Are apps killing our ability to adult, turning us into a society that relishes instant gratification?

Illustration. Photo by Christian Vierig/ Getty Images
Illustration. Photo by Christian Vierig/ Getty Images

  • There is a myriad of apps, mostly free, that can do almost anything for you, from scanning pages to helping you find a significant other.
  • While app technology has made life easier for us, it is also causing us to use less of our brain capacity to perform certain tasks.
  • However, the positive side of increasing app use is that our brainpower is dedicated to more complex tasks, which increases our intelligence.

Seventy-six - that's how many apps I have on my phone. Not including the ones pre-installed by Apple, I've got everything from Facebook and Instagram to Tinder, Pokémon Go and some app that make it look like you're bald (weird, but I felt it necessary to download one day at the pub).

There are apps to measure my heartbeat, order food, hire a car, put a border on a pic, and check the weather more precisely than the Apple app does. Then there are the apps to sell things, buy things, and make people do things for me, like fetch my groceries.

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Basically, my life is on my phone. I'm not alone. Only a small percentage of people don't have a smartphone in this fair country, so I'm willing to bet my breakfast; you can spot your phone out of the corner of your eye. And with 85 percent of us apparently choosing mobile apps over websites, there is supply meeting demand - in the Apple App Store alone, there are 2.2 million apps for iOS devices.

Suddenly my 76 doesn't sound so bad. But before you surrender to the phone gods, clinical neuropsychologist Ash Nayate sees two problems with the spread of apps.

"The first one comes from social media," she says. "We can ask any question and unlike Google, where we have to collate the information and synthesise it in our head, our friends are doing it for us via social media. In order to solve a problem, we're using less brain power. Secondly, apps are a distraction and we are shifting towards using the conveniences as a pacifier rather than using our time for more complex problem-solving tasks."

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You see, we're getting less practiced at the skills we were expected to know 10 years ago without the aid of an app. Think about math - it's almost OK not to be good at math, and I know I'm rubbish. But it doesn't matter because I've got a calculator on my phone, and Safari as a backup if I can't even figure out how to find a solution via the calculator.

It goes much further than math when it comes to the skills we're slowly losing the capacity for, too. Think dating. It's certainly a skill honed through evolution and maturity.

But with the popularity of apps, we're slowly losing that skill, or it's evolving into something completely different. Either way, we're lazy.

Think Wingman, the app that lets your friends steer your dating life - you literally aren't actively using that skill anymore. If that is too dystopic for you, apps Crushh, HeroBoyfriend and Break-Up Boss are the latest (paid) apps on the block that will help take care of your whole love life, from figuring out if your crush likes you based on text messages to planning your dates, and then helping you deal with a breakup - in that order.

From love-heart-eyed emojis to an actual breakup, you don't have to decide how you play the dating game.

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Coupled up? Ha! You're still losing skills! We're having our food delivered without having to cook it ourselves (thanks, Uber Eats); cars are coming to pick us up without having to call a taxi company and use our words (hey, Taxify) and Superbalist is there for a dress if we're in the mood for a new outfit.

We're categorically more impatient, Ash tells me, as we've lost the art of delayed gratification that we inherited in the past as we began to mature.

Still, before you despair and go off the grid, there is a good side to all of this app-palaver: we're also getting smarter! Sure, we might be losing all our social skills and becoming less practiced in the art of adulting, while also turning into a bunch of impatient brats who wait for no man.

But with all that time saved not hailing cabs or doing long division, we're able to focus more on the kinds of complex brain exercises and information we weren't able to dedicate time to in the past.

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"One thing psychology knows is that our intelligence as a society is going up," says Ash. "These modern conveniences give us more time to devote to learning things as simple as a dictionary - there was a time we had to go and look something up; now we can just go through our phone and look it up."

Urgh, remember when we had to use a dictionary? But where do we cross the line between apps aiding us in smarts and ruining humanity?

Surely the end is nigh! We're at least another 10 years off robots and Bicentennial Man in our homes, so we need to bridge the gap before we're all listless vegetables, meandering around in a pseudo-zombie like state, phone clutched in the palm.

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The first step to claiming back our brains? A whole lot of auditing.

"Really objectively look at what you want out of your relationships and health and fitness and what you achieve - start with that lifestyle audit," says Ash. "If there is a gap, that signals a problem. Then do a time audit by measuring what you do every hour on the hour. It's amazing how much time we can lose, even on an app like YouTube. Awareness is 95 percent of the solution, teamed with self-discipline. Once you know where you're going wrong, you can be more intentional about where you spend your brainpower."

Hmm, I wonder if there's an app for that.

What's your favourite or most used app? Tell us here.

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