Are apps destroying our ability to fulfil the most basic responsibilities?

Credit: iStock
Credit: iStock

Can you guess how many apps currently exist in Google Play Store?

According to, 2.8 million. And a recent report by App Annie indicates that smartphone users access approximately 30 apps on a monthly basis.

Just the other day, I used my voucher code for the latest Mr D Food app that offers food deliveries in just a few minutes. The restaurant is less than 5km from me and it's a trip I usually enjoy taking, but the luxury of having the food being brought to my door was appealing. Swipe and pay, and it's on its way.

The twenty-first century’s newest technologies have certainly made our lives convenient and comfortable. With so many technological achievements developing explosively, it is hard to imagine living in an era without Google maps or not having a weather app that can be quickly accessed with one touch. 

But while modern technology simplifies life in so many ways, there are always trade-offs in using them. The dependency on technology and, more specifically, apps, have arguably increased with further generations. Apart from the argument that the internet is making us stupid, posited by authors like Nicholas Carr, it is most likely making us lazy, too.

Read more: No more malls – this is how millennials shop

Consider how many apps you use to make your life convenient; there are apps for nearly everything.

We’re fidgety, impatient and our wayward minds seek convenience for every chore that crops up.

Need to organise your things? Trello is there. What about organising your thoughts? Post-It is there to do that too. Do you wish to avoid personal interaction to book a restaurant table? No problem, try the local electronic reservation system, Dineplan. Often scatterbrained and misplace your iPhone? Let Find iPhone find it for you. 

Want to track your spending and manage your finances? Of course there’s an app for that. Hello, Mint Personal Finance: Get reminders sent to you when your bills are due, because it’s crazy to trust yourself to remember. One particular feature of Powertime analyses your electricity expenditure and also gives you push notification warnings when it reckons your electricity might be running low. And if you want someone to clean the inside of your oven or fridge, SweepSouth's cleaning services offers that and so much more. 

Convenient, right? But necessary? Probably not.

Being self-reliant is rarely the case anymore. We’re fidgety, impatient and our wayward minds seek convenience for every chore that crops up. 

OurHood rightly claims that “neighbours shouldn’t be strangers”, so they allow neighbourhoods to build communities and connect via the app. 

But there is a seemingly difficult notion behind truly connecting with your neighbours and forming genuine connections. We’re wired in so often that we shut off the real world and we don't question the fact that we have become so socially isolated and lazy to walk a few blocks to engage in face-to-face interaction with the people within the closest proximity to us.

Read more: Why don’t we know our neighbours anymore?

Then, consider something as simple as a calculator – we've drastically reduced the usage of our brains to calculate figures because all smartphones come installed with a calculator. But a lot of the time I use it to do very simple math – simple equations become head scratchers and if I don’t have my phone in reach or a calculator nearby, it can become a frustration. 

The complete dependence on GPS devices and Google maps could also be destroying our directional awareness without us even realising it. Just the thought of implementing my high school map work skills sends me into a state of panic. I might feel like I’m directionally challenged, but then again, I’ve never quite challenged myself to navigate my way to destinations without the use of technology. It's become essential to my lifestyle.

And then there’s an app that is the epitome of the 21st century’s laziness: Swype, an app that lets you literally swipe your finger across letters without needing to lift them. 

But the ones that are really gaining traction for letting people outsource their household errands from people in their neighbourhoods in the U.S.A. are apps like Taskrabbit, an online marketplace that finds people willing to help with everyday work. So if you want your dog washed, need your furniture to be assembled, or need to wait in a queue at the bank, you can call on someone via the app and reimburse them for their services. 

This interviewee for Wall Street Journal even claimed to be using it too much for chores that she can really do herself, mainly because they are cost efficient.

Interestingly, tried the same concept in the 90s but failed to draw success and eventually went belly-up. This could possibly be because smartphone usage has become so ubiquitous that it's hard to escape these apps: since 2014, the number of smartphone users worldwide increased from 1.57 billion to 2.32 billion in 2017.

With all its advantages, it's a scary thought that technology has rewired our brains and in some cases, for the worse. And while technology has democratised learning in remarkable ways, studies have also revealed that it places a "cognitive load" on the brain, distracting and consequently dumbing down university students. It is certainly becoming easier to be lazy. We expect things to be easy and at accelerated speed, and the slightest thought of inconvenience frightens us into thinking our life will spin out of control.

...such a dangerous dependency on delegating tasks to our technological devices is arguably contributing towards a "laziness economy".

App overload has become very common among smartphone users, especially when it comes to health apps. This study indicates that medical professionals are inundated with the number of health apps out there, and cautions users to acknowledge that they are not 100% reliable. And if you're reliant on your health apps to flag danger, you should think twice and rather visit a professional medical practitioner. According to a study in the journal Health Affairs last year, majority of health apps do not respond appropriately to red-flag information such as when the app asks if the user was feeling suicidal.

While some apps are a godsend that allow us to minimise our time spent on lengthy tasks, others have simply made us lose the ability to take on simple responsibilities. We sit back and let our apps do our chores for us, and such a dangerous dependency on delegating tasks to our technological devices is arguably contributing towards a "laziness economy". 

Just being mindful of what the drawbacks of these apps are and not being too hasty to outsource a task you can effortlessly complete yourself is a first step to overcoming this full-blown addiction. Sure, it can feel good to do nothing especially when we’re able to escape physical activity, but if you think you are too dependent on one too many apps, simply consider whether it's doing something for you that you can really do yourself.

You might think solely of the job opportunity you're providing for someone else without realising the effect it's having on your mental health. For many psychologists, simple face-to-face interactions such as greeting a passerby on the streets are good for our psychological health. And experts believe that simple chores can have a “deeper purpose” that provide happiness and meaning to your life. For example, washing your dishes might seem like a tiresome task, but if done mindfully it can turn out to be both therapeutic and act as a stress reliever.

Oh, and by the way, there's an app called Sleep Sheep that counts sheep for you if you’re struggling to fall asleep. But get this: it’s completely pointless, because according to scientists at Oxford University, counting sheep actually doesn't fix insomnia. More than that, the blue light wavelength emitted by your smartphone has been proven to suppress melatonin  the hormone that controls your sleep cycle  giving you even more reason to part ways with your phone for a good couple of hours of rest.

So the next time you're tempted to grab your phone to complete your tasks, perhaps take a second to rethink the level of reliance you truly have on an inanimate object that is most likely (and unhealthily) affecting your ability to adult. 

Do you think apps are making us lazy? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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