As a Gen Y’er, I value two things in this world: the internet and mobile. My father – who recently sent me a worried iMessage reporting the number of texts on my Verizon bill last month – would say that online and mobile are too important to me, and have infected me with two terrible buzz-word afflictions, a short attention span and a demand for instant gratification. In his darker moments, he fears that online and mobile will bring about the end of society as we know it: people are disconnecting with each other to connect with their devices, and when people don’t relate, society breaks down.
Well, Dad may be right about my short attention span and my demand for instant gratification, but the Armageddon he envisions, full of teens with noses buried screen-deep in smartphones, is somewhat far-fetched. He’s right to note that mobile usage is increasing at incredible speeds – but what he and many others don’t realize is that mobile doesn’t mean that people will start disconnecting from the world. No,what mobile really means is that we are finding new ways to connect.
Entrepreneurs are constantly seeking out new ways to improve mobile technology, and they draw inspiration from interpersonal interaction. Rather than creating more cold, curt forms or processes for online and mobile applications, designers and developers are focusing more on creating conversation. Far from being a detriment to relationships, online and mobile technology is building relationships in a way that’s convenient to customers wherever they are in any given moment.
Here are two of my favorite apps that do a great job of connecting:
For the travel app Trail Wallet, meeting customers wherever they are is the whole point. When I was in Chicago over Spring Break and struggling to maintain the budget I’d set out so carefully, Trail Wallet was a lifeline: telling me how much I had left to spend in one day, what percentage of my total budget I had used, and, best of all, firing encouraging comments at me, like “King of the Accountants!” Instead of wasting time hoarding receipts and whipping out calculations, I logged what I spent as I spent it, and saved time for exploring and catching up with friends. The app didn’t ruin my ability to participate in the real world; it actually enhanced it.
Ventfull is a Brown University-bred application that compiles and sorts campus based events in a compact, aesthetic weekly calendar. (My favorite filter sorts events by offers for free food – an important attribute in any poor college student’s eyes.) Again, the knee-jerk reaction to refer to those pesky little gadgets as distractions from real life is proved wrong: phones are expanding social opportunities.
The examples of apps that connect are endless. Eventbrite facilitates mobile ticketing, Tinder helps find dates, Venmo transfers money directly between individuals. Mobile apps don’t need to distract from real life; they simplify the grunt work so you can spend more time actually socializing. They get you to your friends, faster.
I’ll give Dad this: sometimes the mobile connection trend can go too far. One of the weirder attempts I’ve seen is MyFitnessPal, a health app that logs food and exercise. When MyFitnessPal encouraged me to post my progress on Facebook, I was mortified.
The idea of filling my friends’ newsfeeds with updates about how many calories I had just burned at the gym was laughable – like if Bank of America were to ask whether I’d like to sign in through Facebook so my friends would know when I got a paycheck. MyFitnessPal is an important cautionary tale for financial institutions: mobile can help you connect with your customers (and your customers with each other), but if you go to far, it’s just creepy.
So it seems that my Dad is, as usual, right about some things, and wrong about others. I’ll admit it: I sent more than 3,000 texts in one month. I’m hyper-connected to my friends. But do I spend all my time on my phone? No. Meals are sacred, and, having been raised by actual humans, I know that making eye contact with your phone instead of your friends is a bit of a snub (score one for Dad). Do all my apps have to integrate with Facebook? Absolutely not. I use my phone to support real life – not to replace it.
So, yes, times are changing, but we’re not headed to some terrible, zombie-fied end. We’re just pressing forward to a new frontier of connection.
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