google, and Amazon developed voice assistants for our homes, smart speakers that fill our lives with microphones, cameras that monitor and alert us of things going on in our homes, at our front door and while driving. Apple, in their zeal to control our bodies, doubled down on the wearable technology and gave us a wireless device to insert in our heads, the Airpod.
RISE OF THE EVERYDAY CYBORG
I may be the most connected man in the world, but I can tell you this, the rest of the world isn’t far behind. I see construction workers sporting Apple watches on their wrists and Airpods growing out of their ears. Soccer moms sit in self-driving cars, leaning into the backseat to pick up a stray McNugget at 75 mph, and Buddhists with EEG headsets upload their zen in the park.
You are a cyborg, your children are cyborgs, and there is no going back.
Apps were the gateway drug to help us retrofit our brain for our cybernetic prosthesis that we now place in our homes, garages, on and in our bodies and throughout our communities.
So, what does life look like after apps?
SOCIAL NETWORKING AFTER APPS
Apple has been hard at work trying to kill off Mark Zuckerberg for years, from their attacks on his stance around privacy to the screenshots of their latest operating system “blocking” you from his apps. Many tech journalists wondered in the late 2000s why Apple didn’t acquire a social networkingcompany and then laughed when their social networking attempts, services like “Ping,” failed.
Apple didn’t have to make room for social networks by 2014 because, your life, was the social network. In 2014 Apple released their watch, and suddenly a group of friends or family members could communicate with their bodies. When Apple launched the original Apple watch in 2014, it had three defining features touted by CEO Tim Cook: the world’s most accurate timepieces, a world-class fitness and health device, and “an intimate way to communicate.”
Today you can use your Apple watch to send money to a friend, record and share your actual heartbeat and remotely “tap” your children on the wrist to tell them to come home. The watch uses behavior, and a small engine called the Tapic, to vibrate on users’ wrists or simulate biological events.
While it’s hard to imagine a world where we don’t have cat videos or the latest viral challenge to share with our friends, that’s not social media. That’s media, and media isn’t going away. It’s the social part that is changing. So let this be an early reminder that if you want to “friend” someone in the future, you’ll probably know a lot more about their behavior and have access to more of their senses than any cyber poke from camp Winklevoss.
In a world after screens, privacy is gone and relationships are deeplydefined by biology and behavior.
Facebook looks and acts more like Grindr in 2025 than Snapchat in 2015.
HEALTH AFTER APPS
Long before the smartphone, athletes were strapping on devices under their clothes to measure their respiration, heart rate, blood sugar, and urine.
The human body, w hether it’s optimized or near death, is a symbiosis of measurement.
Today and in the future, exercise is tied to passively collecting informationabout you and helping you focus on the task at hand. Some treadmills work in concert with your wearable technology and clothing that measures your exertion levels. Each piece of technology is designed to give you feedbackto your headset, through the equipment you’re on or in reports shared with you each week.
At home, mattresses are equipped with sensors to cool the bed, check your pulse and breathing, and even gently wake you up.
No one wants to log food or even think about it. If you use the new Samsung Galaxy 9, just by snapping a photo of your lunch, the calories are instantly populated on screen for you. The smartphone camera has become the new Google search, and health will be a big space for this.
Don’t want to even measure your food now with the built-in QR code reader in our smartphones cameras, just showing the box to your phone will automatically display the nutritional value?
Yet it doesn’t stop at our smartphones, services like “Blue Apron” allow you to have staged meals sent to you via a subscription service!
FINANCE AFTER APPS
If you’ve been to the financial surveillance capital of the world,Stockholm, you will immediately know that using a credit card is a big no-no and pulling out cash instantly tags you as a tourist.
Contactless payments are where people are focusing their attention, and that means using wearable technology. Every company from Fitbit to Google, Samsung to Apple is in on the game.
In my book, Don’t Unplug, How Technology Saved My Life and Can Save Yours Too, I share a story about how back in my “cyborg youth”, I had hacked a system that would send me alerts if I was spending money at the bar after 11 pm or on those weekend spending binges at the mall, small messages would pop up on my google glass telling me to STOP SPENDING. A combination of a credit card that created “geofences” or technology to see WHERE you buy things combined with time or spending velocity would help me understand why I was always so poor.
In the future, services like the “Miles”, an app that just came to the app store and works like an updated airline reward program, but instead of tracking when you’re on a plane, it tracks you full time. Walking, taking the bus, driving your car. The miles app will reward you by depositing real life money and or points into our accounts. Heck even Walgreeens rolled out a program to their users to give them reward points just for being more active.
Back in Sweden, when parents aren’t paying for their train with a chip in their hand, Scandinavia's largest phone company, Telia gives kids data for being active, if you want to see how Universal Basic Income works
It doesn’t stop at companies watching us move either, companies like Lyft are even offering people 550.00 in credits to stop using their cars for a month to use Lyft’s service instead.
In the future, we will trade our surveilled behavior for cash, and as the adage goes, time is money.
MEDIA AFTER APPS
If you look around at the media landscape, something exciting is happening. The content owners are driving people to their locations, devices, or services.
It’s not possible to watch YouTube on an Amazon device. For a short time, Netflix was not even on Apple TV during a brief tiff between the two giants. Well, no problem, the car is safe, right? Try taking your 100K dollar Telsa out for a spin and listen to Spotify. You can’t, because Elon Musk has that screen locked down. Head out to the theater. If you use Moviepass, Sinema or another service, it won’t work on the opening weekend of a film. I hope you have AMC stubs +! Want to stream several hundred hours of Youtubeto your Verizon phone? Well, you have to switch to T-Mobile for that level of support.
The device makers, location purveyors, and the pipe keepers of the internet are taking up arms in a content battle that will make the cord cutting look tame. The reason for this shift in access to media is happening is simple. Our devices, places, and infrastructure are the last places, we have to surrender all our attention.
By 2025, you’ll be required to travel to DisneyWorld to see the latest Star Wars reboot and you’ll need two different autonomous cars to take the kids to one movie while you see another because Tesla doesn’t have an agreement with Cinemark.
FROM APP STORE TO HABIT MARKETPLACE
It’s easy to play speculation bingo in this day in age, and it’s hard to find hope in the age of increasing technological dystopian articles, yet I’m here to tell you it’s not impossible.
Just as our parents had to grapple with checking accounts or debit cards, VHF and cable, VHS or BETA, BLOCKBUSTER or REDBOX, we too will adapt to this new world.
In our future, I believe and hope that we will shop for new habits from a system of habit shopkeepers who live well and show us how to live well, in the same way as we shop for crafts and art from Etsy today. This would be a community of life artisans who share their skills with us.
This marketplace of behaviors will come into existence, a habit store of sorts. The habit designers will be nutritionists, coaches, financial planners, event managers, dating specialist, fashionistas. These people will curate and share their interactions with the devices, services, and sensors in their life.
You will download all of their “preferences,” and your life will instantly transform into their life. No screens or personal visits needed.
In a way, we already live this way now in the flat 2D world of our phones. If you have ever used someone else’s Netflix account, web browser or looked at a map on your friend’s phone, you’ve been immersed in their “life.”
Let’s stop focusing on how our phones are distracting from reality and embrace this new paradigm in how we are being shaped by the future.
The role you play right now in this battle for life and habits after our screens disappear is important and this is no time to back away.
I didn’t unplug, and neither should you.